Easy Baked Rice Casserole

This is inspired by a recipe I learned in college, though it’s run far afield since then. I was an international studies student then, was learning Arabic and Spanish, and had a lot of friends from around the world. Fairly often the International House, the center of international student and International Studies student social life, would have a potluck. They also had a big dinner fundraiser for which I helped make 1500 gyoza and 1200 krumkake in two of the most mind-numbing days of my life. But that’s another story for another day. One of the things at least or or two or three Arab students would bring was kabsa. And every kabsa was different. I learned how to make it and decided it was perhaps the easiest thing in the world to make. Now this is not going to be a traditional recipe because that’s the thing with kabsa, you make it what you want it to be.

The first thing is you heat your oven to 350° F. While it’s heating up, you put a baking dish on a medium high burner with a tbsp of olive oil. In the olive oil, you put about 1/4 tsp or so of an aromatic spice like nutmeg, cardamom, anise, allspice, cinnamon. The heat releases the oils and flavors the oil which is going to make everything wonderful. For today’s dish, I used 1/4 tsp of anise and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.

Then toss in a piece of meat – a chicken breast, 1/2 pound of ground beef, or some stew meat cut into good sized pieces, at least 1 inch square. I went far astray and used carnitas–which means I can’t really call this kabsa, because no Muslim would be using pork. You want to brown the meat.

While the meat is browning, cut up some vegetables into big chunks. No need to be dainty. For this one, I cut an onion into 8 wedges, crushed a couple cloves of garlic, cut some asparagus stalks into thirds, and chopped up two inch long pieces of red chard stalks and fennel stalks.

After the meat was browned, I tossed in all the veggies. I tossed salad tomatoes in whole and cut a lemon into quarters. The lemon is not required, but it sure makes it delightful. I just dump everything in, then I made a dip in the center, put one cup of rice there, added two cups of water. Now, if I were using chicken, I might add some turmeric here, but not for pork.

The raw rice, veggies, meat, and lemon – ready to get baked.

Okay, so to recap, aromatic spiece, browned bits of meat, big chunks of veggies, 1 cup rice, two cups water. That’s all you need, takes less than 10 minutes. Now you stick in the 350° and come back in 30 minutes and it’s done. No stirring, no messing with it, all in one pot. What could be easier?

The rice will be perfectly cooked. The large cuts of veggies keeps them from overcooking. Brownign the meat keeps the meat juicy and tender. It will taste not tasted boiled! The aromatic spice adds depth and the lemon wedges infuse the entire dish with a subtle, light lemony flavor. This makes four servings, that get better with every meal.

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