Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaff

No matter what I share with you, I have realized that I must be pushed into a mental realm of compulsiveness because a new fresh idea is floating in my head is worthy enough to be scribbled into this blog.
After a nearly three week hiatus, I finally thought of a topic that wasn't mindless and repetitive, but is beneficial to share with you. I think you've caught on to this fact by now, I love food, but what I haven't given much due to is nutrition. I adore nutrition. I would not spend years studying the subject matter if I was not happy doing so. Particularly, I love studying about nutritious food. But I'm not talking about the holy trinity of diet food like grapefruit, saltines, and water. When I write "nutritious food", I mean food that is in unison with the body, mind, and most importantly, the soul.

It's hard to convey in words how much I love what I am learning, but I jubilantly wait to experience what is in store for me after graduation. Scrutinizing the latest nutrition research for my Dietetics program is sheer joy. Not only because my mind remains curious, but also because I have the prerogative to be exposed to the countless views, opinions, and logic that other people have-- apart from my own. So let's see if I can continue to the key point without babbling.

I confess, and proclaim, that I do fancy staying home and wallowing in a stack of cookery books rather than going out to spend money I do not have. I consider that a holiday.
Surely, I am not that only one who finds gastronomy alluring.
If you like to eat, and you believe taking care of yourself isn't a colossal burden, but more of a virtue, then I speculate it is safe to say that every now and then you must be huddled into a corner reading leaflets, brochures, periodicals, magazines, books or other things in fine print that packed with a wealth of nutritional information. Do you have a particular interest in "diets"? Please remember that I do not like the word "diet"...people start acting looney when I say it. But, since it is a word that is commonly borrowed and registers in everyone's mind, from air-head beauty junkies to belligerent pubescents and all the way to esteemed physicians, I will use it here.
Maybe you do not believe everything you read or hear about diets (Thank God. You have a lovely mind of your own), or perhaps you like busting myths for diets that are based on the false and frequent garbage the media presents to us. Even if you like to read about diets,
or if you simply like to be educated about them, then hear me out.

I finally stopped procrastinating and decided to do a bit of light clearing up in my room. And while I was rummaging through my pile of plump textbooks, past homework assignments, and scrappy notes stained of food from last semester, I discovered my personal nerd notebook. A sacred tree-killing notebook where I collect and record any pertinent nutrition information that I find interesting enough to go back and research later. I jotted a myriad of information on various diets. Many of them listed were dubious. Some of the most infamous diets, not to mention unsustainable, like the low carbohydrate diet, low-fat ONLY approach diet, and even novelty diets like the "Beverly Hills Diet" were among my list. I sense quackery is what distinguishes these fad diets from, well...real FOOD. Or a "normal" diet. I won't continue to rave about this, because then I will not be able to shut-up.
Anyway, I found a
snippet of information on Mediterranean diets and this is where the entire idea for a topic on "diets" was sparked for Verve Is Served.

For those of you who are geographically challenged, the term "Mediterranean" actually tackles several countries, rather than just one single country. May I add that these are some of the most beautiful and picturesque countries. Spain, Italy, Croatia, France, Greece, Malta, Egypt, Morocco, and Israel to name a few. When it comes to the food, each of these countries holds it's own rare identity. However, I am confident in saying that collectively all Mediterranean foods can be immensely robust, refreshingly light, intensely delicious, and overwhelmingly aromatic. Disappointment is scarce when swallowing this category of flavors.

In a Mediterranean diet, many base ingredients are rich chestnut-brown delectable whole grains like bulgar, brown rice, couscous, polenta, pasta and potatoes. Not to mention the fresh green, sunny yellow, hot crimson-red, and pallid white colored vegetables, which are virtually part of every meal and plate. Also beans, herbaceous legumes, earthy nuts, and an extensive inventory of delicious fruits are extremely ubiquitous. Fresh hits of green come from cilantro, parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, dill, fennel, oregano, and savory come add a finish to a meal. I mean, the list is endless.

Just to give you a sense of the contrast that exists between a Mediterranean and North American food pyramid I'll attempt to give you a brief educational stint.
The Mediterranean food pyramid, starting from the bottom are the grains, and vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and fruits I mentioned occupy the second tier of the pyramid. In the third section of the Mediterranean pyramid, is for me, the best cooking medium, olive oil. Next, in fourth place is cheese and yogurt. Fifth on the pyramid are our lovely comrades from the marine, fish. Sixth, we have poultry, seventh is for eggs, eight is sweets, and lastly, tier number nine is where you will find red meats. Basically what I want to tell you is that the Mediterranean way of eating is heavily dependent on fruits, vegetables, and legumes. All of which are abundant in antioxidants which are cancer fighting agents, fiber that helps by sweeping through your large intestine and picking up "debris", vitamins that aid in metabolic activity (your cells use vitamins to work) and maintain your skin and hair, and minerals that also help cells (your red blood cells need iron to be able to carry an oxygen molecule to another cell) but also body structures like bones (your bones use phosphorus and calcium).

