I’ve devised this recipe for fragrant and exotic Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf based on the recipe for Low-Carb Roasted Cauliflower Couscous that I published last year. It’s full of veggies, meat and nuts, and so a whole meal in itself at just 8.4g net carbs for a very hearty portion. And as with all my low-carb recipes, it’s also gluten-free, and contains no added sugars or sweeteners.
Last year I published a delicious recipe for Low-Carb Roasted Cauliflower Couscous. I based it on one by UK Michelin-starred celebrity chef Tom Kerridge. If you think that you hate cauliflower, then just try it! I think you’ll be totally surprised by that dish, which doesn’t taste “cauliflowery” at all!
And since then, I’ve found that the basic Low-Carb Roasted Cauliflower Couscous recipe is fantastically versatile. I’ve used it as the basis for loads of other dishes which traditionally call for high-carb couscous or rice.
So here, I’m sharing with you just one of the recipes that I’ve developed myself – Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf.
What is a Pilaf?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word pilaf – and what is essentially its synonym pilau, which you may well be familiar with from Indian cuisine – is an early 17th century word derived from Persian and Turkish, and which has its origins in ancient Sanskrit. So this is an ancient dish!
The Oxford Companion to Food now defines the words pilaf/pilau as a Middle Eastern cooking method for rice that ensures every grain remains separate. It is also the name of the finished dish. And there’s a whole load of information there on p624 about the history of pilaf/pilau across the world, if you’re interested!
But in a nutshell, thousands of variations of pilaf exist. There’s differ versions right across Arabic lands, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Turkey, central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. And they all include different combinations of meat, vegetables and fruit.
How to make a pilaf low-carb
Boiling the rice in stock is often the method by which pilaf is made. But here, I’ve based this recipe for Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf on the recipe I previously published for Low-Carb Roasted Cauliflower Couscous. I’ve found that that provides a great alternative not only to couscous – but to rice too. So in this low-carb pilaf, the cauliflower ‘rice’ is first roasted (instead of being boiled in liquid), before the addition of spiced stir-fried chicken and pine nuts.
I’ve made this dish quite fragrant and spicy as that’s what does it for me. But it’s really entirely up to you as to what you prefer. So you can follow my spice combination. Or feel free to go off-piste and have a play around spice and flavour-wise – according to what you like and what you have to hand.
You can serve this straight away, either hot, or cooled as a salad. And I’ve also kept leftovers refrigerated overnight which will heat up nicely the next day, either in the microwave, or covered in a medium oven. If you’re not counting carbs rigidly, then you could also serve it garnished with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. That gives a lovely jewel-like effect and real Middle Eastern flavour. But you won’t want to be doing that if you’re strict keto. But however you serve it, I hope you enjoy it!
My Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf is a hearty meal in itself. It contains just 8.4g net carbs and 384 calories per portion. And it’s got a good chunk of protein and healthy fats in each portion too.
|Per portion (¼ of the dish)||Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf|
|Net Carbs (i.e. minus fibre, counted separately)||8.4g|
* Figures calculated using verified nutritional info on MyFitnessPal.
Some Health Impacts of the Ingredients
The ingredient I’m choosing to focus in on here is cauliflower. It’s not only one of the main constituents of the dish, but also the ingredient that you’re swapping in for rice to make it low-carb.
Cauliflower is a Brassica, or cruciferous vegetable, and a particularly excellent source of Vitamin C. It’s also rich in B vitamins 5, 6 and 9 (folic acid) and Vitamin K, plus the minerals manganese, phosphorus and potassium. The potassium content is particularly useful for helping to maintain balance of electrolytes, fluids and blood pressure when following a ketogenic way of eating.
All cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower, are also a source of sulforaphane. That’s an antioxidant polyphenol which has been linked extensively to the suppression of cancer, especially bowel and prostrate cancer.
If you’re interested, then you can read more here about what I’ve said previously on nutrition in cauliflower, and the health impacts of the vitamins and minerals that I’ve listed above.
Recipe for Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf
Recipe for Low-Carb Middle Eastern Chicken Pilaf
Low-Carb. Keto. Free from gluten, added sugar & artificial sweeteners.
- 1 whole batch of low-carb roasted cauliflower couscous cooked up until stage 6, when it’s taken out of the oven, but before fresh herbs are added (requires 1 head cauliflower & store cupboard spices & oil)
- 380g/13.4 ounces raw chicken breast or thigh fillets, chopped into roughly 2cm/1″ chunks
- 50g/1.8 ounces/1/3 of a cup pine nuts
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Spices to taste – I used ½ tsp ground ginger; ½ tsp ground cumin seed; ½ tsp ground turmeric; ¼ tsp ground cinnamon; ¼ tsp ground coriander seed
- Juice of one lemon (or you could add chopped preserved lemons if you happen to have them in the house)
- 28g/1 ounce/½ cup chopped fresh parsley or coriander/cilantro
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Prepare cauliflower couscous according to my previously published recipe and put it in the oven. Keep an eye on it and stir throughly roughly half way through cooking, as per the recipe.
- While the cauliflower couscous is cooking, prepare the rest of the dish. Toast the pine nuts over a medium heat in a dry frying pan/skillet for a few minutes until golden brown.
- Mix together the ground spices in a medium sized bowl and toss the raw chicken in them, along with a few grinds from the salt mill.
- Fry the chicken in the 2 tbsp of olive oil over a medium heat until cooked through and lightly browned. Near the end of the cooking time, add the crushed garlic and stir-fry for another minute or two so that the garlic is cooked but not burnt.
- When the cauliflower couscous is cooked, take it out of the oven and mix immediately with the fried chicken and the toasted pine nuts. Stir in the lemon juice and fresh chopped herbs (parsley or coriander/cilantro). Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper as necessary.
- Serve immediately, piping hot, or you can leave it to cool and serve as a cold salad. If you or your guests are not on a low-carb diet, you could also choose to garnish it with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for a jewel-like effect and a real Middle Eastern flavour.