Archive | March 2013

Meal in a Bowl: Central Asian Rice and Beans…

  …what to eat with your fabulous chile sauces (see previous post)!

Dinner in a Bowl

Pilaf, Pulao, Pilau, Polow, Palov–these are all names for the grain dishes of Central Asia, culinary cousins of Spanish paella or Italian risotto. The names change from country to country, but the preparation techniques are similar: grains are sautéed in oil or butter with aromatic spices and cooked with various other ingredients to create a dish rich in flavor and beautiful to look at. Add beans or lentils, and you have a meal in a bowl.

Long grain white Basmati rice is the traditional grain of choice for many pilaf recipes because it is refined, fragrant, and has the perfect texture for absorbing seasonings and remaining distinct. Other grains can replace the white Basmati with delicious results, and combining two or three grains in one dish makes for interesting variations in taste and texture. Special pilaf dishes are often made for celebrations and holidays–infused with saffron and decorated with flower petals, pomegranate seeds, and candied orange peel. Even a more humble pilaf  is rich with flavor and makes a festive and aromatic centerpiece for any meal.

Grain Close-up

Making pilaf dishes provides a good opportunity to explore the qualities of different kinds of grains as well as the wide selection of rices available. Long-grain rices are preferable for pilaf because their grains become fluffy and distinct when cooked. I often cook with brown basmati and brown jasmine rice, which are mild and tender but chewier and more assertive than white rice. California wehani and Bhutanese red rice are both good in pilaf, adding earthy, nutty flavor and beautiful red-brown color. My pilafs often include farro, kamut, pearled barley, bulgur, quinoa, or wild rice.  Be sure to cook grains with different cooking times separately. Soaking brown rice or other whole grains 1/2 to 2 hours in room temperature water allows the grains to swell more fully and reduces the cooking time somewhat.

Indian Rice and Beans Pullao

Ingredients: 3/4 cup mung beans (or substitute split mung beans or red lentils), 2 bay leaves, one 2-inch cinnamon stick, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cups white basmati rice, 1 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1 tsp coriander seed, 2 cardamom pods, 1 1/2 cups diced onion, 1 cups diced carrot, 1 1/2 Tbs minced ginger, one chopped serrano chile, 2 cups water

Tarka: 1 1/2 Tbs oil, 1 tsp cumin seed, 1 tsp black mustard seed, 1/2 tsp fennel seed, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seed

Wash the beans or lentils in several changes of water. Drain and put in a saucepan with 3 cups water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 15 to 25 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat, drain excess liquid, and stir in 1/2 tsp salt.

Wash the rice in several changes of lukewarm water, drain, and set aside. Warm the oil and butter in a Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. When hot, add the coriander seed and cardamom pods; cook 10 to 20 seconds. Add the onion and cook 5 or 6 minutes. Add the carrot, ginger, chile, and rice and stir-fry 1 or 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 tsp salt; bring to a boil, stirring gently. Reduce the heat, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat 20 to 25 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit 10 minutes.

Make the tarka: Warm 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the spices and cook about 30 seconds. Add the cooked rice and stir to distribute the spice-oil. Gently stir in the beans. Season to taste with salt, cover and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Garnish: Chutney of chopped cucumber, diced tomato, minced shallot and ginger, and chopped fresh mint; dressed with fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, with a bowl of fresh chile-garlic sauce on the side

Persian Rice and Lentil Polow

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice, 1 cup small brown or green lentils, 2 Tbs oil, 1 tsp cumin seed, 2 tsp coriander seed, one 2-inch stick cinnamon, 2 cardamom pods, 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion, 2 carrots cut in short matchsticks, 1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1/2 cup currants or dried cranberries, 1/2 tsp ground allspice,  1/2 cup chopped parsley

Garnish: toasted walnuts and quick pickled lemon slices

Wash the rice. Put the rice in a pan, cover with plenty of lukewarm water, and set aside to soak 1/2 to 2 hours (this helps the rice absorb water more easily when it cooks). Wash the lentils and check for grit or small stones; drain. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water and 1/2 tsp salt. Simmer gently 15 to 20 minutes, until just tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom; stir 10 to 20 seconds, until fragrant. Add the onion, stir to coat with oil, and cook 6 to 8 minutes. Add the carrots and drained rice; stir-fry 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, currants, and allspice. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer 30 to 35 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, 10 minutes. Stir the lentils and parsley into the rice and fluff gently with a fork.

