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.

Broccoli, Asparagus, and Mushroom Pilaf with Roasted Chickpeas and Feta

Broccoli Asparagus Mushroom Pilaf with Roasted Chickpeas and Feta

This recipe took a few extra steps to prepare some of the ingredients in advance. To be fair, the pilaf I made in advance was for a different meal. I just made extra so I could use it for another meal. However, I did roast chickpeas in the morning to use for this meal in the evening.

Pilaf:

1//2 TBSP of olive oil, salt and pepper. I heated the olive oil to a low medium heat and added 1/2 yellow onion, chopped. I let that cook until it turned translucent. I also diced up 1 clove of garlic and added that about the same time as I added 1 cup of basmati rice that I rinsed thoroughly to remove all the starch. I stirred the rice and garlic into the olive oil and let it all cook about 3 to 4 minutes. The heat was low enough the would not burn, but just toast a bit. I then added 2 cups of cold water and turned the heat up to high, bringing it to a boil. Then I put a lid on it, removed it from the heat and let it steam cook. It was done perfectly in 15 minutes.

Roasted Chickpeas.

I pre-heated the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. While it heated, I opened a can of chickpeas and rinsed them thoroughly. i spread them on paper towels and dried them before putting them in cast iron pan. I sprinkled them with some olive oil and roasted for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to let them cook evenly. When they were crispy and brown, I removed them from the oven, sprinkled them with some salt and a dash of Jamaica  Jerk seasoning. I patted them with paper towel again to remove any oil and let them cool.

Veggies:

I put 1 TBSP of olive oil in a sauté pan with about 1/3 tsp of anise seen, 1/2 tsp of cumin, salt and pepper and let it heat on a low medium burner. Meanwhile I chopped up a small yellow onion and added it to the oil and let them cook until tender. I diced 2 cloves of garlic and added to the onions when they were nearly done. (Burned garlic ruins everything it touches.)

While the onions sautéed, I cut down a small head of broccoli, separating the florets and peeling the stems. I added them to the onions and then chopped up 4 stalks of asparagus, cutting off the tops and adding them and cutting the long stems in half before cutting them into 2 inch long pieces. I added the asparagus next since they cook a little faster than broccoli. Then I cleaned and sliced 4 mushrooms and added them and let them all cook for a bit, adding about 1/4 cup of water after about 3 minutes of sautéeing. I let them cook until the broccoli was nearly tender, squeezed the juice of one large fresh lemon into the mix and let it simmer a bit so the veggies absorbed the juice. Then, I added the pilaf and stirred it in, cooking just until heated.

To serve, I put the pilaf and veggie mixture in a bowl, sprinkled some feta cheese on it and topped with a few roasted chickpeas.

The flavor blend is amazing. Anise seed really brings out the best in veggies and, of course, works beautifully with feta. The flavors of lemon, feta, anise and veggies were extraordinary and the addition of the crispy, crunchy and spice roasted chickpeas made it blissful.

For a vegan option, just don’t add the feta at the end. It is still delicious.

This made four servings. I imagine that my lunch tomorrow will be even more delicious!

Avgolemono Soup

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Who knew chicken and rice soup could be so flavorful? I cooked a chicken last week, making a chicken vegetable soup and reserving about 10 cups of chicken broth for other soups and dishes and lots of chicken for sandwiches and salads.  This recipe takes 4 cups of broth and makes 4 servings.

You can cook the rice in the chicken broth if you like. I had made my rice in advance.

Heat 4 cups of chicken broth to a simmer. If you are cooking your rice in the broth,this will take about 20 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk 3 eggs and 4 TBSP of lemon juice. I whisk the eggs until they are a light yellow, but am not trying to whip them or make them stiff in the least. When the broth is simmering, ladle some broth into the egg mixture and whisk it in. I ladled about three ladles full of broth, whisking each one in, before transferring it all back to the kettle of broth and letting it cook for a few minutes until the eggs were cooked.  Add some salt and pepper. Do not just  pour the egg mix into the broth because it will curdle and be lumpy and not look like what you want. It will still taste good, but you want it to look and taste good. You want the egg mixture and the broth to be the same temperature to keep it from curdling. Let it cook, stirring for two minutes or so and the soup will thicken. You can put a spoonful of pre-cooked rice in the bottom of the bowl when you serve and the soup will heat it thoroughly without cooking it any more. You can also add shredded chicken if you have any left, but it’s really not necessary. The soup is rich, creamy and delicious and does not need any additional meat.

Mushroom & Kale Rice

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I usually prepare rice in advance. I like to cook two cups of rice at a time and keep it in the fridge to add to bacon and eggs for breakfast or to mix into a burrito or to add to some veggies. To make rice, I thoroughly rinse two cups of rice. I put the rice in a strainer and run water through it in the sink until the water runs clear. I put it in a kettle with a tight fitting lid. I add 1 tsp of salt and 3 cups of water. I learned to like firmer rice from my Malay friends in college. Most Americans like a softer rice and should use 4 cups of water. Depending on your preference, anywhere from 3 to 4 cups of rice will work. Put on the stove on high and bring to a rolling boil. put the lid on solidly and remove from the heat and let it rest 15 minutes or more. When you remove the lid, it will be done. It will not overcook if you leave the lid on too long because there’s no more water for it to absorb. Stir it to loft the individual pieces of rice before storing in a covered container.

