Archives for category: Rice

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I wanted to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year.  It’s still January so it’s not *so* late.  I wanted to post this recipe up around New Year’s because it’s a nice winter dish.  Lentils are also supposed to be a lucky food for the New Year – so eat up!  Well, as far as I can see it’s still winter and spring isn’t going to make its appearance for another month or two.  It’s still freezing cold so this rice will help feel you warm, cozy and satisfied.

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I didn’t post because I got sick.  It wasn’t the flu, just a very bad cold.  It took me about three weeks to fully recover and now I’m back to normal.  This year everyone is getting sick, or at least it seems that way to me.  Nourishing foods are the key.  Even though you don’t exactly feel like scarfing down food when you are sick – foods with chicken stock and healing spices can most certainly lift your spirits.

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I don’t know what to call this dish – I can’t say it’s particularly South Asian or Middle Eastern, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter.  I often make this dish as a side to chicken skewers.  I also made it in the summer for my sister and she loved it.  I love it because I always have every ingredient on hand.  I just marinate some chicken and make a nice salad and a perfect dinner is ready.

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Even in the depths of winter and believe me when I say that this year it feels especially long, we can still enjoy our favorite foods.  As much as I love fresh summery foods, the comforting feeling you get from some cold weather foods can’t be beat.

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Lentil Basmati Rice with Crispy Onions

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

vegetable oil of your choice

2 cups basmati rice soaked for at least 30 minutes and then washed with water a few times until the water runs clear

1 cup lentils of your choice, here I used Puy lentils

2 small to medium-sized onions, sliced

1/2 dried cranberries

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 inch piece of ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2-3 dried red chilies

2 cloves

4 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 small cinnamon stick

2 green cardamom pods

7-8 cups cups chicken stock

salt, to taste

1 lemon, zested

parsley and cilantro, or any herbs or your choice

toasted pine nuts

Method

First wash the Puy lentils and place them in a medium-sized stick pot with the chicken stock and cook on medium cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are cooked, but still firm, about 85% cooked.  The chicken stock should be almost entirely evaporated.

After the lentils have cooked, in a large pot on medium to medium-high heat, heat about 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and add in the onions.  Cook until golden.  Take out about half the onions and set aside and reserve for garnishing.  Next, add in the garlic and ginger and let them fry for about a minute.  Add in the cumin, coriander powder, dried red chilies, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves and salt.  Let all the spices toast and add in the lentils and dried cranberries.

Pour in 3 cups of chicken stock and bring to the boil.  Add in the washed and soaked rice and let the stock boil again.  Once the stock boils again turn the heat down to medium-low and cover.  After about 7-10 minutes the water should be evaporated and the rice should be al dente.  Turn the heat to very low and drape a paper towel or kitchen towel over the top of the pan and put the lid on and let the rice steam for 20 minutes.

Open the lid after 20 minutes and garnish with parsley, cilantro, the reserved fried onions, lemon zest, and the toasted pine nuts.  Serve with yogurt, if you like.

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I love my food to be spicy and flavorful.  Many times, I find some cooking too bland for my taste.  Not to say that I don’t appreciate subtle and delicate flavors, I do as long as they are well-seasoned.  It is amazing to me, how taste buds can vary so much.  What is bland to me might be spicy to someone else.  By well-seasoned, I do not only mean spicy, I also mean the salt content.  Yes, salt is bad for you, but to the point where your food has no real taste?  Sometimes, I really ponder about these things.  Strange?

It’s just how my taste-buds are, I guess.  I like powerful flavors, just how I am drawn to bright and vibrant colors.  My rendition of fried rice is just that–powerful.  Savory, sweet, herbacious, and last but not least spicy.  It is in the style of Pakistani Chinese cuisine, sometimes called, Hakka Chinese.  It is of course not at all authentic Hakka Chinese, but a corrupted and masala laden version of it (in my opinion, at least).

I used ketchup, cauliflower, turmeric, and long green chilies, an out of the ordinary combination to add to fried rice, but it works.  I do not use ketchup often, not even for for French fries, so my addition here is only because it adds a great taste component.  When you are stumped on cauliflower, go Pakistani.  The South Asian flavors go so well with the bland nature of cauliflower.  Ginger and cauliflower are soulmates, I do not know how or why this pairing works, but it is one of those things just does.  Also, to keep it a little healthier I used brown rice and could hardly notice the difference.  Use any vegetable and/or meats/seafood you like or have on hand, anything works!  🙂

Sesame Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice with a South Asian Twist

Serves 2

Ingredients

vegetable oil

1 cup of brown rice (dry), and then cooked according to instructions and cooled in the refrigerator

1 chicken breast, in small chunks

1/2 a red onion, chopped

5 cloves on garlic, roughly chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped

1/2 a head of cauliflower, in small pieces

2 cups mushrooms (any variety), sliced

1 long green chili, sliced on an angle

1/2 a bell pepper (orange, red, or yellow), in chunks

1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

1 egg beaten

2 scallions, sliced on an angle

fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

For the sauce combine all the following ingredients together:

