Tag Archive | Egyptian rice

Perfect Rice Every Time

From my notebook:

During my trip to Palestine last spring, I stayed with my great aunt, Imm Tayseer, and her husband in Khalil, my family’s city of origin. I took the opportunity to ask her husband, Hajj Misbah, about what Palestine was like back when he was young. Sitting next to the window on his porch overlooking the neighborhood, hands clasped on his lap, his head wrapped in a traditional black and white hattah, 88-year old Hajj Misbah described how families used to hold weddings when he was young, inviting the entire town or village. Although serving meat to guests is considered the prime symbol of hospitality, not all families could afford to provide meat for their wedding guests. If that were the case, he explained, they would instead serve huge platters of steaming hot rice, seasoned with salt and drizzled with delicious, melted samneh baladiyyeh (clarified butter/ghee).

“The guests would come to the wedding, celebrate, eat. The women’s side of the wedding would always have many more people than the men’s, because each lady would bring all of her children with her. A lot of people were hungry back in those days, so a wedding was a chance for people to have a satisfying meal,” he recalled. “The guests would dig their fists hungrily into the hot, buttery rice. It was an excellent meal, that warmed you through, and curbed your hunger.”

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(Apologies for the length of this post!)

It’s kind of silly of me to not have posted a recipe for rice yet. Rice and bread are the two staples of Palestinian cuisine, and no meal can be eaten without one of the two.

Although rice is always deemed the easiest thing one can possibly make, my experiences have proven quite the opposite. It took me many failed attempts, and eventually combining a bunch of different techniques, before I finally figured out the best way to make it.

And true to real Arab cooking style, this recipe has no quantities. Sorry!

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The most common variety of rice we eat is a type that resembles American medium-grain. The second most popular variety is Egyptian rice, which is similar to a short-grain Spanish variety, like Arborio or Baldo. Egyptian rice is stickier than American medium-grain, and is absolutely delicious eaten just plain!

Basmati rice, although popular in the Gulf states, is not really commonly found in Palestinian cuisine. We use it to make Kabsa, and other Gulf-inspired dishes, but that’s about it, generally.

I have used the recipe below to make Egyptian, American short, medium, and long-grain, and Basmati rice.

You can do a lot with rice. You can make it plain, or add a variety of noodles, vegetables, meats, or spices to jazz it up, but:

The Basic Concept Behind Most Rice Recipes is:

i. Saute Ingredients

ii. Add Water

iii. Cook

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Plain White Rice:

Prep: Wash desired quantity of rice, then drain. Add fresh water to cover rice completely, and let soak for 15 minutes, then drain. (If using Egyptian rice or another short-grain rice like Arborio, you do not need to soak after washing.)

In a pot, melt several tablespoons of butter, vegetable oil, or samneh. The more fat, the better, although your arteries might beg to differ.

Saute the rice in the fat for a few minutes. Add salt to taste.

Pour in enough hot water to cover the surface of the rice by about half an inch. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Check the rice after ten minutes or so. There should be little holes all over the surface, and most of the water should be absorbed. Using a fork, pick at some grains, and test to see if they are tender. If so, leave the rice on the fire, uncovered, just enough to boil off any excess water.

If the rice is still tough, add a few more tablespoons of water, cover the pot, and let cook, checking back on it again after another 5-10 mins.

Basically you want to just keep coming back and checking the rice, adding small amounts of water and leaving to cook, until the rice is as soft as you like. Using small amounts of water and checking it constantly allows you to really control the process; much safer than putting in too much water and getting soggy mush, or using too little and getting burnt or brittle rice :(

When your rice is cooked and the moisture absorbed, fluff the rice with a fork before serving. Don’t use a spoon, otherwise it will get all mushy.

Rice with Vermicelli

Very popular and delicious, best made with Egyptian rice:

Wash and soak rice (don’t soak after washing if using Egyptian rice).

Use about 3/4 cup of vermicelli noodles for every two cups of rice.

Fry the noodles in hot oil, stirring constantly, until golden. Drain off the rice, then add to the pot, and fry with the noodles for about a minute. Add salt to taste.

Pour hot water into pot to cover rice by about half an inch. Allow to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium, and cover.

Let cook, checking constantly to see if it needs more water.

