Brown lentils and rice with cinnamon and cumin

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Just to keep up with recently acquired superstitions, the first post of the year is a lentil dish. It may sound a bit too healthy, too sensible and maybe even bland, but it is far from it. The few spices it has, make it fragrant, flavourful and delicious… For bonus points, it has something bright red on it, for an extra bit of good luck.

Lebanese rice and lentils (adapted from Bill Granger‘s Easy)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 200g lentils
  • 100g of long grain rice
  • 800 mL vegetable stock
  • 2 tomatoes quartered
  • plain yoghurt mixed with ground cinnamon and cumin
  • vegetable sto
  • freshly ground salt and black pepper

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan until it is pipping hot. Drop in the sliced onions and add salt and pepper. Cook for about 10min, until soft and golden. Add the garlic, the cinnamon and cumin. Cook for another 2min until fragrant.

Add the lentils and the rice. Mix until they are covered with the spices and the onion. Poor in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Let it simmer for about 30min until the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

Serve with the quartered tomatoes and a dollop of yoghurt.

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Rice Pudding with Orange Jewels, Tarragon and Puffed Rice

I cannot make rice pudding the way my Mother does. No matter how many times I have watched her doing it or how scrupulously I follow her instructions, it is not the same thing. It doesn’t taste the same, it doesn’t feel the same and it doesn’t do her recipe any justice. It seems just impossible to reproduce her pudding rice. For a while, I tried other recipes, like the one Spanish chef Juan Maria Arzak has in one of his books, to less than optimal results.

A few days ago, while watching season 2 of Masterchef Australia, I saw how Gary Mehigan  and George Calombaris did this rice pudding during one of their masterclasses. It looked delicious, packed with different flavors and textures, and they comprehensively explained how to cook it. And, I decided it to give a another go to rice pudding. Anyway, what sort of expectations would you have on an Australian rice pudding recipe?  It was worthwhile the effort. In fact, there was a respectful silence around the table while people eat their desserts… Do not feel tempted to remove the tarragon, on the pretenses that no rice pudding has green stuff on it. With the orange, it is a delicious combination.

Rice Pudding with Orange Jewels, Tarragon and Puffed Rice

Ingredients 

Rice pudding

  • 40g caster sugar (or sugar too taste )
  • 700ml milk (the real thing, with all its fat)
  • 135g Arborio rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

Candied orange peel

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • the peel of 1 orange, pith removed, julienned in the vertical
  • 1 orange, peeled zest, pith removed, julienned

To serve

  • tarragon leaves,
  • 1/4 cup puffed rice, toasted
  • 1 orange flesh segmented

Orange jewels

  • 15g caster sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp agar agar powder (do not follow the instructions on the bottle, as they are aimed to get a gelatin consistency. The jewels need to be solid to be cut properly, so it is OK if you add agar agar in excess).
  • 190ml freshly squeezed orange juice, strained (I used the juice of 2 oranges and topped with water until I had 250mL of liquid)

Method

Step 1: For the candied orange peel, place 1 cup of the sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium, add orange peel and simmer gently for 45 minutes until syrupy. If you are not using it immediately, it is better to separate the peels and letter then cool).

Step 2: For the orange jelly, line a 500ml plastic container with cling film. Add ¼ cup water, orange juice and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Sprinkle in agar agar and whisk for about 5 minutes until dissolved. Remove from the heat. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into the lined container. Refrigerate for about 25 minutes or until set. Invert jelly from container onto a board and cut into 1cm cubes.

Step 3: For the rice pudding, add the milk, rice, vanilla bean and seeds to a non-stick saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until creamy and the rice is tender, stirring regularly. Add the remaining sugar and stir for about 2 minutes until dissolved (I had to use the whole 1-L of milk, as the rice absorbed the first 700mL of milk).

Step 4: To serve, divide rice pudding between serving bowls. Arrange the jelly jewels on top, along with the orange segments, tarragon leaves, candied orange peel, a spoonful of syrup and some puffed rice. Serve immediately.


Rice and spinach cake

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While looking for a recipe to use up spinach, I found by chance an old rticle about rice by Fiona Becket. The recipe has proved to be ageless, and delicious. The quantities of herbs and spices had to be adjusted to current times – pinches are now teaspoons.

Rice and spinach cake

Ingredients 

  • 500g fresh, tender-leafed spinach
  • 250g arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 fresh, well-born eggs
  • 60g Parmesan, grated
  • 2 or 3 sage leaves
  • A pinch of thyme
  • A pinch of oregano
  • Sea salt
  • A generous grating of nutmeg

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Wash the spinach several times in a sink full of cold water. Remove the stalks and imperfections from the spinach. Place a large pan of water to boil and plunge in the spinach. Quickly remove the spinach, cool in iced water and drain thoroughly. Rinse the pan, refill with water and return to the cooker to boil. Form the spinach into balls, squeezing out any excess water, then chop finely. Tip the rice into the boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes. Drain the rice and mix with the spinach.

Peel, finely chop, and fry the onions in the oil and butter until pale and softened, then add to the rice and spinach. Pick and chop the herbs, peel and finely chop the garlic, grate in about 4 tablespoons of Parmesan, add in the eggs, sea salt and several grinds of pepper. Mix all this together, then smooth into a dish or a tin lined with liberally-buttered silicon paper. Bake the cake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden