Adapted from A Fistful of Lentils by Jennifer Felicia Abadi
Simple, moist long-grain white rice cooked with oil, onions, and salt, riz is the most basic dish served at any Syrian meal. Piping hot on a platter with browned pine nuts sprinkled on top, riz is one of the most important dishes served during most any meal. Like bread to the French, rice is a staple without which no Syrian meal would be complete. It goes with all dishes, especially tomato-based sauces containing apricots. Because it is made with oil and not butter, it is parve (neither meat nor dairy) and can be served with fish, meat, chicken, vegetarian, or dairy dishes. When my friends taste this rice dish, they are surprised that white rice can taste so good. Indeed, with lots of onions, oil, and salt, how could it be bad? Basic it is, plain it is not.
1 cup long-grain white rice
6 cups cold water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons warm water
Pine nut garnish (optional):
1-tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Vermicelli garnish (optional):
1/2 cup vermicelli or thin soup noodles
1-tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup boiling water
Place the rice in a medium-size bowl, add 4 cups of the cold water, and let soak for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan for about a minute over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring, until wilted and golden, 3 to 4 minutes; do not allow to brown or burn.
Add the remaining 2 cups cold water and the salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and add to the boiling water. Stir once gently and continue to boil briskly, uncovered, until the water is cooked down to the surface level of the rice, about 5 minutes.
Cover tightly, reduce the heat as low as it will go, and steam until all the water is fully absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy, 10 to 20 minutes.
Fold the rice over very gently with a soup spoon. Sprinkle the top with the warm water to moisten. Serve hot, with the pine nut or vermicelli garnish, if desired.
If using the optional pine nut garnish, just before serving the rice, heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir constantly until the nuts are brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn.) Put the rice in a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the hot nuts. Serve immediately.
If using the optional vermicelli garnish, break the noodles into small pieces, about 1/2 inch long. Heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is very hot, add the noodles and stir constantly until the pieces are brown. Add the water, stir, and cook until the noodles are soft, about 8 minutes. Mix half of the noodles into the rice. Place the rice in a serving bowl or platter and garnish with the remaining hot noodles. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4–5
Recipes: Side Dishes, Rice, Parve, Kosher