NY Halal Food Cart Style Chicken Over Rice

When I close my eyes and focus, I can almost smell it – the fragrant spices mixed with pungent garlic, the mouthwatering aroma of meat on grill. The smell is so seductive that one day, on our way to Japanese lunch somewhere along Broadway, Diego and I stopped and ordered from a Halal food cart instead.

Chicken over rice and chicken-lamb gyro in tow, we walked to a nearby park directed to us by our trusty iPhone map. It was chilly but the sun was out. The leaves were turning color into glorious oranges and reds. There was a huge fountain in the middle of this park and someone had decided to lug his piano beside it and start playing. It was one of our best meals ever.

It’s amusing that, in a place like New York, my most significant food moment was courtesy of the humble Halal food cart. Granted, not all Halal food carts are created equal but when you manage to find a good one, it will blow your mind (Diego and I managed by sheer luck). It’s tasty, inexpensive and apparently, you can make it at home.

When I found this recipe, I almost passed out from excitement. I made it for dinner last night and it was praise-Allah delicious. Here’s the recipe for NY Halal Food Cart Style Chicken Over Rice with my modifications and in to-do order.

For the chicken, you’ll need:

6-8 skinless chicken thigh fillets

1/4 cup olive oil

2 T lemon juice (To make everything on this post, you’ll need 1 lemon)

1/2 t coriander

3 cloves garlic

1/2 T dried whole oregano or 1 T chopped fresh oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Mix all ingredients except chicken thighs in a bowl/big measuring cup (makes it easier to pour marinade later). Original recipe says to mix everything in a blender but I thought I could outwit the recipe by grating the garlic instead. I was feeling very pleased with myself until I cooked the chicken and saw tiny burnt garlic bits in the pan. It didn’t ruin the dish or anything but perhaps it wouldn’t have happened if I blended everything to a puree. Your call.

2. Trim excess fat on chicken thigh fillets (if you want or you can use skin-on fillets) and put into a Ziplock bag. Pour in the marinade, close the bag and move it around to distribute the marinade then refrigerate. Marinating time is up to you but just remember not to go over 4 hours, chicken gets mushy apparently. I marinated mine for 3 hours and the flavor was great.

While the chicken is busy getting infused with flavor, we can make the sauces.

For the garlic sauce, you’ll need:

2 packs 125g plain yogurt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 T lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped parsley

8 garlic cloves or to taste

1 T sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Original recipe for this “white sauce” didn’t include garlic and I really didn’t see the point so I turned mine into a garlic sauce. I used a blender this time and gave everything a good whirl. I added the parsley last, stirring it into the blended mixture, because I didn’t want green garlic sauce.

There is no hot sauce recipe, just a serving suggestion for harissa which is a Mediterranean-style hot sauce. I searched for a harissa recipe and it sounded like a chili oil. Not what I envisioned. What I had in mind was the hot sauce used in Cafe Mediterranean (I love that restaurant). I tweaked a harissa recipe and came up with this.

For the hot sauce, you’ll need:

3 tomatoes (the small local ones)

12 labuyo chilies (12 because mine were tiny)

4 cloves garlic

1 T coriander

1 T ground cumin

1/2 cup tightly packed cilantro

1/4 cup fresh mint

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Put everything into the blender and whirl.

Make sure not to have your face right by the mouth of your blender when you open to check it. I did and the chili fumes brought tears to my eyes. Or maybe I cried a little because the sauce looked so beautiful.

And now the rice. For this, you’ll need:

1 1/2 cups long grain or Basmati rice

1/2 t turmeric

1/4 t ground cumin

2 T unsalted butter

2 3/4 – 3 cups chicken stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. In a pan/pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in turmeric and cumin and toast for about a minute. I’m not sure what the toasting does but I remember making curry one time off of a food website and someone said that toasting the curry in some oil was all-important in bringing out the flavors. I’m thinking it’s the same logic. I’d do it just because it smells so wonderful.

2. Add in the rice and toast for about 4 minutes, making sure that it gets well-coated by the spice mixture. I picked up some long grain rice to make this (and just because there was zero rice at Diego’s) but I’m positive the rice doesn’t have to be long grain let alone Basmati. I made Mexican rice for a burrito one time with very similar procedures using Dinorado and it turned out fine. Just don’t use Japanese rice or malagkit, you’ll end up with savory rice cake.