Now, red meat is consumed sparingly in a Mediterranean diet, but I'm not going to preach to you how you need to cut out your stews, pot roasts and other tasty red meat choices you eat. I'm just saying, Mediterranean food is taste bud pleasing AND the added bonus is that the food is eminently nutritious. It is good for you. If you try some dishes from any of these countries, the thought of the food being "good" for you may not be your first intuition, because it is so delicious. What can you take away from this? One point is that eating well may have just gotten more exciting, but I want you to know that you can eat this type of food and commit to a healthier lifestyle. Without it being, well, a job.We already have jobs. Mediterranean food is nutritiously sound and I urge you to be confident to scarf it down (not literally) because I know you will be pleased. Not to mention, your double-chin, saddle bag thighs, or jelly rolls might just melt away easier when eating the Mediterranean way.

S a f f r o n S c e n t e d C h i c k e n P i l a f f
Sweetness. Saltiness. Sourness. Bitterness. Every appetizing morsel you have devoured and felt compelled to go back for another bite is because you have had these four tastes dancing on your taste buds. When all of these flavors come in concert you have one heart melting and sumptuous meal. Speaking of sumptuousness, this lavish Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaff will make you feel as if you should be dotted in turquoise georgette and jeweled slippers tainted of honey. Succulent chicken thighs smothered in yogurt, lemon, and cinnamon which are then piled on a mound of citrus noted Basmati, flecked with toasted cashews, pistachios, almonds, and brightened with a heap of vivid green parsley. This Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaff is a concoction of warm, tart, soothing, and calming flavors rolled into one dish. Hats off to Nigella Lawson for her creativity. I just love her.You just have to try this.



1 pound of chicken thighs, skinless, cubed into 1 inch bits
1 cup of greek yogurt, low-fat* ( See my suggestion)
1/2 of a lemon, juice only
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the rice:

4 cups chicken stock, low-fat, low sodium* (See my suggestion)
1 tablespoon butter (salted, unsalted, whatever)
2 tablespoons canola oil (peanut oil is great if you have it)
1 pound Basmati rice (Don't fret, use ordinary white rice. Basmati can be expensive.)
3-4 cardamom pods, bruised to get the flavors to leech out
1 whole lemon, zest and juice. Zest it before getting the juice out.
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads ( I know, I know. One of the most expensive spices. There are no rules. Leave it out if you please. I used real saffron here. This was a birthday present to me, because I'm a dork and that is what I asked for.)
1/2 cup cashew nuts
1/2 cups slivered almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts ( I left these out. Pricey in Chicago. Broke college student anyone?)
4 tablespoon pistachio nuts ( I purchased them whole, then cracked the shells out. Not extremely time consuming, I found it therapeutic. But the price is kinder to those who are near burning a hole in their wallet.)
1 small bundle of fresh parsley, chopped


1.) Marinate chicken in yogurt, cinnamon, and lemon. An hour is all it needs. I left it for six, but leaving it in the lemon too long will cook the chicken. Soak the saffron, if using, in the chicken stock. Set aside.

2.) In a large pan, over medium heat, melt the butter along with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add cardamom (The Indian way, whole spices into the butter or oil to infuse the rest of the dish). Add the rice, stir to coat. Pour in saffron and chicken stock, lemon juice and zest. Clamp a lid on, bring it to a boil, and when it's brought to a boil crank the heat down to low. Let this simmer for 10-15 minutes. The rice should have absorbed all the liquid. Adjust cooking time as needed.

3.) While rice is simmering away, pour in the remaining oil into a non-stick pan and fry the cubed chicken thighs. Be sure to shake off any excess marinade before searing in the pan. If you need more oil, then you can always add more. You may need to do this in batches. This ensures beautiful browning on each side of the chicken. Cook the chicken until it is pallid white color.

4.) When the rice is cooked, use a fork to lightly fluff the rice. Run the fork through it. By doing so, you will avoid ending with rice mush but have nice separated grains. Toss in the bronzed chicken thighs.

5.) Using a separate small skillet, toast the cashews, almonds, and pine nuts (if you're using them) over medium heat. No oil needed here. Plenty of oil in the nuts to brown them up. Do this until they are colored. You'll know they are done because you will have a waft of their nutty scent going up your nose. When they're done, add them to the pilaff.

6.) Add in the chopped parsley and toss everything to combine. Sprinkle with the pistachios.


I didn't have Greek style yogurt on hand, but I had a tub of low-fat but watery yogurt. And most yogurts are like this, they have a lot of water in them. You can easily thicken up the yogurt. Do so, by lining up a sieve with dry paper towels, hang it over an empty bowl, and throw in the watery yogurt. Keep in the fridge overnight, or at least 1-2 hours if you have the time. The liquid will have leaked out into the bowl and you are left with thick yogurt that works especially good for a marinade. I recommend doing this because the flavors in the marinade ( which really make the chicken flavorful) can swim around in the water from runny yogurt rather than going into the meat itself.

The one liter of chicken stock in this recipe can be too much liquid, it really depends on what type of rice you are using. Short grains, and long grains have different soaking capabilities. I wish I could tell you exactly how much you need, but because I'm not in the kitchen with you generally the rule of thumb is a 1:2 ratio. For every cup of rice, you add two cups liquid. I remember my grandmother telling me an old trick, two inches of water should be above the rice grains that have settled into the bottom of the pan. Truth be told, I don't measure. So kudos to Grandma for making the process easier.


  1. I was wondering what all of the hype for Mediterranean diets was about. This is very informative. And that pilaff looks delicious!

  2. The combination of those ingredients sounds absolutely delicious. I'm going to have to try that.