Season the polow with salt and freshly ground black pepper, transfer to a serving platter, and top with toasted nuts and lemon slices. Serve with zhoug or other fresh salsa.

 Three-Grain Pilaf with Spiced Chickpeas

OK, two of the three “grains” are not true grains–wild rice is a grass (if you are really lucky, someone will harvest it for you from their canoe), and quinoa is the seed of a plant related to lamb’s quarters.  Each has a unique texture and flavor to contribute, and the combination becomes more interesting. Because they require different lengths of time to cook, the grains need to be cooked separately.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup wild rice, 2/3 cup quinoa, 2/3 cup farro, pearled barley, or coarse bulgur wheat), 1 1/2 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs cumin seed, 2 tsp mustard seed, 1 cup finely chopped onion, 3/4 cup diced carrot, 1/3 cup chopped sundried tomato, 1 Tbs chopped garlic, 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 minced fresh hot chile, zest of 1 orange, salt, and water

Garnish: chopped toasted nuts or seeds, chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, dill…), lemon slices

Wash the wild rice, drain, and put it in a pot with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until all the water is absorbed–15 minutes for truly wild rice, about 40 minutes for cultivated wild rice. Toast the quinoa  in a dry heavy skillet 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a saucepan with 1 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat 15 minutes. Note: true wild rice and quinoa may be cooked together, as they cook in the same length of time.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook 10 to 20 seconds. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the carrot, tomato, ginger, garlic, chile, orange zest, and grain, stir-fry 2 or 3 minutes. Add 1 1/3 cups water and 1 tsp salt, bring to a boil, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat until all the water is absorbed–15 to 20 minutes for bulgur, 25 to 35 minutes for farro or barley.

Make the spiced chickpeas. Toss 1 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas with 1 1/2 tsp curry powder. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a skillet. Stir-fry 2 tsp cumin seeds 10 to 20 seconds. Add the chickpeas and cook 1 to 2 minutes.

Gently combine the chickpeas, wild rice, and quinoa with the cooked grain. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and top with toasted seeds or nuts and a generous handful chopped fresh herbs. Serve with fresh or quick pickled lemon.

Wild Rice Pilaf

Wild Rice Pilaf

A quick and easy pilaf…make it with freshly cooked wild rice, or use some other rice or kernal grain. It’s a great way to turn leftover rice into something delicious.

Ingredients: 1 cup wild rice, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 finely chopped medium-large sweet onion, 2 or 3 diced carrots, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/3 cup dried cranberries or currants, 2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the wild rice in several changes of water, drain, and put in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat until all the water is absorbed and the grain is tender. Cook true wild rice 15 minutes, cultivated wild rice 40 to 50 minutes. Add more water if needed.

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Stir in the onion and cook a few minutes until translucent. Add the carrot and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked grain and dried fruit to the pan and stir to combine. Season with salt and black pepper and stir in the chopped parsley.

Serve with harissa, preserved lemon, or a bowl of yuzu kosho.

Welcome additions: steamed green beans, snap peas, shelled peas, or fava beans

Flavor Jolts: Citrus and Chiles (How to make anything taste delicious)


As this winter drags on, and the snow keeps falling, my thoughts drift to the woman we met in Southern Italy with her giant bottle of fig conserve. I love the photo of her–the big smile and her joy in having a supply of flavor to last all winter. If I were the one in the photo, my jar of winter flavor would be full of the brightness of citrus and the heat of chiles.

Fig Preserve

If I had just one bottle of something wonderful to get me through the winter, it would Justin’s Smoked Jalapeno Sauce. Justin takes red-ripe jalapeno peppers (he chooses them because they are thick fleshed, hot, and fruity), smokes them in his dad’s smoker (a metal box holding a gas flame, pan of wood chips, and racks for holding layers of chiles), blends the smoked chiles with vinegar, and puts the sauce in jars. Delicious, un-messed-with chile flavor.

