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