I hope you’re all in the mood for a little excursion with your tastebuds!
Hey, it’s the no-passport-required way to travel, don’t you love that? Last weekend a friend of ours offered to share some of his awesome cooking with us and bring over some Persian spiced lamb (with extra saffron) for dinner to go with whatever sides I wanted to make. You all know that meat is not my favorite thing to deal with so I’m always thrilled with these kind of arrangements. Now sides, those I can get into. In fact, since I’m such a sucker for a theme I got all into this Persian thing and went digging through different recipes on the internet to decide what to make.
I even tried to get everyone to have a movie marathon of anything even remotely related to our menu to get them in the mood like Aladdin and Prince of Persia. They didn’t really go for it (#boringpartypoopers) but the kiddos did seem pretty excited when I explained that we were having a dinner straight out of Agrabah sort of like what princess Jasmine would eat. I made flatbread and hummus and then this basmati rice that I’m sharing.
I’ve gotta admit that I got carried away with the desserts though. I blame it on the craziness of our last few weeks and how many people I made food for on back to back days. It’s like I forgot to turn off my high-gear mode and ended up with enough treats to feed an army. Oh my goodness, I made so much more than I’d meant to but I was just so inspired by all the ideas I found online. Man, Middle Eastern sweets are so jam-packed with flavors it’s insane, I wanted to make some of everything. There are a lot of strong flavors that they use like rosewater. K, I don’t know if you remember my last experiment with that stuff, but let’s just say it wasn’t everyone’s favorite so I passed on using any for this time.
What I didn’t pass on were the nuts. Yeah, I went a little nuts with the nuts and added them to pretty much everything. I tried two versions of sesame halva, a Persian pastry called Ghotab, some almond tea cookies, and two kinds of baklava. Add that to all the leftover stragglers of dessert from the prior week and our kitchen counter’s “cookie jar” looked like Christmas in July. I’ve clearly got issues with gauging correct amounts of food and should possibly seek out professional help.
I had so much fun though. We’re even talking about having a bi-weekly international night so I can vent my enthusiasm for trying the flavors of different cultures. I’m thinking about sharing one or two of the desserts I made too but I’m not sure if you guys would be into it. What do you think?
Okay, but the rice is what I’m sharing right now so I should probably tell you about how delish it is. If it’s any indication of whether or not this was good, you should know that literally everyone in my family tried and liked it, even the pickiest of my younger siblings.
Typically you’d add saffron along with the other spices but since I knew the lamb was going to have plenty of it, I skipped it and the rice was still layered with flavor. I’ve listed it as optional. Also, pomegranates are another thing that a lot of recipes use but, wouldn’t you know it, the one time recently I’ve wanted to use them they didn’t have them at the store and I had just run out. That’s pretty lame considering how they’re in season here and I’ve had them on hand at all times for the last few months except now, but anyway, pom arils are great to garnish the top and add that fun sparkly effect to the dish. I made this rice two days in a row, partly ’cause I wanted to get it just right for our dinner, but also that’s how much everyone liked it. In the second batch I added garbanzos and used some chicken broth to give even more depth. Obviously the chicken broth knocks off the vegan label so that’s an optional thing and then the garbanzos were just because it sounded good as another addition so that’s just a suggestion.
And finally, one of the best parts about this rice is what happens in the last few minutes. See, you let the rice on the bottom of the pan get all golden brown and crispy, while watching carefully not to burn it, then you flip it onto the top right before serving and that toasted texture and flavor is so good. Of course, after that you have to top it all off with plenty of extra “jewels” to garnish which makes it look all vibrant and inviting when you plate it. Alright, so I’m going to continue humming Arabian Nights to myself and let you guys go make this!
- 3 cups long-grain white basmati rice
- 1 tablespoons salt
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- 2 large oranges
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups chicken broth (sub with water or vegetable broth for vegan)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron soaked in 3 tablespoons hot water (optional)
- 1/3 cup granular sugar
- 1/3 cup dried barberries or dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
- 1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds
- additional salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Rinse the rice in a mesh strainer under cool water then pour into a medium bowl and cover with about 2 inches of water. Soak the rice for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours (the longer you can let it soak the better). Drain and rinse the rice and set aside.
- Bring the a small to medium pot of water to a bowl and add the rice. Cook for 6 - 7 minutes until just tender then drain and rinse in cold water to stop it from cooking. Pour the rice into a bowl and gently fluff with a fork to loosen then set bowl aside.
- Add the nuts to a small skillet over low heat and stir constantly until nicely toasted, being careful not to burn. Season with salt and set aside for the moment.
- Wash oranges and use a box grater to grate the orange skins and remove as much zest as possible, stopping at the white. Slice oranges in half and use a lemon juicer to squeeze out juices. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or a shallow wide-mouthed pot over medium high heat and add the onions and your zest shreds. Cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring until onions are getting translucent. Pour in chicken broth, orange juice, and spices, then stir over heat for 3-4 minutes until part of the liquid has evaporated. Add the sugar and most of the dried fruit (save back a little to sprinkle on top) and cook for another 3-4 minutes until fruit is softened and more liquid has cooked off.
- Reduce heat to low then add the rice and gently stir with a blunt tool (such as a rubber spatula or spoon) to avoid breaking your grains. Add most of the toasted nuts (save some of these for the top too) and stir to combine, then season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Cover pan and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Remove cover and allow the rice to cook for about 5 minutes more without stirring to get a nice brown on the bottom. Let your nose help you here, you should smell when it's toasted but not burned. Remove pan from heat as soon as you think it's there and cover with lid then allow it to sit untouched for 8-10 minutes.
- Loosen rice from pan and scoop into a large serving bowl or platter, placing the crispy parts on the top. Sprinkle your reserved dried fruit and nuts over the top and serve immediately.
Garbanzo beans and pomegranate arils make a great addition to this dish. Also, the dried fruits can be substituted with preferred types such as regular raisins or dried cherries.