March 26, 2013

Sour Cherry and Saffron Rice with Lamb and Beef Kebabs

Sour Cherry and Saffron Rice with Lamb and Beef Kebabs
Treat yourself to something a little different for dinner this week- why not try some sour cherry and saffron rice with some lovely meat kebabs?  I remember the first time I had sour cherry rice- it was from a Persian restaurant in New York City, and before I ordered, every single review I read online talked about the sour cherry rice- as an American, the concept was completely new to me- putting fruit in your rice?  But that's the thing- they are sour (also called tart) cherries and the flavor is completely unique.  Add some lovely saffron and nigella seeds (get smart on nigella seeds here: What are nigella seeds?) and it's a pilaf with a lot of personality- and pairs very well with these lamb and beef kebabs, and a lovely glass of Pinot Noir from Chile...  I can see you relaxing already!

This rice recipe was inspired by a few different rice recipes and techniques in the cookbook New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij.  I have had some dissapointments in the crust arena- only when I started using a stainless steel pot (instead of my beloved Le Creuset pots, which cause the crust layer to burn), and using parchment paper and vegetable oil, have I consistently made successful crusts.  People seem to go either way in their appreciation of the crust- neither my husband or my father likes the crust, but I REALLY like it (as do my two children!).  Here's that previous post on the cookbook if you are curious:

Now these lamb and beef kebabs have a different story- it goes back a while- I think maybe it was my junior year in college, a friend of mine and I went to London for spring break, visiting a friend that had been studying there abroad.  Almost every night, after thoroughly enjoying the pubs, we went for kebab sandwiches at a stand called Dionysus Kebab.  They were so good that one night I asked one of the guys what was in the meat.  He said onion, parsley, and chili powder.  That is how these kebabs were born.  Best piping hot and with some melted unsalted butter on top.  If you don't have time to make the rice, just make the kebabs and eat them in a pita- add greek style yogurt and or cucumber if you have them.
This rice takes a while- give yourself about 1 1/2 hours to make the rice.

Basmati Rice
Sour Cherry and Saffron Rice
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
pinch sea salt
1/4 tsp saffron, ground and put into 1 Tbsp hot water
1/2-1 tsp nigella seeds
2 Tbsp greek style yogurt
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 can sour cherries (see picture- I bought a case of these from Amazon)
2 pinches of sugar
1 pinch sea salt
2 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
(and 1/4 reserved of the cherries' liquid, explained in the recipe)

First of all, let's talk about rice- get basmati rice, mine is Indian, and rinse it with cool to lukewarm water until the water runs clear.  Mine must be really dirty, because this seems to take 8-10 washings!  Meanwhile, in a stainless steel pot with a lid, boil the 4 cups of water.  Add the salt once boiling.  If you add it before it boils, it sticks to the bottom of your pot.  Once it is boiling, add your washed rice and boil covered for 6 minutes.  After the six minutes, rinse with cool water.

Rinsing the rice, the water will at first be chalky
Let's get the rest of the things ready- grind the saffron threads with a sugar cube, (then eat the sugar cube.  delicious!) and dissolve in the 1 Tbsp of hot water.  In a small bowl, combine the nigella seeds, yogurt, 1/4 cup water and 3 Tbsp melted unsalted butter and add 5-6 drops of the saffron water, which should be a beautiful yellow.  Add 3-4 spatulas of rice, mix together.  This is the mixture you will use to make the crust.  To make the crust, use a round of parchment paper.  Place some vegetable oil  in the bottom of the pan (I use a large stainless steel pot), then a round of parchment paper.  Next, place this mixture in the bottom and spread it evenly.

Open your can of cherries.  You won't be using all of them, so have a few!  Drain them and reserve the liquid.  You'll be needing 1/4 of this liquid, so you can discard the rest of use it for something else.  In alternating layers on top of the crust layer, place a few large spoonfuls of rice, then a few cherries.  Form a pyramid, poke a hole or two in the pyramid.  Cover the pot and cook at medium heat for 12 minutes.  