Now you have rice, you can cook the mushroom – kale concoction.

Heat 1/2 TBSP olive oil in a small sauté pan. Add 1 small scallion bulb (about 1 TBSP) and let soften. While the scallions cook, clean and chop three mushrooms and 1 clove of garlic. Add them and let them cook until tender. Add salt and pepper and 1 tsp of caraway seed. Stir and allow the heat to infuse them before adding the juice of one fresh lemon. Then add 1 cup of chopped kale and 1/4 cup of cooked rice and stir. Cook about 3 minutes or so until the kale is tender but not mushy.

I served with a pork loin chop and pickled parsnips. I am a Swede and have a culturally acquired love of caraway. If you don’t like it, you can substitute almost any aromatic and flavorful spice, from cardamom to nutmeg to cumin to wherever your imagination takes you. You just want to add another note to the flavors so that the earthy kale and mushrooms and the zesty lemon can play off something sharper.

 

Chicken & Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice Soup

A small soup made with reserved broth and chicken from a whole fryer. For this, I added some rice that I had made separately. Use your favorite rice-making method. My preferred way to make rice is to rinse 1 cup of rice and put it in a kettle with 1.5 cups of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Make sure it has a tight lid. As soon as the water is at a heavy boil, I remove from the heat, leaving it covered to cook in its steam for 15 minutes. This makes a relatively dryer rice than some people like, so if you like softer, moister rice, use two cups.

In a kettle, saute 2 TBSP of yellow onion in 1 TBSP of olive oil. Add 1 clove of garlic and some fresh thyme. Stir in 1/2 cup of chopped chicken and 2 mushrooms sliced. Add 1 tomato, diced and 1 very small zucchini, sliced. Pour in 3 cups of chicken broth and 1/2 cup of rice. Salt and Pepper to taste. Let cook until the vegetables are done. This still makes 2 servings, but for a soup, that’s a pretty small batch.

Pork Chop with Spicy Pear Sauce

Pork Chop with Spicy Pear Sauce

First I started the rice, rinsing one cup in a strainer to wash away the starch before putting in a pan with 1.5 cups of water to cook. I added a bit of salt, put a lid on it and put it on high heat. As soon as it was boiling enough to rattle the lid a bit, I turned the heat off and let it sit. In 15 minutes it would be perfectly done.

In a medium heat skillet, I added a bit of olive oil to coat the pan and when it was hot, I put on 1 pork chop and sprinkled some salt and pepper on it and let it begin to cook, flipping once so it cooked on both sides.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, I sauteed 1 TSBP of finely chopped yellow onion and 1 clove of garlic, minced with some salt and pepper. While they cooked to tender, I sliced 2 mushrooms finely and chopped. I cut 1/2 of a Bosc pear into slices and cut them in half again. I finely chopped 1 tomato. When the onions and garlic were done, I added 1/4 cup of mild green salsa, the sliced pears, mushrooms and tomatoes and let simmer until tender. Then I squeezed the juice of 1 lemon on and added about 10 pecans cut in half vertically.

I dished up a 1/2 cup of cooked rice with the pork chop and served the sauce on both. The sauce had lovely heat with a bit of sweet and sour flavors balancing each other. It was good on the rice, but magnificent on the pork chop giving an entirely new approach to sweet and sour.

Remix: Mjadra and Cucumber Salad Reworked

Taking the last of the beef roast and slicing it up into nice bite-size pieces, I mixed it in with the mjadra and reheated it all in a skillet to give some nice crispness to it. I took the cucumber salad I made and added sliced baby carrots and served up the remaining veggies. There’s plenty of spicy vinegar sauce left over that I will use to pickle some carrots for tomorrow.  Hmmm, if I had some fresh broccoli and cauliflower, I would make a pickled salad. Oh well, some other day.

Mjadra & Winter Vegetables

Mjadra is a favorite of mine – a Middle Eastern casserole of lentils and rice. To make it, chop up 1/4 of an onion and crush one onion. Add to 1 TBSP of olive oil and cook until caramelized. Add 1 teaspoon of cumin and stir in with some salt and pepper. Add 1 can of vegetable broth and 1/2 cup of lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of rice. The water will begin boiling again quickly. Put a lid on the pan and turn off the heat. In 15 minutes it will be done. This makes enough for two to three meals, but I am not going to save a partial can of broth.

Meanwhile, put 1.5 TBSP of Girard’s Greek Feta Vinaigrette in a sauce pan. Add 1 cup of frozen cauliflower/broccoli mix or fresh if you have it. Simmer slowly so you don’t need to add more vinaigrette. It is tasty without even adding salt and pepper.