Praise Persia

6 Mar

Gifts come in many guises.

They come in little blue boxes. Wrapped in the Sunday funnies. Hidden behind backs. In crates marked “fragiiile.” In baskets. With ribbons tied around fuzzy necks.

And sometimes, out of the blue.

Some of my favorite gifts are ones I’ve given myself (selfish-only-child that I am), like my new favorite book, purchased a few weekends ago at the Strand.

A Book Of Middle Eastern Food

There are many Middle Eastern groceries in Bay Ridge, chock to the ceilings with amazing looking things in packages marked in curvy Arabic script that I don’t know how to use. On a recent book buying expedition, I spotted A Book Of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. I grabbed it without even looking inside. I figured it would have at least something to teach me. I was right.

This book is a gift in every sense of the word. Full of anecdotes, knowledge and delectable recipes, I’ve barely been able to put it down since I picked it up Saturday morning after declaring to The Boy, “I think I want to make a lentil dish tonight.” If anyone knows the author, please thank her for me.

Persian Lentils & Rice Pilaf with Green Grabanzos

One of the other gifts to come into our busy, hectic lives since moving, is a place around the corner called The Family Store. It’s a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean deli of sorts. There’s olive oils and beans, dry cured olives, cheeses, rices, dried fruits, nuts.

But the real gem is the long case at the back of the store full of prepared foods. You never know what they’re going to have. One night it will be Chesapeake Bay-style crab cakes nuzzling up against rack of lamb. Curried cauliflower next to a warm salad of radicchio. But our go-to for a quick snack is a pilav made of bulgur wheat, reshteh and chickpeas tossed in olive oil with a hint of garlic. Outstanding warm, just as tasty cold.

Persian Lentils & Rice Pilaf with Green Grabanzos

I’m enamoured with these tiny noodles, the reshteh. They’re basically just broken up angel hair pasta, similar to what Spaniards use in fideuá or Mexicans in fideos. When I spotted a lentil recipe using the reshteh, I knew I had to make it. But, then, on second thought, what good are lentils with no starch?

It was time to confront my rice fears. I settled on making the lentils minus noodles, and rice plus noodles.

I know I say this from time to time, but I’m going to gush… This was one of the best meals I’ve ever made in my entire life. Hands down. The lentils were luxurious, simple, bold and seductive. The rice fragrant, clean, alluring and decadent.

I’m over the moon that I now own 10 pounds of, what I was assured to be, the very best (World’s Best & Longest!) Basmati rice you can buy for $8 (and get a free handbag to boot). I know this is the winter of discovering the obvious, but oh, Basmati! I love you! I love your aroma and your fluffiness, your adaptability, but mostly your aroma. I want to eat you for dinner every night.

They may not look like much, the sunny yellow lentils (no turmeric added!) and the bland white rice, but don’t let that fool you. This is hearty, soul-satisfying winter fare. If you need to serve more than two people, double the lentils. If you need to serve less than four people, or do not want leftovers halve the amounts in the rice recipe.

But why you wouldn’t want leftovers I have no idea. They heat up well on the stove, and would probably do just fine in the microwave.

Persian Lentils & Rice Pilaf with Green Grabanzos

Now, close your eyes, I have a present for you. It’s just a little thing, a gift to make a cold day feel warmer.

Tada! Yes, it’s just two recipes, but they’re really, really good ones.

This could even be party fare. Dig your best wall tapestry from college out of storage to use as a tablecloth, light candles, toast some naan, burn incense, eat with your hands and if you must, sit on the floor while drinking mint tea, and serve the rice and lentils with harissa-marinated lamb, pickled cauliflower and maybe a tomato and onion salad.

Happy Tuesday. I hope you like my gift.

It better fit.

I can’t return it.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Lavish Lentils and Roz Bil Shaghira.

heirloom·modern: Lavish Lentils

prep time: 2 hours + 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 45 – 90 minutes + 30 minutes

  • 1 1/2 c. yellow & orange lentils, picked over, washed and soaked for 2 hours
  • 1 tbsp Butter + 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2-3 small Onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • Cayenne to taste
  • Salt & Pepper

Cook the lentils in cold water to cover over a medium flame. Cook 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours as needed until tender and just beginning to fall apart. Set aside and keep warm.