Justin's Hot Sauce

I use Justin’s sauce frequently–a little slug in a pot of beans or stew, mixed with diced tomato and fresh herbs for salsa, mashed with avocado and diced onion for guacamole, blended with soft cheese, or splashed into a tapenade or hummus. Perhaps the most memorable use of this sauce was the Thanksgiving Day Bloody Mary prepared by Justin’s cousin– a flavor slam including green olives stuffed with blue cheese, celery, and pepperoncini in addition to the Smoked Jalapeno Sauce.

The sauce is a great stand-in for fresh chiles because it has such a bright, pure taste. It’s the kind of sauce that makes you say, “Wow. If you bottled and sold this stuff, you could get rich!” But that’s the point– processing changes the flavor. What you make at home with fresh ingredients tastes better. With a good supply of fresh lemons and limes, a jar of preserved lemons, and plenty of fresh and dried chiles, you can make anything taste good.


What a great name! This is what to make if you don’t have a supply of Justin’s Smoked Jalapeno Salsa. Zhoug is an herb-packed green chile salsa created by the Yemeni community in Israel.

Ingredients: 3 medium-hot green chiles (Anaheim or Hungarian Wax), 1 jalapeno or serrano chile, 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves, 1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves, 1 Tbs minced garlic, 1 Tbs. finely chopped preserved lemon or fresh lemon juice, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1/8 tsp ground cloves

Stem, seed, and chop the chiles. Use a large mortar and pestle or food processor to pound or chop all the ingredients to make a thick salsa.

Serve zhoug with pita breads and anything you would like to stuff into them–grilled meats or chicken, lentil or chickpea salad, hummus, roasted vegetables…Or put a bowl on the table to liven up hearty soups, lentil and beans dishes, and grain salads.



A North African chile -spice paste, Harissa can be fiery hot or moderately hot, depending on the amount and type of chiles used. I like to make it with fresh roasted red chiles when they ripen in the fall, but dried chiles work any time of year. Use any variety of hot red chiles, choosing your heat level from mildly-hot poblano (ancho) or New Mexico-type chiles to red ripe jalapeno, cayenne, or hotter.

Ingredients: 9 to 12 oz. fresh red hot chiles, or 4 or 5 ancho or dried New Mexico/ California chiles (2 oz, or 3/4 cup small dried hot chiles (about 1 1/2 oz), 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds, 4 to 6 lightly smashed garlic cloves, 1 medium-small onion or 2 to 3 shallots, 2 finely chopped sundried tomatoes or 1 1/2 tsp tomato paste (optional), 2 to 4 Tbs olive oil, 2 to 3 Tbs lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt

Roast fresh chiles over a gas flame or grill fire until the skin is blistered and charred all over. Put them in a bowl and cover with a towel to let the steam loosen the skins. Peel and seed, unless you want extra heat. Toast dried chiles briefly; cover with warm water and soak 30 to 40 minutes, until soft. Dry roast the cumin and caraway 30 seconds or so, and the coriander seed 1 to 2 minutes on a heavy skillet over medium heat. Cool, and grind to a powder. Slice the onion or shallots about 1/3-inch thick and dry roast 5 to 6 minutes per side.

Put all the ingredients in a food processor (drain, seed, and chop soaked chiles) and process to a smooth paste. Add more olive oil or water to thin. Store in a small jar with a thin layer of olive oil on top. Harissa wiil keep in the refrigerator 2 to 3 weeks, or in the freezer up to 3 months.

Use Harissa as a condiment for grilled meats or roasted vegetables, stir it into soups and stews, or serve it with couscous or rice pilaf. Combine some harissa with extra virgin olive oil or yogurt for dipping bread or steamed vegetables. My favorite: harissa and goat cheese smeared on a cracker or tortilla.


Dried Peppers

Romesco is the great pepper sauce of Spain, rich with toasted nuts and flavored with the mildly spicy nyora pepper. The ancho chile of Mexico is easily available and makes a reasonable substitute.

