Halal Cart-style Chicken and Rice with White Sauce

My version of the Serious Eats' classic. Spiced chicken with saffron rice, white sauce, herb oil, sumac and pickles.

This is a riff on the ever-so-popular Halal-cart Style Chicken from Serious Eats. That recipe is perfection. But after making it over and over, as you obviously would with that recipe, you start adapting and changing it to make it all your own. This is the current version that’s on repeat at our house.

When looking at the full recipe, it may seem like a lot of parts, but it’s really just a bunch of dumping, mixing, and then letting things sit. The only real cooking part is grilling the chicken and making some rice. The whole thing really comes together when you plate it up. The sauces, spices, and tang from the pickles all work together so well. It’s like magic. The ultimate chicken and rice plate.

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chicken with saffron rice imported olive oil
The sauces, spices, and tang from the pickles all work together so well. It’s like magic. The ultimate chicken and rice plate.
chicken with white sauce
Palestinian Olive Oilhalal cart chicken
What is Halal? Why is this “Halal Cart-style”?

Halal is an Arabic term that means “permissible” or “lawful” in Islamic law. When applied to food, it refers to the dietary guidelines outlined in the Quran (the holy book of Islam) and the Hadith (words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad). Halal food must adhere to specific rules, including the method of slaughter for animals. Certain foods are allowed and others are forbidden.

Halal carts serve food that is prepared according to these Islamic dietary laws. These carts often specialize in Middle Eastern or halal dishes, such as gyros, falafel, kebabs, and of course, chicken over rice. Which is what this recipe is referencing, hence the “Halal Cart-style” in the recipe title.

Some ingredient you’ll need to make Halal Cart Chicken and Rice:

Dried cumin is a versatile spice with a warm, earthy flavor. It’s commonly used in cuisines around the world, particularly in Indian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern dishes.


Saffron is a prized spice known for its vibrant color, distinct flavor, and aromatic qualities. Harvested from the stigma of the crocus flower, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world by weight.


Coriander is the dried seed of the coriander plant, also commonly known as cilantro. These seeds have a warm, citrusy flavor with a subtle sweetness, quite distinct from the fresh leaves. They are commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cuisines. Ground coriander is a key ingredient in curry powders and spice blends, while whole coriander seeds are often toasted before being used to enhance their flavor.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine and is loved for its rich flavor. It comes in several varieties, including extra virgin, virgin, and refined olive oil, each with its own flavor profile and culinary uses. Extra virgin olive oil, what you’ll want to use here, is made from the first pressing of the olives, is considered the highest quality and is often used for dressing salads and finishing dishes. Virgin and refined olive oils are typically better suited for cooking at higher temperatures.

I typically use either Italian or Greek olive oil. I’m part Italian, my husband and neighbors are Greek, so there is a constant debate about who has the better olive oil. To try and settle this debate I’m typically gifted quite a bit of olive oil to taste. In this case, I was lucky enough to have some Palestinian olive oil given to me to try out and compare. This Palestinian olive oil had a super rich, fruity flavor and was delicious. If you see Palestinian olive oil where you grocery shop, grab it, it’s very good. I will definitely be getting more.



This recipe, while it has many parts, is one of our favorite weeknight dinners. I typically won’t be making pickled onions every time we eat this; I’ll already have some in the fridge, or I would just go without. And if I were really short on time (or patience), I might even skip the herb oil and just add some extra fresh herbs at the end. Do what works for you.

I would recommend getting your chicken marinated as far in advance as you can. It can sit in the marinade for up to 4 hours, but if you only have 30 minutes, that’s fine. It will still be delicious. To make this recipe as efficiently as possible, I would recommend getting the chicken mixed, marinated, and stashed in the fridge. Next, start your rice and then make your pickled onions and sauces. Once the rice is done, you will grill up that chicken. This whole dinner shouldn’t take any more than an hour to make. And it’s pretty low effort for a seriously delicious reward.

Halal Cart-Style Chicken and Rice With White Sauce
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Halal Cart-Style Chicken and Rice with White Sauce

A riff on the Serious Eats' classic. Spiced chicken with saffron rice, white sauce, herb oil, sumac and pickles.
Prep Time40 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Keyword: chicken, chicken and rice, halal cart-style chicken and rice
Servings: 2



  • 4-6 chicken thighs or 2 large breasts I usually go boneless here, but use whatever cuts of chicken you like.
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground corriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • pinch Salt
  • black pepper


  • 1 1/2 C rice medium or long grain
  • 2 1/4 C water
  • pinch Saffron
  • 1 tbsp chicken base optional - I like "Better Than Bouillon"
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt if needed, your chicken base may already be sufficiently salty

Pickled Onions

  • 1 red onion Red onion is idea for that intense color,but any onion works
  • 1 C white distilled vinegar rice wine, apple cider or even red wine will work in a pinch
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • pinch salt

Herb Oil

  • 1 C olive oil get a really good extra virgin one
  • 3 springs fresh mint
  • 10 springs fresh parsley
  • 10 springs fresh cilantro
  • pinch salt

White Sauce

  • 1/2 C mayo
  • 1/2 C plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp white distilled vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper

To Serve

  • dried sumac
  • dill pickles or any other pickled vegetables you have
  • fresh pita
  • lots more fresh herbs


Marinate Chicken

  • Mix chicken and all your marinate ingredients together and let sit for at least 30 minutes but a few hours is better. Don’t let it marinate for more that 4 hours. The acid from the lemon juice will start changing the texture of the meat, and not in a good way. And, if you’re marinating the meat any longer than 30 minutes, keep it refrigerated!

Cook Rice

  • Wash your rice and combine everything in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 - 20 minutes until all water is absorbed. Turn off heat and let sit for 10 minuted with the lid on. Fluff with a fork and serve.
  • Or, do what I do and use a trusty rice cooker. I love this one from Aroma. It’s pretty basic, affordable and works great.

Pickle Onions

  • Thinly slice onions and add to a jar or airtight container. Add in vinegar, sugar, salt and water. You want to make sure you have enough liquid in the container so the onions are covered. Top it up with a little extra vinegar if you need to. Mix it around a bit so all the sugar and salt is dissolved. You can eat these in as little as 30 minutes, but I like to make a batch and have it sitting in the fridge for whenever I want to use them. Plus, the longer you let them sit, the more vibrant color you’ll get.

Make White Sauce

  • Mix everything together until fully combined. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed. Sauce should be tangy and slightly sweet, you want a balance.

Make Herb Oil

  • Blend all your herbs together with the olive oil. Season with salt. The final sauce should be very intensely flavored and will be the consistency of a pesto.
  • If you want your sauce to stay a super vibrant green, blanche the herbs first and make sure to squeeze out any excess water. I was using this up in about a day or two, and I was impatient, so I just blended them fresh.

Grill Chicken

  • Grill chicken till cooked through. Let rest for 10 minutes and then slice to serve.


  • To serve get a few spoonfuls of rice on your plate. Scatter over some sliced chicken and then drizzle with your white sauce and herb oil. Scatter over some pickled onions, a generous handful of fresh herbs and a good pinch of dried sumac. And be sure to serve some extra pickled things on the side. Here I used some classic dill pickle spears, but if you have pickled beets, pepperoncini, pickled turnips, whatever. Use ‘em. The sour briny flavor goes so well with the white sauce and the fresh herbs. Oh, and some warmed fresh pita would be a good idea as well.
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