Place the butter and olive oil in a sautée pan over medium-low heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until just becoming golden, add the coriander, salt & pepper and a dash (or more) of cayenne. Continue to cook the onions until they begin to caramelize. This may take a long time, 20-30 minutes. Just be patient.

Once caramelized, return the lentils to the pan and stir to incorporate. This dish can be held here for as long as needed, just stir often so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Serve with rice for a simple winter’s dinner.

heirloom·modern: Roz Bil Shaghira

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 50 minutes

  • 2 c. Basmati Rice, washed
  • 3 tbsp Butter + 3 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 small Onions, cut in halve moons
  • 5-6 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 6-8 ozs Reshteh
  • 4 c Water
  • 1-2 c. Green Garbanzo beans, thawed or tinned normal chick peas

Place a dutch oven over a medium flame. Add the fats, the onions and the garlic. Cook until softened and becoming golden. Add the noodles and cook until just beginning to color. Add the rice and cook a few minutes until fragrant and just becoming translucent. Add the water, bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid and turn down to a bare simmer. Cook 20 minutes. Do not peek.

After 20 minutes remove the lid, add the garbanzos and stir until heated through.

Serve with Lavish Lentils, yogurt seasoned with dill, salt, a little lemon and one clove of minced garlic, or with nothing at all.

Enjoy!

Both recipes are adapted from Claudia Roden’s 1968 A Book Of Middle Eastern Food published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf.

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19 Responses to “Praise Persia”

  1. Lydia March 6, 2007 at 11:27 am #

    Oooh, it’s such fun to explore Bay Ridge through your writing, and to cook along with the wonderful recipes you’re discovering. The Claudia Roden book is a classic, one of the must-haves in my own cookbook collection. The thin noodles are really fun — they are called chayere or something like that in Arabic, I’m told — and I toss them into soups, stews, rice, everything.

  2. jenblossom March 6, 2007 at 1:56 pm #

    That all looks and sounds fantastic. I’ll have to bookmark these for a future meatless Monday dinner.

  3. Luisa March 6, 2007 at 8:03 pm #

    Hooray for basmati! Isn’t it delicious? Considered a real luxury in India, which always make me well up with tears when I see the bags of rice lined up here at the grocery store. It’s just one of those global ironies that leaves me feeling a bit ill.

    These recipes both sound so totally up my alley – what a delicious meal you made. Thanks for the gift ;)

  4. ann March 6, 2007 at 10:43 pm #

    Lydia — Oh, thank you! I’m glad to know you’re enjoying the virtual explorations as much as I’m enjoying the puttering about. I’m happy to know this book is a classic, because it should be. I cooked a second dinner out of it as well… more on that later… I think there are lots of other names for the noodles, but they are amazing! I’m happy to have them in my lives.

    Jenblossom — Funny you mention meatless… we’re actually having a Meat-Free March… more on that later, too.

    Luisa — I can imagine it’s a luxury. I feel so rich having it in my life. I blame Jhumpa Lahiri for it. I just finished The Namesake after having read her short stories collection years ago. All I want to eat lately is Indian food… And you’re welcome. Have any need for a few pounds of Basmati? I’ll deliver!

  5. Lisa (Homesick Texan) March 6, 2007 at 11:29 pm #

    Oh wow! I just finished The Namesake about an hour ago. (What did you think compared to her short-story collection?) Beyond wanting to hang out with Gogol and family, the whole time I was reading it I was constantly craving Indian food. These recipes should help feed that need!

  6. izzy's mama March 6, 2007 at 11:39 pm #

    You and I are a similar food wave length..rice and now this..What an incredible sounding meal. I must make that lamb. Did you buy yours from 3-Corner Field Farm?

    I keep meaning to purchase a tube of Harissa. I know I have seen it somewhere..and I haven’t been to Brooklyn lately..hmmm..any Manhattan sources you know of off the bat?

  7. ann March 7, 2007 at 7:43 am #

    Lisa(HT) — My one quibble with The Namesake was that it should come with a warning “If you are an easy crier, do not ready parts of this book on the subway on your way into work or it will ruin your day.” Other than that, I wish I had that one girlfriend of Gogol’s parent’s house in Chelsea. And a salwar kameez.

