Updated: Jun 1
Family friendly vegetarian side dish, this Lebanese rice is great for serving next to your favorite grilled protein, curry, stew, or eating it with a nice dollop of Greek yogurt. Fluffy aromatic rice with a slightly nutty flavor will make your dinner complete.
Today as I'm writing this blog it is May 23 on the calendar (you will read much later) and so many things come to my mind. It's been 10 years TODAY since we decided to move to the South, in the area known as the Low Country. Looking back, I think it was the best decision. On that fateful day in May, we climbed into a truck and drove away leaving behind my new friends, church and job!
However, had I not made that move, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog and sharing with you my passion for preparing and eating nutritious dishes like this Lebanese style rice pilaf.
The side dish that I am sharing with you today inspires me from back in those days when I worked in a Middle Eastern restaurant called Sahara in Worcester, MA. Look at this picture!
ON THE RICE
Generally speaking, in many countries of the Middle East rice is as important a part of the daily diet as it is in Asia. However, one rice dish you will never find in a Middle Eastern household is plain boiled rice, at least that's what I have been told.
Middle Eastern home cooks have a knack for playing up your basic rice and turning it into a celebratory dish. There are many rice pilaf dishes.
Various types of rice pilaf are enjoyed all over the world: from south Asia, to the Middle East, to east Africa, to the Caribbean, and beyond! But no matter the variations, rice pilaf usually consists of a few key ingredients: rice, aromatics, broth or water, and seasonings.
MORE LEBANESE DISHES:
MORE RICE DISHES:
WHAT DO I NEED TO MAKE THIS RICE?
Just 3 ingredients: RICE, PASTA and FAT!
Rice — Traditionally, you’ll want a long grain rice like jasmine, or basmati rice. You don’t want short grain rice, as they’re stickier.
Pasta — vermicelli is mini sized thin pasta that’s used to cook Arabic rice or placed in soups. I like to use orzo, it may not be traditional, but it serves the same purpose, the same tasty results and you don't need to break pasta with your hands.
Fat — Ghee is the most traditional choice; butter is great too. If you like to keep on a vegan side, use olive oil. Personally, I prefer using butter and olive oil just like in many European recipes, but remember you are the boss of your rice, so choose whatever fits into your diet.
WHAT DO I LIKE ABOUT THIS DISH?
Easy, quick, no fuss side dish that everyone loves. It's a rice pilaf recipe that does not overpower any of your meal even though it isn't plain; this super fluffy and versatile dish happily compliments any protein that is served.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH THIS RICE?
This is a staple side dish in Lebanese cuisine, served with many different varieties of Lebanese foods, such as stews, kofta, Shawarma, falafel, chicken kebabs, etc.
Also, you can enjoy fresh steamed rice with whole milk plain yogurt too! Yummy!
Sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon and some roasted nuts (pine nuts, almonds), which are optional but nice.
HOW TO MAKE THIS RICE?
Place the rice in a medium bowl and add enough water to cover up to 2 inches. Rinse the rice well to get rid of the excess starch which causes rice to be sticky. Carefully pour off the water, leaving the rice in the bowl. Repeat a few times, or until the water runs almost clear. Using a fine strainer for this step is easy and effective.
In a medium non-stick cooking pan with a lid, a Dutch oven is perfect for this; heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add the pasta (orzo or vermicelli) and stir continuously until the pasta is evenly toasted and turned golden brown in color. It will cook quickly, so pay close attention to this step.
Add the rinsed basmati rice and salt and mix well with the toasted orzo.
Add water and bring mixture to a boil.
Decrease the heat to low, cover your pot with the lid and simmer for 12 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit covered for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes are up, fluff the rice with a fork.
Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with roasted nuts, chopped parsley and a pinch of cinnamon if you wish! Remember we are eating with our eyes first.
Serve and enjoy!
TIPS and NOTES:
Avoid short grain rice, because it becomes too mushy.
If you are using white rice other than basmati, or jasmine rice I recommend you wash it (until it runs clear) to rid excess starch. See "How to Make Rice" for the specific directions.
If you are using vermicelli (traditionally that's what you should use), crush the bales with your hands into bite-sized pieces (don’t over crush) before pan-frying. Another option is angel hair pasta. In the video, I used pasta orzo, so this step was not necessary.
The more golden the pasta, the bolder is its flavor. It’s worth trying to get it as golden as possible. When frying vermicelli, be sure to watch and continuously stir as it heats up quickly and can easily burn toward the end.
Tossing the rinsed rice with cooked pasta is a must step, and helps infuse each grain with buttery nutty flavor. Plus tossing keeps the rice from not being sticky towards the end of the cooking.
Use a heavy bottomed pot to prevent burning or scorching. It’s harder to control a heated surface that is thin.
Add salt when the broth or water is stirred into the rice. Don’t wait until the rice is cooked.
Do not open the lid immediately after cooking. Allowing it to sit helps the heat to steam the rice and pasta a little bit more.
2 cups of long grain white rice (I used basmati in the video)
1/2 cup vermicelli or orzo pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon butter (optional)
1 teaspoon pink salt
Ingredients for the garnish (optional)
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley or cilantro (optional for garnish)
1/2 cup roasted pine nuts (I didn't use in the video)
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain well and set aside.
In a medium non-stick pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter, let it melt. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently until all the pieces of pasta are a deep golden-brown color. Be careful not to burn it.
Add rinsed rice to the pot with cooked pasta and stir to combine and coat the rice with the oil.
Season with salt, add 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Keep the lid off.
Then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 12 minutes.
When the rice is fully cooked, remove from the heat and allow the rice to steam for 5 minutes. DON'T OPEN THE LID. This step is optional, if you are in a rush as I was during filming, you can skip it, but I assure you this way it's much better.
Then uncover and fluff with a fork.
Serve warm with fresh parsley or cilantro, and toasted nuts, and a dash of cinnamon sprinkled on top, if you desire.