As anyone who regularly follows my blog will know I generally use it for describing my art. Of course, cooking is also an art, and it is tied closely with memory and emotion too. Food anchors us to place and time, and its consumption and in particular its preparation create within us a sense of belonging to a tribe. When I lived in Israel, in the 90s, my former mother in law used to prepare large plates of steaming, fragrant rice served on the major Jewish holidays. The rice was golden, eaten with chicken or fish that was tender and spicy, in the glow of candles and with the humid air of Israel’s coastal plain gently enveloping me. It was a dish passed from generation of Iraqi Jews to the next, linking the centuries. After dinner, we watched TV, words of mellifluous Hebrew spoken in solemn tones of tensions on the borders, plots and intrigues in Jerusalem’s corridors. And we drank glasses of Turkish coffee laced with cardamom, along with pastries filled with date paste and sesame. Years later, and with no recipe to follow, I decided to reinvent the dish, adding my own twists and flavours. It is probably quite different to the original but it is mine and I would be delighted to share it with you.
Start by preparing rice, about 100 grams per person. If there are leftovers, it simply grows in flavour. Use any rice, well salted. Drain and keep to one side.
Take a large onion or two. Slice thinly. Saute in a lot of olive oil. This is an oily dish.
When the onion is light brown, add a large handful of nuts, almonds, cashews or even chestnuts.
Add a large handful of raisins or perhaps dried apricots or dates.
Now add two or three teaspoons of curry powder,
Then add the same amount of ground turmeric,
Add some dry soup mix or ground stock cube. I use Osem vegetarian chicken soup mix but you could use a couple of veggy Oxos.
The onion, nut, fruit mix will be quite thick, quite difficult to stir, and and dark in colour. This is fine. This is what will carry the flavour through the rice.
Mix the rice into the mixture, stirring very well and slowly so that all the rice takes on the colour of the mixture and no white rice is left. Allow it all to sit and settle.
Now we make the magic happen. Take a lovely serving dish. These can be found in Turkish shops, or brought back from holiday. They can be terracota or of lovely glass. It is part of the ritual. Heap the rice on the plate.
Next top the rice with labaneh in the middle, but don’t swamp it.. (To make labaneh gently mix cream cheese and plain yoghurt. It is OK to use low fat if wished.) Bedeck with pomegranate and cubed lemon.
Delicious with baked fish, with toasted flatbread or with chicken. To make a feast, serve with homemade hummus, with chopped cucumber and chopped tomato salad or avocado.