    Izzy’s Mama — There’s a bunch of places to get harissa! I got the tube at the Essex St Market at Max’s cheese stall (Essex Fromagerie), but I’m sure Dean & Deluca would have an overpriced version, or maybe Gourmet Garage and definitely at Whole Foods or Citarella or Balduccis. It’s amazing stuff. And I can’t remember the name of the sheep people, it’s the stand that mainly sells yarn and then happens to sell of their, um, older sheep as food?

  8. Tiny Banquet Committee March 7, 2007 at 7:48 am #

    I have Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food and it is one of my favorite cookbooks; I’ve probably tried more recipes from that book than from any other in my collection and I’ve loved them all. I made the kuku-ye sabsi a couple weeks ago — it’s a delicious Iranian egg pie, very much like a frittata, loaded with greens and herbs, perfect for a meat-free March!
    Those green garbanzo beans are gorgeous.

  9. s'kat March 7, 2007 at 8:30 am #

    My husband doesn’t like Indian food at all, so I relish the opportunity to virtually dine at your Persian tableside. And these recipes show that simplicity is sometimes the best seasoning. Yum!

  10. ann March 7, 2007 at 10:59 am #

    TBC — I must get my mitts on that book then!

    s’kat — maybe he just hasn’t me the right Indian food yet ;-)

  11. sher March 7, 2007 at 4:00 pm #

    That looks so delicious, my mouth started watering as soon as I saw the pictures. I recently saw some yellow lentils and they seemed to be calling to me, (well they were near the Cheetos, so maybe it was them calling me) and I was considering buying them. Well, now I will! I love rice and lentils–so I know this will be great!

  12. izzy's mama March 8, 2007 at 12:07 am #

    I found harissa at Whole Foods today but it was in a small can instead of the tube. The tube seems like a better mode of packaging but I took what I could get.

  13. Dolores March 8, 2007 at 1:46 am #

    I’m not typically terribly fond of lentils. But your beautiful pictures and compelling narrative have convinced me to give them another shot!

  14. lobstersquad March 8, 2007 at 5:10 am #

    I think one of the best things about these middle eastern foods is that they taste so good cold. I love a leftover, but even more I love stuff that can be made ahead

  15. Linda, The Village Vegetable March 8, 2007 at 11:11 am #

    thanks for the links. this looks tasty! i really enjoy middle eastern foods yet i don’t eat them often enough!

  16. ann March 8, 2007 at 11:41 am #

    Sher — Cheetos! LOL. Go for the lentils, much healthier ;-)

    Izzy’s Mama — Good, I’m glad you found some! The tube is okay, but it leaks easily. I’m going with the little can next time myself.

    Dolores — I’m not usually a fan either, but these lovely yellow and orange ones have a much finer texture than those nasty old beasts the French use so often in soups.

    Lobstersquad — That gets a dude… Dude, I know! So good! The best non-traditional breakfasts. I just stand in the fridge with the door open eating out of tupperware. Good stuff!

  17. Toni March 8, 2007 at 6:39 pm #

    I’ve had the Claudia Roden book for years and absolutely adore her recipes! I had a post on Baba Ganouj a while back which came from that book. Never tried this recipe, but you’re making my mouth water, so it’s a go!

  18. Julie March 11, 2007 at 4:23 pm #

    Basmati rice is amazing stuff, The Namesake was an amazing book (I also wish I had that girlfriend’s parent’s house), and that’s one enthusiastic endorsement you give for the lentils and rice.

    Lentils and rice are not the sort of thing I would ever think of pairing together, probably because I am too hung up on that protein/starch/vegetable meal pattern, but I just recently read a post about a rice and lentil dish called muhjadarra
    on (at?) Toast which Lindy spoke very highly of, and now with you also extolling the virtues of lentils and rice I must check it out.

  19. Mat March 15, 2007 at 12:14 am #

    Someone else owns A Book of Middle-Eastern Food
    I’m shocked! I thought it was a particularly grand find at a used bookstore for $5 when I found it in the summer. It pairs nicely with a rather more mundane (sometimes) book called European Peasant Cooking which sounds like it would be merely cabbage and such but actually is mostly Greek / Moroccan / Russian fare and quite a good reference for some classic favorites (e.g. stiffado).

    Good find!

    Cheers.

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