Fluff with a fork just before serving.

Easy Potato Stew: Yekhen Batata

I had mentioned the various yakhani, or stews, that Palestinians like to make. One easy yekhen is made using potatoes and parsley. It’s very simple and tastes delicious. My aunts usually don’t make it as a meal alone; they like to serve it next to something like stuffed chicken, but I think it’s perfectly fine served as a main course. I think it does the potatoes justice, since there are no heavy spices to cover up the light flavor of the potato. This is my aunt Hanan’s recipe for yekhen batata.

Ingredients

Potatoes, peeled and cubed

Vegetable oil for frying

Good quality chicken stock

Chicken bouillon cube, for extra flavor

salt&pepper to taste

Parsley, washed and chopped

Garlic, mashed

Vegetable oil for ‘ad7ah


Method

Heat oil for frying in a pot. When hot, put in the cubed potatoes and let them get golden brown.

Once fried, add them to a pot of hot chicken stock. Let the potatoes cook thoroughly in the stock until desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add a bouillon cube if you want to add extra flavor. Then, add the chopped parsley.

Stir the parsley in. In a separate frying pan, heat some vegetable oil for the ‘ad7ah (explained in the post titled Bamyeh: Palestinian Okra). Once very hot, add several cloves of mashed garlic to the oil and let it get golden brown. Then, pour all the oil+garlic into the pot of potatoes and chicken stock. Watch out! It will hiss and sizzle very loudly! Stir it in, then add salt&pepper to taste.

You’re done! Serve with fresh bread or rice (preferably Egyptian or American short grain), and a salad.

Bamyeh: Palestinian Okra

One thing I love about Palestinian cuisine is its wide variety of simple yakhani (“thick stews;” sing. yekhen) featuring seasonal vegetables. Many of these yakhani are cooked following a basic pattern: cook meat and obtain broth, add featured vegetable and tomato sauce, then let cook. I love these dishes because I can savor the freshness of the vegetables, and it makes me feel like I am connected to the earth in which they were grown. I always end up pushing the chunks of meat off to the side and eating all the vegetables! Some of my favorite yakhani are yakhnit green fava beans, yakhnit tomato with ground meat, yakhnit white beans, yakhnit okra, and yakhnit spinach. You can eat most of these yakhani with bread or rice (or both, like my Taita does!).

Today we made Palestinian bamyeh, or okra, and I was really happy at the chance to take pictures so I could post the recipe here. The okra that Palestinians know and like best is the small, short kind. I really do not know what variety this is called, but it’s not usually what I have seen sold back in Minnesota. Even in the frozen foods section, it’s easy enough to find chopped frozen okra or long, thin okra, but those don’t work very well for the Palestinian okra dish. I’ll explain why in a bit.

Two things about our bamyeh:

1) We’re going to be cheating a little bit in this recipe, by using frozen okra. If you have fresh okra, all the better, but frozen works just fine when you can’t get fresh.

2) There are several Palestinian dishes that taste even better the next day (actually, they seem to get better day after day :p). Bamyeh is the best example. If you can, I really suggest making this dish a day before you actually want to have it. I’m serious; sitting in your fridge overnight just enhances its flavor, somehow!

Ingredients

500 grams (aprox) of small cubes of beef or lamb

500 grams (aprox) of frozen okra – if using fresh, wash and cut off the stems

8 tbsp of vegetable oil

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cube of chicken or beef bouillon

1 small green chili pepper, chopped (optional)

3 large ripe tomatoes, quartered

salt and pepper to taste


Method

Wash the cubes of meat. Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a pot, then add the meat and brown it. Add enough water to cover the meat, then add 2 more cups of water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and leave it until the meat is just cooked.

Remove the just-cooked meat from the pot and set aside. Remove the broth from the pot and set aside. Keep the pot with the bits of meat for later use!

Cooked meat; set aside...

In a small bowl, empty your package of frozen okra and add 4 cloves of the chopped garlic, the chopped chili pepper, and the bouillon cube.

Bamyeh, chopped garlic, chili, and bouillon cube...

In the pot used to cook the meat earlier, heat two more tablespoons of the oil. When hot, add the okra (+ stuff), and brown it for a bit.

Browning the bamyeh ...

Now add the cooked meat…

Added the meat...

