threeKathy, Teresa and I almost made it through sixth grade without a blowup.

Held up by our teacher as model friends, she used to counsel other threesomes to watch us for social cues.

“Three’s a hard number,” Mrs. Shulte would say. “You should ask Kathy, Teresa and Susan how they do it.”

Yes, three’s a hard number. Someone inevitably feels left out.

In our group, it was Kathy, who exploded with wrath and ranting one day on the playground. Our friendly triad never recovered.

Threesomes don’t get any easier as we age. In my 20s, I turned into a 12-year-old the year my best friend, Lane, found another lady to hang with. The three of us would get together for dinner or drinks; Lane once left the room, and her new bestie informed me just where I stood.

“You’re a bitch,” she said.

Yikes.

If threesomes are tough among the same gender, they’re downright toxic when the sexes mix. I played third wheel for a few months to a lovely couple in Tampa … until the girlfriend decided I must be after her man. No amount of protesting could change her mind. (And I really, truly was not interested.) That was years ago, but the damage remains: The woman and I are Facebook “friends” in only the most cursory way.

Yep. Three’s a problem. It’s a tough number to navigate among people; it’s a tough number to deal with in the kitchen.

Think about it: Most recipes serve 4. Or 8. Or even 2. I’ve yet to find one tailored for the odd number 3.

It’s a problem I’m going to face in earnest come summer. The big boy is off to college, leaving just three of us at home.

Now, I know I can make a 4-serving recipe (or double a 2-serving one) and save the extra. But the ugly secret in our house is that no one eats leftovers.

I can do a little math and multiply a 2-serving dish by 1 1/2, or cut the rare 6-plate down by 2. But again … what works in theory never quite gels in the oven.

That’s why I was so excited the other night when I adapted this recipe for the husband, younger boy and me. It served the three of us perfectly — not too big; not a smidgen too small. Best yet, it was delicious.

A lovely dinner for three! Without the playground drama.

chicken and rice for 3

Chicken With Onions & Cardamom Rice (adapted from “Jerusalem”)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 package skinless chicken thighs
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1/8 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in 2
  • 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over a low flame. Add the onions, some salt and pepper, and cook for 15 minutes. When the onions are deeply brown, move them to a bowl and wipe out the pan.

Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl and toss them with the remaining olive oil, the cardamom, the cloves and the cinnamon stick. Season with salt and pepper.

Glaze your skillet with a touch more olive oil, then place it over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and spices and sear the thighs for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan. (Leave the spices wherever they have fallen.)

Add the rice and caramelized onions to the saute pan. Stir in some salt and pepper and the raisins. Add the seared chicken thighs, pushing them into the rice.

Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken. Cover the pan and cook everything over very low heat for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the lid off it, lay a clean towel over the chicken and rice, then replace the lid. Leave everything undisturbed for 10 minutes.

Add the herbs and fluff the rice with a fork. Remove the cinnamon stick, taste the rice for seasoning, then serve the three hungry diners at your table.

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