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.


Makes 8 servings
For the chicken:
  • 3 lbs chicken breast or skinless thighs, cut into 3 to 4-inch pieces
  • 1/4 c. yogurt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 inch knob of ginger, minced
  • 1 c. parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

For the rice:
  • 2 c. basmati rice, rinsed, then soaked
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 5 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped

For the curry:
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 c. plus 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder, or a pinch of cayenne
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 14-oz can crushed tomato
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
Cookware Used
The Dutchess
6.75-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
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The Whole Grain Family
3-Piece Wooden Utensil Set
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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.