Now, reduce the heat to low, open the pot and pour the remaining saffron water over the pyramid.  Place two layers of paper towels in between the pot and the cover to prevent steam from escaping.  Trim the edges of the paper towels so there isn't a fire hazard!  Let this cook on low for 40 minutes.  After 40 minutes, add the remaining 1/4 cup of cherry juice (which has had two pinches of sugar and one pinch of sea salt added to it) and the remaining 2 Tbsp melted unsalted butter.  Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  After the 10 minutes, remove from heat and place on a cool, damp, dish towel for 5 minutes.

After the 5 minutes, open the pot and gently remove the 'pyramid' rice.  Leave the crust until last.  Gently lift and invert the crust on to a plate.  Slice like a pizza into wedges.

Here's how a successful rice crust will look:

Lamb and Beef Kebabs
1/2 lb ground beef (I use 85% lean)
1/2 lb ground lamb
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cayenne red pepper (mine is quite old, if it's new, start with 1/2 tsp)
melted butter (about 2 Tbsp for every 4-6 pieces of meat)

Make the onion and parsley and finely chopped as possible.  Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Using your hands, knead the mixture.  Here's what will happen- at first it will seem like it won't come together, but if you keep mixing with your hands it will form a nice dough.  Form small elongated patties- about 3 or 4 inches long and about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide.  Heat some canola oil in a heavy skillet or dutch oven (with a lid) at medium heat.  Once the oil is shimmering, place the patties in the oil, partially cover the skillet or dutch oven and cook for 4 minutes on each side.  If they are a little thicker, 5 minutes of each side.  Top with melted butter (salted or unsalted is fine, although I always only seem to have unsalted).  Enjoy with your rice!

Some thoughts here- the meat can be made ahead of time and then just made into patties and fried as needed.  The rice, sadly, is somewhat of the moment.  While reheating the leftovers is ok- it lacks the wonderfulness of fresh.  I hope you enjoy this dish and that it brings a smile to you and your families faces.  It's currently a weeknight favorite in our house.

March 5, 2013

Disney Princess Half Marathon! It Actually Happened!

All I can say is, what fun!  A special thank you to my sister for all her hard work and preparation to get us there!  She had everything we needed and fixed our costumes (my bulging biceps put a little too much pressure on my delicate Snow White sleeves)- you name it, this lady can do it!  Believe it or not, I'm considering another one on March 23... although I haven't signed up yet, I will keep you posted!  A special thank you also to Cheryl K!  I loved your comments and thought of you often that weekend and during the race (but you are a speed demon compared to me! Way to go Cheryl!!!!!!!)   We are still in one piece, thankfully, although that one piece was pretty much held together by compression leggings the rest of that day- we actually also fell asleep in the waiting area of Chili's later that day- we were pretty much narcoleptic after that!!  Best of luck to Chocolate Purples- I am sure you will do wonderfully!  I have not decided yet about next year, but will let you know!  

Now, here is a story best told in pictures:

Our adorable Ariel (the redhead) and my sister

Daddy and son enjoying the pool at the Pop Century Resort

Prep area costumes- Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Snow White

We're ready to go!

Yes, I am tired!  It is early, people!

Adorable fairies and princesses

Get going!

Arg!  Avast Ye, Matee!

One of many tutus, costumes and fairy wings discarded along the road

Magic Kingdom here we come!


Please pose with your respective villan

Possibly the best sign ever: "I am cheering you on, sweaty stranger"

An 'after' shot- because we don't have a picture of us asleep in the Chili's waiting area...
 The excitement was contagious- here is a little video of my corral before we started:

A little advice to people considering it for the future- you need to sign up at the same time as people you want to run with, because (unless you have times from other races) they put you in corrals on a first come first served basis.  Also, it's convenient to stay at a resort that will have transportation.  And most of all, have fun!