I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching in the last few months. Things have happened, changes, people, situations - everything has been a bit transient. I’ve stepped back, had a bit of a tantrum and then dealt with it all. I felt in the wrong space, slightly trapped, surrounded by the wrong people, doing the wrong things and so I’ve taken some time off (sorry for the silence), I’ve tried to do less of what I’ve always done, I’ve shaken myself up, made a new shape for my life, taken a different approach and I’ve done a lot of reading. And you know what? It seems to have paid off, things are coming together nicely, I actually feel like I’m getting somewhere again, I’m happy and I’m enjoying myself!
I’ve had an eclectic pile of books by my bedside, veering between a shiny new copy of Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life – I loved it, you must read it, it reminds you of all the people you could be and reassures you that what’s going to happen will happen regardless – beautiful. There’s a ragged copy of Jilly Cooper’s Octavia (no judgement, Cooper rules, like valium in book form). I’ve sceptically browsed Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map – though I secretly adore a bit of self-transformation, plus she’s a bit mad with good eye-make up and enough confidence to start her own pageant. I’ve also savoured each page of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries 2 – god, that man can write, and cook, and write about cooking, like no other. I’d actually forgotten just how exceptional he is and this particular book has single handily sparked my love of cookery again in a way that no cookbook in the last few months has or could.
So there’s been a lot of reading and writing and other stuff too. I began a new project called Superfood Suppers: delicious recipes each packed full of ingredients rich in nutritious bang for your buck, gluten free, dairy free and egg free, too, of course. I’ve been playing with a much larger project too, and I hope to be able to share that with you at some point. In the meantime, I’d thought I’d share a recipe from my Superfood collection, Persian Jewelled Rice with Smoke & Honey Chicken – it’s become a favourite of mine, all these sultry summer nights have needed cooler, fresher, tangy suppers and I’d say this fits the bill: lots of orange and lemon, mellow saffron, smoky tea flavour, honey, dried fruit, earthy rice. It’s really very simple but looks very pretty so definitely the sort of dish to make for friends as well as family. It also included the best and easiest method of poaching chicken that I know, so worth reading for that tip alone. Mostly though, it’s just delicious and pleasing, and that’s what life should be about – things that make you happy, whatever they may be.
A note about poaching the chicken: there are a few tips for this. One is that the chicken should really be at room temperature, if you take it straight from the fridge and chuck it into just boiled water you will get tough chicken. Secondly, this method really works best if the chicken breasts are about the same size. If you wanted to just poach two chicken breasts for this recipe or any other then follow the exact same method but leave in the water for only 25 minutes.
PERSIAN JEWELLED RICE WITH SMOKE AND HONEY CHICKEN
4 chicken breasts, roughly the same size if possible and at room temperature
3 lapsang souchong tea bags and 1.5 litres of water
175g brown basmati rice
A large pinch of saffron
The zest of 1 orange
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp runny honey
4 spring onions
100g cranberries and raisins and sultanas (golden if possible)
50g pine nuts
50g blanched almonds
A large bunch of coriander
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Tip the rice into a large saucepan with lid, pour over 500ml of water, add the saffron threads, cover and bring to the boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to a minimum and leave covered to cook for 30 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Set aside to cool down.
Bring the water, tea bags and the stalks from the coriander to boil in another large saucepan. Take the saucepan off the heat, add in the chicken breasts, cover and then leave to stand for 50 minutes – this will allow the chicken to poach in the residual heat from the tea.
Meanwhile, take the zest from the orange and lemon and place in a small saucepan with the honey and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes – the zest will caramelise slightly, which is good.
Next, toast the pine nuts and almonds in a dry frying pan until lightly golden. Finely chop the coriander leaves and the spring onions. Once ready, drain the chicken breasts, discarding the coriander stalks and the tea bags and cut the chicken into ½ cm slices.
Transfer the cooked rice to a large serving bowl, add in the sliced chicken, dried fruit, toasted nuts, spring onions and coriander and then pour over the caramelised citrus dressing along with the extra virgin olive oil. Toss together and then season to taste before serving.