This cookbook features recipes from well known chefs and what they cook for their families when they’re at home in their own kitchen. It’s not a new book, but one that I enjoy whenever I pull it off my crowded bookshelf. I’ve been thinking about Middle Eastern food since watching Top Chef the other night. The contestants had to go to various neighborhoods and then cook a dish representative of that area. It started me thinking about which ethnic foods I like to eat and also cook. I can’t say that I’ve ever been to a Middle Eastern restaurant, but I know I love the flavors that are used in the cuisines of its countries.
We have neighbors who are from Lebanon and whenever they are in their yard roasting lamb (at least what I think they’re making), I’m sitting a few houses over, wishing we were on their guest list. I recently mentioned to them that I would love to learn more about their cuisine, in hopes of getting invited in to their kitchen to watch them at work. So far that hasn’t happened, but they did give me a cookbook. It’s not the book I used for this recipe, but I will try something from it soon.
We have a small Middle Eastern market not far from our house and although I didn’t really need anything specific, I was in the mood to go over there today and peruse its shelves. To be honest I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the items in the shop, but I find it interesting to look them over. When I was in there this morning the only other customers were an older woman and what I think was her granddaughter. As I was moving up and down the tiny aisles, I heard them speaking in a foreign language. Initially I wondered if they were Lebanese, or Persian and all of a sudden I realized that I could understand what they were saying. They were speaking Italian!
Crispy-Bottomed Basmati Rice Pot with Lamb and Spinach
3 cups basmati rice (rinsed and soaked for 6-8 hours in cold water with 1 tablespoon salt)
2 tablespoons sea salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion finely diced
1 pound lean ground lamb
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/2 pound spinach leaves, washed, dried, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
If you don’t have tome to soak the rice for 6 hours, you can soak it in lukewarm water for 30-45 minutes. Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the onion and cook until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the ground lamb, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper and paprika. Continue cooking, stirring often until the meat is well browned. Drain off excess fat. Add spinach and cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until the spinach is wilted and the liquid is almost all evaporated. Set aside.
Bring 2-1/2 quarts water to a boil with the remaining 1 tablespoon salt in a large saucepan. Drain the rice from soaking liquid and add it to the boiling water. Return to a boil and cook 10-12 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Test for doneness-it should be cooked entirely except for a small part in the center. Drain in a colander and rinse with warm water; drain well.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large well seasoned or non-stick stockpot with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons water and sprinkle the cooked rice evenly over the bottom of the pot a spoonful at a time until 2/3 of rice is used. Spread the lamb and spinach evenly over the rice. Cover with the remaining rice, mounding it slightly in the center. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke about 5 deep holes in the rice from the surface to the bottom to let the steam escape. Cover the pot with a thick cotton dish towel and place the lid on tightly. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook 35-40 minutes.
Mix yogurt with basil and mint, set aside. Fill the sink with 1 or 2 inches cold water. Remove the lid from the rice and have a large round platter ready. Place the pot in the sink for 1 minute, making sure no water gets into the pot. Remove the lid, dry off the bottom and invert the rice onto the platter. It should unmold itself in one piece and be golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve with yogurt.
Update: this was delicious, however even though I have more pots and pans than most, I do not own a stock pot/dutch oven type pan that is non-stick. As I suspected, the rice did not come out in one beautiful crusty piece (hence, no photo). I was able to scrape the crusty bits off the bottom of the pan and they were delectable.