I made this dish because I miss my hometown. But my nostalgia is purely olfactory. When I was a child, my father instilled in me a lifelong distrust of outdoor dining. He warned us that Mr. Softee ice cream was studded with rat turds. He said that street vendors relieved themselves, then washed their hands in water they used to cook the hot dogs. Even the city’s many charming outdoor cafes were suspect because a stray fly or dirt clump might land in your salad. As a result, although I now enjoy dining outside, I have eaten very little street food, only occasionally making exceptions for a hot pretzel or roasted nuts (no urine-laced water). Still, every time I visit midtown, I am enchanted by the smells wafting from Halal carts piled high with roasted chicken and turmeric yellow rice. So I set out to create the Halal cart experience here at home, hundreds of miles away, rat turds optional.
For the chicken and its marinade:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
juice of one lemon
2 table spoons dried Mexican oregano (If not using Mexican oregano, reduce to 1/2 tsp as it is much stronger)
1 tsp coriander power
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 table spoons olive oil for marinade, plus more olive oil for cooking chicken
1 tsp salt
For the rice:
2 cups long grained rice (I used brown Basmati)
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1-2 table spoons butter, ghee or oil
salt to taste
For the sauce/tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 table spoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced, fresh mint and/or dill
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp red vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook the chicken: Combine lemon juice, oregano, coriander, garlic, yogurt and olive oil in a bowl. Cut chicken into 1-inch/bite-sized pieces and marinate it for 15 to 40 minutes in that mixture. Heat 1-2 table spoons olive oil over medium high heat and cook chicken and its marinade about 10 minutes or until it’s done, reducing heat if it starts to burn.
2. Cook the rice: Heat the oil, butter or ghee in a pot. Add the tumeric and cumin, stirring so that it infuses the oil. Add the rice, toasting it for 5 minutes or so. Add the chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil and then cook until rice is done. (I cooked mine for 15 minutes on high in an electric pressure cooker, but it was brown rice so it needed that.)
3. Make the sauce: Peel the cucumber and cut it in half. Scrape a spoon down the center to remove the seeds. Grate the cucumber on the large holes of a box cutter or just throw it in the food processor with the mint and/or dill, olive oil , vinegar and garlic. Once those ingredients are mixed, add the Greek yogurt, plus salt and pepper to taste. For a thicker sauce, add a little more yogurt.
To serve: Pile the rice on a plate. Top it with the meat. Drizzle the sauce over everything. Serve with pita bread, tomatoes, salad. The sauce doubles as a salad dressing.