3. Add in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit until it’s time to serve. The rice will soak up the chicken stock. I followed the original recipe and used 2 1/2 cups stock. The rice came out undercooked. Being Asian, I probably should have known that 2 1/2 cups stock for 1 1/2 cups rice doesn’t add up but I thought maybe toasting the rice made up for that. It could also have been the rice I used. I suggest you start with 2 1/2 cups stock and taste the rice after the requisite soaking period (15 minutes). If it’s undercooked, you can bring back the pan to low heat and add chicken stock little by little until you reach desired doneness. For the stock, I used 2 chicken bouillon cubes. I dissolved them in some hot water and added more water to make 3 cups. I found that I really didn’t need any salt.

When it’s almost time to serve, we can grill the chicken.

1. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Take Ziplock bag from the fridge and proceed to empty its contents on to heated pan. Set aside remaining marinade. I had some oil heating in the pan as original recipe says but I found this unnecessary. The oil from the marinade that’s clutching to the chicken would have been enough.

The objective here is just to get some nice color on the outside of the chicken so don’t worry if your chicken is browned but not cooked through. We’ll take care of that later.

2. Transfer browned chicken fillets on to a chopping board. When it’s cool enough for you to handle, chop it up roughly into a big bowl. Add remaining marinade into chopped chicken and mix well.

3. Bring the chopped chicken back into the pan and cook through, about 4 minutes.

Now we are ready to dazzle everyone with Halal food cart style chicken over rice made in your own kitchen! To serve, shred some iceberg lettuce and chop up a couple tomatoes. Open a bottle of pitted black olives. For maximum gorilla breath, you can chop an onion as well.

It tastes as good as it looks! Here’s proof:

My happy customers, Diego and Gibb 🙂

Make this. Make this now.

Fun Food Fact: In Arabic, halal means ‘permitted’ or ‘lawful’. According to Muslim law, animals must be well taken care of and  slaughtered with minimal pain (cutting the jugular vein and letting the blood drain). Muslims are also not allowed to eat pork and its by-products, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, blood and its by-products, alcohol, carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears (snakes, worms, insects, etc.).

P.S. I don’t know about you but I found the land-animals-without-external-ears bit most informative. I never thought of them that way!


23 replies »

  1. Ok, after this, I’m seriously following your blog!

    Great job Sam!

    I love Med foooood!!!!!

    …I’m going to the grocery now….


  2. Babe, the park that we ate lunch in was the very iconic Washington Square Park. It is at the foot of Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village.

    Wonderful entry! Let’s go back soon!

  3. My husband and I listen to you guys every morning on our way to work 🙂 I keep forgetting to drop by The Sam & Gibb show on Facebook and like the page because work is getting busy lately. Alas! today i get to “petiks” and had time to look for your blog since you guys talked about your halal chicken this morning! 🙂 Lemme try this recipe this weekend and see how it goes! looks really good! 🙂

    Btw, can you greet my husband, Benitz tomorrow on air? We’re tuned in between 6-6.30am. It’s his, uhm i think 37 or 38th birthday … hahaha! he knows im not good with dates 🙂 he’s gonna drive from Tomas Morato to Alabang and probably listening in till 7am. So IF you’ll get the chance and IF you’ll remember please throw him a quick birthday greeting :D:D:D

    Keep those posts coming and make Gibb proud … hahahaha!


    SAM SY

  4. Omg tried this out for dinner today and it was amazing! The white sauce was so on point. It was exactly the same as what I tried when I went for vacation to NYC -The Halal Guys. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  5. I am ecstatic right now to have found this recipe! Thank you so much. I am planning to cook this coming weekend :). Do you have the lamb gyro recipe as well?

  6. Ok so today is the third time I’m making this gyro and no need to mention it turned out the blast !!! My husband is from NYC and we live in mississippi now ! We visit NYC all the time and we only eat from halal cart during our stay . He truly loves it and thanx for this easy peasy recipe !!!! I’ve book marked it forever thanx a lot ! Everyone should try it for sure 👍

  7. I made this for lunch throughout the week and it was phenomenal! I followed the recipie but used cauliflower rice for a healthy option and it was delicious! I’m not sure if my garlic cloves were too big, but next time I’ll probably do 4-5 cloves instead of 8 for the yogurt sauce. Thanks for the recipe!

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