Crush the tomatoes in a blender with about half a cup of water. If it’s still very thick, add some of the broth from the meat cooked earlier.

Crushing the tomatoes...

Pour the crushed tomatoes through a strainer into the pot of okra and meat. Add enough broth from the meat cooked earlier until you get the stew to your desired thickness. I like it a bit on the thicker side. (Use the rest of the broth for making soups!) Let the stew come to a boil, then taste and adjust salt if necessary. Let it gently simmer for about 10-15 more minutes, or until the okra is cooked.

Letting the stew simmer...

The final step is the most fun part! In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil well. Add the remaining two cloves of chopped garlic, and fry the garlic until it is “sha’rah” (“blond,” or golden brown). Then quickly pour all of the oil with the fried garlic into the big pot of bamyeh and meat. It should make a sizzling sound as the hot oil hits the surface of the stew.  Mix into the stew. This hot oil + garlic technique is called ” ‘ad7ah,” and is used to add a final layer of flavor to several different yakhani.

Serve your bamyeh with Egyptian or American short grain rice, or with fresh bread for dipping into it. Bamyeh is also commonly accompanied by a simple soup, and mlokhiyyeh, two great dishes for which I will be posting recipes soon insha’Allah :)

(Note on why chopped bamyeh doesn’t work well for this dish: Okra by nature has a “slimy” feel to it (in a good way!), and the “slime” is increased by cutting the vegetable open. If you use chopped okra, the stew itself will become very thick and slimier than it should be. )

Bowl of Bamyeh!

Recipes coming soon for:

Rice, and two common sides: Mlokhiyyeh (the green stew) and a simple soup...

“Upside-Down”: Chicken Ma’loubeh with Eggplant

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

Of course. If there is a dish of which absolutely every Palestinian is fond, it would be ma’loubeh. Ma’loubeh is like roast beef and mashed potatoes for Americans. Or chicken noodle soup. Or spaghetti. My family is from the Palestinian city of Khalil (known as Hebron in English), and ma’loubeh is definitely a favorite among Khalilis. It is one of about four possible dishes you will be served if you are invited to dinner by a Khalili family, especially in Ramadan (a “3azoomeh”). Ma’loubeh is easy, relatively cheap to make, and everyone likes it. Even if you don’t like eggplant or cauliflower, you can still eat the rice and meat.

The name means “Upside-down;” perfectly fitting, because the dish is literally constructed upside down and then flipped upon serving! Q-l-b is the verb root meaning “to flip,” and m-q-l-ou-b-ah is that which is flipped :)

Also pronounced maqloubeh, magloubeh, makloubeh – depending on which region of Palestine you’re from -, ma’loubeh is basically rice, meat, and a vegetable, layered in a pot then cooked. The rice can be either Egyptian or American short grain, the meat can be chicken, beef or lamb, and the vegetable can be either cauliflower or eggplant (although I have even seen some people use potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and carrots!). The best part of this dish is the “flipping” of it; you pull off the pot to reveal a steaming hot layered “cake” of delicious, spiced rice, tender chicken, and succulent eggplant.

Today I’d like to post my aunt Hala’s recipe for the most delicious chicken ma’loubeh with eggplant you’ll ever eat :) She is known in the family for her excellent ma’loubeh.

Tip #1: If you live in the Middle East, cauliflower is known to be tastier in the winter. It is softer, more flavorful, and fries well. Ma’loubeh with cauliflower always tastes better in the winter :)

Tip #2: The eggplant used in ma’loubeh is fried. The best type of eggplant for frying is the short, “fat”, round, purple eggplant; it does not absorb much oil in frying. If you can only find the longer, oval-shaped eggplant (which is all I could ever find back in Minnesota), be warned that you’re going to be using a LOT of oil. The stuff soaks up the grease like a sponge.

Ingredients:

1 chicken, washed and quartered – best way to wash a chicken explained here

3 large eggplants (add more if you like!)

1 kilogram of American short grain rice, washed and soaked (if using Egyptian rice, do not soak!)

