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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.

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