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons Vietnamese chili garlic sauce

2 tablespoons ketchup, preferably organic

2 tablespoons chili oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used low-sodium)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

pinch of turmeric

salt, if needed

(Extra soy sauce and hoisin sauce may be needed for the end when tossing in the rice)

Method

Saute the onions on medium high heat in a wok or large skillet until they start to become transparent.  Next, add in the garlic and ginger.  Turn heat down so that the garlic does not burn.  Add in the cauliflower and the chicken and allow them to cook, about 5-7 minutes.  Next, add in the sauce and let it to coat the chicken and cauliflower.   Toss in bell peppers and green chilies or any other vegetable you may be using.  Also, at this point, add in the toasted sesame seeds.  Cook until the chicken is done.  Move the contents to the rims of the wok and fry the beaten egg in the middle so that it is like an omelet.  Then, using your spatula break the egg up into strips and toss in the chicken and vegetables.  Turn up the heat and toss in the rice, scallions, basil, and cilantro.  If necessary, add more soy sauce and hoisin sauce to the rice.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, a sprinkling of chili oil, scallions, basil, and cilantro.

IMG_8111When I moved to Montreal for my Master’s degree I was introduced to Persian and Afghani restaurants.  The flavors were familiar yet different.  They were not spicy like traditional Pakistani fare but indeed quite flavorful and had many layers of subtle spice.

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Coming back to my Persian Chicken Kebab story, I needed to make some to go alongside it and I was reminded of the Afghani rice I used to eat quite often in Montreal.  Recalling its flavors I pondered on how to go about making it.  A challenge if you will.  I could have easily gone on to Google typed “Afghani Pulao” and instantly a recipe would appear.  But, I wanted to use my palette, my sense of taste to decipher the ingredients of this dish.

We often take our sense of taste for granted.  What would we be without it?  It’s like being blind or deaf, it is the lack of a vital sense.  Loving all things food related, I could not even begin to imagine what it would be like not to taste.  This brings me to to Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer yet persevered through this “death sentence.”  He survived but lost his sense of taste, to him dying might have been a better option.  Nevertheless, his fearless spirit brought him back into the kitchen and he used his non-existent palette to continue his culinary pursuits and now slowly his sense of taste is returning to him.  But imagine, food brings us joy, unites us all and without this vital sense human bonding would not be the same.

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Okay, had enough deep conversation yet?  *Snicker*   Where was I?  Oh yes, my self-inflicted challenge!  I know how to make a traditional Yakhni Pulao, so I used this as my starting point.  From my the remaining bones that I had butchered off of my chicken breasts I made a stock.  A simple stock comprised of onion, garlic, carrots, parsley, black peppercorns, cloves, salt, basically whatever you feel like adding to it.  The base was going to be simple, onions and garlic but what else could I add for the aroma and flavor present in Afghani pulao?  Another pantry raid!  Cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, saffron, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, dried red chilies, dried cranberries, pine nuts, almonds–all at my disposal!  Overflowing with excitement, I was ready to tackle this dish.

Afghani Pulao

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice, soaked and washed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (low sodium, free-range, homemade is best, but a good quality boxed one is fine)

1 medium red onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of Canola and Olive Oil)

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1 bay leaf

2-3 cardamom pods

4 cloves

5-6 black peppercorns

pinch of nutmeg, ground

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies

1/2 teapsoon saffron threads

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon orange zest

2-3 carrots, grated

1 tablespoon each, blanched slivered almonds and pine nuts (add extra for garnish, if desired)

1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, apricots, currants–I had dried cranberries on hand)

cilantro leaves, for garnish, optional

1-2 tablespoons butter, optional

Method:

Add the oil to a pot.  Let it warm on medium heat add the onions allow to sweat.  When the onions are almost golden, add the garlic.  Next add all the whole spices including the crushed red chilies, salt, and nutmeg but not the saffron.  Toss in the dried fruit and nuts.  Let the nuts toast and the dried fried reconstitute.  After a minute or so add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  When the stock is boiling add the saffron.  Let the saffron steep for 30 seconds.  Next, pour in the rice.  Allow to cook in the stock for about 15 minutes or until just undercooked.  At this point add the carrots and orange rind on top.  Turn the heat to low.  Use a kitchen towel and cover it over the pot tightly.  Then put the lid top and let the carrots sweat and the orange rind lets its oils perfume the rice.  Let it sit on very low heat for 10 minutes.  Uncover and fluff with a fork.  You may add butter for some extra richness at this point.  Place in serving dish garnish with extra nuts and cilantro leaves.

*I always serve Kachumbar or chopped salad with Pakistani rice dishes.  It is simply chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, green chilies, cilantro leaves,  a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, salt, a pinch of red chili powder, and a pinch of cumin.

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