Spices: 2 tablespoons each of allspice, black pepper, ground ginger, ground coriander and 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon,  cardamom, turmeric, yellow curry powder, and half a tablespoon of cumin 

Salt to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

Method:

First, get the chicken cooking because this is what takes the most time. Put your washed pieces of chicken into a pot, and add enough water to cover. Add three quarters of the spices to the water, stir, then cover. Let the chicken boil for about half an hour, or until just cooked. When it’s done, take out the chicken and set aside. Add the remaining quarter of the spices to this broth, or put in even more of each spice if you like extra flavor! (I do.) Set this spiced broth aside.

(Tip #3: If you are hesitant about your “chicken cleaning” skills or the quality of the chicken you are using, try this tip. It will make for an even “cleaner” chicken experience if you let the chicken boil in plain water (no spices) for a few minutes. You will notice that a grayish foam will start to form on the surface of the water. Scoop that off and dump it! We call this foam “zafar.” When the foam no longer continues to form (or it turns white instead of gray), you can add the spices, cover the pot, and let the chicken cook. )

Next, prepare your eggplant for frying! Wash your eggplant, then cut off the green stem. You can peel the eggplant if you don’t like the skin, or think it’s too tough (my aunt does). Cut off any brown, hard spots on the purple skin if leaving the skin on. Slice the eggplant into slices of medium thickness. Put the slices in a colander in the sink, then sprinkle them generously with salt. Leave them to “salt” for 20 minutes. This process gets rid of any bitter juices in the eggplant, and also ensures that they don’t absorb much oil when fried.

After they have salted for twenty minutes, rinse the slices of eggplant, and fry them on each side in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Don’t crowd them in your fryer!

Now start layering!

Layer 1: In a large pot, put a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil, then take your boiled chicken pieces and layer them on the bottom.

Layer 2: On top of the chicken, layer your fried eggplant.

The big pot of ma’loubeh (chicken and eggplant have already gone in)..

A closer look at what’s in the pot so far…The eggplant is so tender!

Layer 3: On top of the eggplant, layer the washed and soaked American rice evenly (or just washed, if using Egyptian).

Finally, here is the tricky part: you want to pour enough of the spiced chicken broth you’d set aside into the pot of ma’loubeh to just barely cover the rice. As you pour the broth in, the rice you’d layered evenly in the pot might get unsettled and form little hills; use a spoon to even it all out.

Cover the pot of ma’loubeh and let it cook on high heat until the broth starts to boil. Let it boil for two minutes on high heat, then turn your stove down to the lowest heat setting. Leave it to cook – covered – for about 20 minutes. Check on it: if it looks terribly dry, add some more broth (or water if you don’t have any broth left). Use a fork to turn over the grains of rice on the top; they will be the least cooked, so you want to mix the layer of rice a little bit just so the topmost grains can get their fair share of cooking!

The ma’loubeh shouldn’t take more than 35-40 minutes of cooking time, max. Check on it throughout; fork through the layer of rice, and whenever the rice is done, your dish is complete.

Flipping!: You’ll need to be very careful with this step. Uncover the pot of ma’loubeh and place a large, round serving dish face down on it. With both hands, grab the handles of your pot and the edges of the serving dish, and flip the entire thing upside down onto a table in front of you. It would be good to have someone standing nearby to help grab in case you feel like the pot or serving dish is slipping! My father or uncles usually get called in to the kitchen to take care of this step. Tap the upside down pot with a spoon to try and make sure the rice doesn’t stick inside, so you get a nice clean “cake.” After a few seconds, pull the pot off slowly! The result is indescribable. Dig in!

The flipped ma’loubeh! It’s still steaming hot. We had already dug into it before I could even take the picture. Notice the layers you create: rice on the bottom, eggplant, then chicken. We serve it family-style and all eat off the one communal serving dish. The aluminum dish in the photo is called a “sidir.”

Traditional sides to serve with ma’loubeh: fresh yogurt and salad, like fettoush.

I have some pictures of a chicken cauliflower ma’loubeh we made a few months ago when my friend Cat was visiting me here in Jordan.  These Ma’loubeh Memories are for her :)

Ma’loubeh Memories: Just flipped…

Slowly pulling off the pot…check out the fancy pinky move..

Ta-da! Success! The thing on top is a round piece of metal that you put in the bottom of your pot before starting to layer the various items in. This prevents whatever is on the bottom from burning and sticking. I have no idea if it has an actual name in English.

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