This chelo is based on a Persian dish that would probably be made with ground lamb in Iran, but I used chicken for this version. There is a degree of difficulty in turning it out, but confidence is the best weapon.
It looks spectacular when unmoulded, its crisp layer of rice cradling fragrant chicken and another soft, steamy layer of rice underneath. The dish can be made ahead of time and reheated before unmoulding.
If you mess up the unmoulding, just heap it onto individual plates. You can also omit the unmoulding step if you cook the rice and filling separately and serve a scoop of rice with the filling spilling over it. If you do this, cook the filling another 15 minutes.
We used Thai rice with good results, but you could use any long-grain rice. Serve with a radish, olive and cucumber salad.
2 cups water
1½ cups long grain rice, rinsed
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups peeled and diced apple
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds (1 kilogram) ground chicken, preferably dark meat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
6 cups packed spinach, washed, stemmed and sliced
1 cup chopped prunes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Combine water and rice in a pot, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or until rice is cooked through. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 4 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Stir in apples and garlic, paprika, cinnamon, ground ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper and saffron. Season chicken with salt and pepper, add to skillet and sprinkle in soy sauce. Sauté for 5 minutes until beginning to brown. Add tomatoes and sauté until combined.
Add spinach and prunes and cook until spinach wilts (about 2 to 3 minutes). Stir in mint and cook together for another minute. Taste for seasoning.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat until oil shimmers. Remove pan from heat and carefully add half of rice, spreading it evenly over base of skillet, using a spatula to compress it slightly. Layer with all of chicken mixture and finish with remaining rice, again compressing rice. Use a wooden spoon to make a hole down through the centre of the mixture to let steam escape. Cover, place over low heat and cook for 35 minutes or until rice has formed a golden crust on the bottom. Use a spatula to loosen sides. Reverse pan onto a large serving plate and contents should turn out beautifully.