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Zaynab Issa's Waliamboga

Waliamboga — Chicken & Spinach Rice

Waliamboga — Chicken & Spinach Rice

Zaynab Issa is a food writer and recipe developer based in New York. We spent an afternoon together making her family’s take on waliamboga  — an East African–Indian chicken and rice dish — and discussed how she reconnected with her heritage through the process of making her (now-digital) cookbook, Let’s Eat.

Cookware used in this recipe

Pronounced phonetically (or Wali-YUM-boga, as I like to say — cheesy, but true), my family’s version of this elegant East African rice dish is similar to a traditional Indian chicken biryani, and it does not disappoint. Long-grain rice is cooked alongside spinach and tossed with a tomatoey dry curry with tender yogurt-marinated chicken. It is, without a doubt, a crowd-pleaser. I’ve adapted this recipe from my cookbook so it can be prepared and served in The Dutchess.


In a large bowl or resealable bag, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Then add the chicken and stir to combine thoroughly, making sure to coat each piece of chicken. Marinate for 1-2 hours at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.


While the chicken marinates, prepare the rice by filling The Dutchess with water and 1 tablespoon of salt and bringing it to a boil. Add the soaked rice to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes before adding the chopped spinach. Stir and cook for another 5-8 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Drain the rice through a colander and set aside.


In the same pot, heat 1/3 cup of oil on medium-high heat. Add in the sliced onions and caramelize until brown and soft. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and set aside for later. This process will take about 20 minutes and should yield between 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked onions.


To the same pot, which should have a few tablespoons of oil remaining, add the marinated chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and set aside with the onions.


To the same pot, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil (if no oil remains from cooking the chicken) and the garlic, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, and chili powder. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes to bloom the spices, then add the crushed tomatoes, roma tomato, water, and salt and scrape up any brown bits that remain from cooking the chicken. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 30 minutes, the curry should have turned a deep red-brown and thickened considerably.


Add the onions and cooked chicken pieces to the tomato curry and stir to coat. Then add the rice and roughly toss to combine, leaving some bits of rice and spinach untouched by the curry.


Optionally, cover The Dutchess with its lid and place in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to settle and ensure everything is warmed through.


Serve with salted yogurt and kachumber or pickled onions.

Photos by Michael Grant.

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