Ingredients: 1 large ancho chile, 1 head roasted garlic, 1/4 cup toasted almonds or hazelnuts, 2 plum tomatoes (roasted, oven-dried, or canned), 1 large roasted red bell pepper (fresh or canned), 2 garlic cloves mashed with a pinch of coarse salt, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1/8 tsp red chile flakes or cayenne, salt and black pepper

Split the ancho chile in half, remove the stem and seeds, and toast 15 to 20 seconds on a hot skillet. Cover the chile with warm water and soak until soft, 30 to 40 minutes.

Use a food processor to finely chop the almonds. Add the drained and chopped chile and roasted garlic cloves and process to a paste. Add the tomato, peeled and seeded bell pepper, raw garlic, and 2 Tbs olive oil and process to a smooth puree. Season to taste with vinegar, hot chile, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in more olive oil as desired.

Variations (of which there are many!): Make the sauce with 2 ancho chiles and omit the roasted red bell pepper. Or make the sauce with a combination of roasted red bell peppers and Harissa or other chile paste. Add 1/4 cup fine toasted bread crumbs to the puree to thicken the sauce.

Romesco is a delicious topping for fish or grilled meats, a seasoning for braises, or a sauce for steamed new potatoes, grilled or braised leeks or spring onions, or roasted fennel or cauliflower.

*Thai Chile-Garlic Paste: A simple way to brighten your life, as well as your food.

Put it on a tortilla

Put a little dab on anything that needs the spark of life–noodles, fried rice, scrambled eggs….Mix some with equal parts lime juice, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce to make a dressing for Asian noodle salads.

Ingredients: 4 fresh serrano chiles (or 2 Thai bird and 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles), 1 Tbs chopped garlic, 1/8 tsp coarse sea salt, 1 Tbs fresh lime juice, 1/2 tsp lime zest

Seed, stem, and chop the chiles. Pound the chiles, garlic, and salt together using a mortar and pestle. Stir in the lime juice and zest.

 Yuzu Kosho

Yuzu Kosho is a Japanese chile-citrus paste. Yuzu is a fragrant-skinned lemon-like Japanese citrus that, like the bitter limes or sour oranges of Mexico, is hard to duplicate. I use Meyer lemon or a combination of orange, lemon, and grapefruit zests. I made an experimental batch with equal parts of Justin’s Smoked Jalapeno Sauce and preserved lemons and oranges. Unconventional, but outrageously good!

Ingredients: 3 to 4 Tbs citrus zest, 4 small fresh green or red chiles (something like a Thai bird chile or serrano), 1 Tbs coarse sea salt or more, to taste

Use a microplane (it will change your life) to remove the zest. Put the zest (or substitute equal amount preserved lemon) in a mortar with the seeded and chopped chiles and salt. Grind to paste. Store in a small glass jar in the refrigerator.

Eat this with roasted root vegetables, a bowl of noodles or rice, or with stir-fries. I ate it on everything until it was gone.

 Quick Pickled Lemons from Jerusalem (the cookbook)

While I waited (actually, I didn’t) four weeks for my preserved lemons to become more delicious, as Ottalenghi and Tamimi promised, I tried another of their recipes. These lemon slices are ready to eat in just 24 hours and are just as quick to become an addictive condiment. Playing around with the spices is fun–more or less chile, maybe a little fennel, cardamom, or black pepper…I added a little fresh thyme to some, rosemary another time.

Ingredients: 1 small red chile (fresh or dried), 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 3 organic unwaxed lemons (I used Meyer), 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1/4 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground coriander seeds, 1 tsp sweet or hot paprika, sugar (optional)

Seed and chop the chile. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the chile to a paste with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp lemon juice (include the garlic clove in the paste for stronger garlic flavor). Cut the lemons in half, or quarters if large. Slice crosswise as thinly as possible. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and rub the flavorings into the lemon slices with your hands. Add 1 to 3 Tbs sugar, if you like. The Meyer lemons are sweet enough for me without sugar. Leave covered for 24 hours. Transfer to a clean glass container with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Serve these slices with couscous and rice dishes, stews and braises, salads and sandwiches, dips and spreads… any time you want some bright, sharp flavor.