Middle Eastern Spiced Rice and Chicken

I’ll be honest, this recipe was supposed to be “red rice and chicken,” but, obviously, the rice isn’t red. It’s likely due to several factors; the brown spices I used, my not caramelizing the onions, pre-packaged chicken stock. Honestly, I can’t quite put my finger on the exact reason why my rice isn’t red, but I’m not even disappointed. Despite this being a red rice fail, it worked out perfectly as a modified kabsa.

Middle Eastern Spiced Rice and Chicken

Kabsa is a Saudi national dish made of spiced rice and meat, usually served in a giant platter for everyone to enjoy. We used to have Kabsa fairly often when I was younger. I spent most of my childhood with my half Saudi cousins. Like most Arab-American families, my cousins were my best, and only friends, until we started school. Even then, we all went to the same school. It’s for that very reason I’d been exposed to Saudi culture early on — the food, the traditions, the dancing. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, I mean, at age 5 you don’t know the difference between Palestinian and Saudi, or American and Palestinian. You have no sense for these things. There were much more important things to worry about, like when we could go outside and play in the treehouse. Or could we actually stay up until midnight to sneak to the kitchen for a “midnight snack?”

I have vivid memories of us all getting together for dinner at my aunt’s house around a giant silver platter filled with spiced rice and meat, Kabsa. The rice was so spiced, I could smell it before I got to the table. There were sides of pickled turnips and olives, as well as a pretty big bowl of salad. P.S. if you’ve never mixed your vinegar and olive oil-dressed salad with rice, you’re seriously missing out!

It was more than just about the dinner. It was about being together, and it was almost always about our parents trying to drill table manners into our heads!

Middle Eastern Spiced Rice and Chicken

Middle Eastern Spiced Rice and Chicken

Yield: 4 servings


  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable
  • 1 6oz can Tomato Paste
  • 1 Black Lemon
  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 4 tablespoons Seven Spice, divided
  • 4 Whole Cardamom Pods
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Blanched almonds for topping


  1. Prepare the basmati rice by washing the rice 3-4 times, discarding the water every time. Cover with lukewarm water and set aside for 30 minutes. When ready to use, drain the water
  2. Prepare the chicken by keeping the skin on and using your hands, rub the chicken generously, back and front and all over, with 2 tablespoons seven spice and olive oil
  3. Heat a large skillet with two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat and place the chicken, skin down in an even layer. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the skin is crispy, then remove and set aside
  4. In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil and sauté onions until translucent, add garlic and sauté for another minute until fragrant
  5. Add tomato paste to the onions and stir, add in the rice, hot pepper, cardamom pods, black lemon salt and seven spice
  6. Stir until combined, and cook for 1-2 minutes
  7. Add the seared chicken pieces and cover with the rice mixture
  8. Add the chicken stock and bring the rice to a boil
  9. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes
  10. Use a fork to fluff the rice, avoid breaking the chicken, and place in a large serving platter
  11. Top with fried almonds (fry 1/2 cup almonds in vegetable oil until slightly browned. Remove immediately)
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