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Saleeg

Just think of this dish as a creamy risotto topped with meat and a spicy tomato-y salsa.

Maybe because I was introduced to this dish early in life, I don’t find it weird; that doesn’t mean others don’t. I will admit that the concept of cooking rice in milk and eating it as a savoury dish, as opposed to eating it as a dessert in the form of rice pudding, is kind of foreign, but that shouldn’t put you off this dish. I have converted many and hope to continue to do so, because this really is an underrated dish outside of Saudi Arabia.

This dish originates from the western part of Saudi Arabia, including the cities of Jeddah, Makkah and Taif. It is most commonly served to special guests and is a sign of generosity and hospitality. You could make it with your choice of chicken, beef or lamb; they are all equally delicious in my opinion.

The word “saleeg” comes from the Arabic word meaning “to boil” and the reason is pretty obvious: almost everything is boiled in the dish. Don’t think the dish has no taste or texture since its components are boiled; instead the boiling infuses the flavour of the spices into the meat and the milk, stock and butter in the rice.

It is important to use “American” or long grain white rice so that it doesn’t become complete mush and maintains some texture. Also, whole fat milk is really the best for this dish, as its creaminess is essential. Most important of all, do not skip or skimp on the daggus, or spicy tomato salsa. It really brings the dish together and gives it the perfect acidity that cuts through the creaminess and meatiness. Each person has their own preference, so the acidity, spiciness and garlicy-ness can all be tweaked to taste.

Just think of this dish as a creamy risotto topped with meat and a spicy tomato-y salsa. Or don’t think, just make it and eat it; I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.

Ingredients

Daggus sauce

  • 1 medium bunch of coriander
  • 1 shallot or small red onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 red chilli (to taste)
  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp white vinegar (to taste)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil

Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken (8 pieces)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves
  • 3-4 pieces mastic

Chicken sauce

  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 ½ tsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tsp mixed spice
  • 4 strands of saffron
  • salt
  • pepper

Rice

  • 2 cups American rice (washed and soaked for ½ hour)
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or enough to cover the rice)
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 litre full fat milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (to drizzle on top)

Instructions

1. To make the sauce, blend all the ingredients except the olive oil. I like to do it in batches to make sure everything is minced well. Drizzle in the olive oil until a loose paste is formed. Refrigerate while you make the rest of the dish.

2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and once hot, place the chicken pieces skin side down. Brown the chicken and then add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to the boil, skim off the fat and cover. Leave to boil until the chicken is cooked. Strain the chicken and reserve the stock for the rice. Place the chicken in a baking tray.

3. Return the stock to the pot the chicken was cooked in and add the rice. Make sure the stock just covers the rice. You can add water if there isn’t enough stock. Crack the cardamom pods with your fingers before placing them in the pot. Once the stock comes to the boil, lower the heat and cover the rice. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked.

4. While the rice cooks, make the chicken sauce. Mix together all the ingredients to make a thick sauce and brush on the chicken pieces. Place in the oven until the skin browns and crisps up.

5. Once the rice is cooked, add the milk, butter, salt and pepper. Once it comes to the boil, lower the heat and cover. Stir from time to time. It is ready when the milk is mostly absorbed and thickened.

6. To plate, place the rice in a large serving platter, top with the chicken pieces and drizzle with melted butter. Serve with the daggus sauce on the side. Enjoy!

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