Rice is one of my main comforts these days, not least because this special grain transports me wherever I want to go – all from the confines of my own kitchen, of course. The thing about rice is, it has a dynamic wardrobe. Yes, it’s small and unassuming, and it does subtlety really well –plain and buttered? I’ll definitely have that – but leave rice with a choice of costumes and, well, things soon get really colourful. Rice looks just as good dressed in the flavours of the Mediterranean as it does dolled up in Persian cardamom and lime. In fact, it looks good no matter what it has on, and I think it sort of knows it, too.
Mediterranean-style fried rice with anchovy lemon dressing (pictured above)
This has all the wonderful qualities of classic fried rice, with those lovely crisp bits and salty bits, except here they’re paired with Mediterranean flavours. Don’t be tempted to stir the rice too much – you want it to build a crisp, tahdig-like layer at the bottom of the pan. This would be great as a brunch or light lunch.
Prep 20 min
Cook 25 min
60ml olive oil
1 green pepper, stem and seeds removed, roughly cut into 3cm cubes (150g net weight)
6 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 mild red chilli, halved lengthways
4 spring onions, white and green parts separated, and both cut into 3cm lengths
6 tbsp thyme leaves – don’t worry about the odd soft sprig
1 lemon, juiced, to get 1½ tbsp, and zested, to get 6 finely shaved strips
350g cooked basmati rice, or other cooked white rice
For the dressing
15g anchovy fillets in oil, drained and finely chopped (about 5)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ tsp cumin seeds, roughly crushed in a mortar
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1½ tbsp lemon juice (see above)
1 tbsp parsley leaves, roughly chopped
First, make the dressing. Put the anchovies, garlic, cumin, oil and a good grind of pepper in a small saucepan on a medium heat. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, leave to cool, then stir in the parsley.
Put a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan for which you have a lid, and put on a medium-high heat. Add the diced pepper and saute for four minutes, stirring occasionally, until nicely coloured and softened. Add two more tablespoons of oil, the garlic, red chilli and spring onion whites, and cook for two minutes more, until they’ve also taken on some colour. Now add the spring onion greens, thyme and strips of lemon peel, and cook for another minute.
Add the rice, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and cook for three minutes, stirring to breakup any clumps, until the rice is heated through and starting to take on a little colour.
Use a spoon to make two wells in the rice mixture, exposing the bottom of the pan. Pour a teaspoon and a half of oil into each well, then crack an egg into each one and turn down the heat to medium. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook for four to five minutes, until the egg whites are set and the yolks still runny, and the bottom of the rice is nice and crisp. Drizzle the dressing all over the top and serve right away straight from the pan.
Red rice with feta and coriander
This is a very popular dish in our house, especially with the kids. If I’m serving it with something substantial such as chicken, I omit the feta topping and serve it with just a squeeze of lemon juice.
Prep 15 min
Cook 40 min
200g cherry tomatoes
120ml olive oil
2 red peppers, seeds and stem discarded, cut into 1cm-thick strips (300g net weight)
1 large onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1cm-thick slices (220g net weight)
Salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
40g tomato paste
2 tsp caster sugar
½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
8 cardamom pods, lightly bashed open in a mortar
2 tsp paprika
350g basmati rice
200g feta, roughly crumbled
4 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped
½ tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Put a large saute pan for which you have a lid on a high heat. Once very hot, add the cherry tomatoes and sear for five minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are nicely charred. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set the pan aside to cool down a little.
Return the saute pan to a medium-high heat, add 75ml oil, followed by the peppers, onions, a teaspoon and three-quarters of salt and a good grind of pepper. Cook for seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened, then add the garlic and cook for three minutes more, until the vegetables have taken on some colour. Add the tomato paste, sugar and spices, cook, stirring, for 90 seconds, then add the rice and charred tomatoes and stir everything together. Pour in 750ml boiling water, cover the pan and put on the lowest heat for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pan to one side, still covered, for 10 minutes.
Top and tail the lemon, then use a small knife to remove the skin and white pith. Holding the lemon above a bowl to catch the juices, cut between the membranes to release the segments, then cut each segment into three. Put the lemon flesh in the bowl with the juice, then mix in the feta, the remaining oil, coriander and chilli flakes (if using). Spoon half the lemon and feta mix over the rice, and serve the rest alongside.
Rice kofteh in spiced tomato sauce
These Persian-inspired meatballs in tomato sauce are a great way to feed an eagerly hungry family. Traditionally, yellow split peas are also thrown into the mix, but I used a bit of gram flour instead. Feel free to make this recipe your own by using up whatever herbs you have to hand (tarragon and chives would both work wonderfully here), and whichever spices, too. Serve with your greens of choice and a spoonful of yoghurt.
Prep 30 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
250g raw basmati rice
500g beef or lamb mince (15% fat), or a mixture of both
½ onion, roughly grated (60g net weight)
40g parsley leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra picked leaves to serve
40g coriander leaves, finely chopped
40g dill leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra picked leaves to serve
1 large egg
30g gram flour, or rice flour
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1¼ tsp ground turmeric
Salt and black pepper
Olive oil, for rolling
For the tomato sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
350g tomatoes (ie, about 3 medium ones), finely chopped
70g tomato paste
10 cardamom pods, roughly bashed open in a mortar
60g soft dried apricots, quartered (or 1½ tsp caster sugar)
Bring a medium saucepan of well salted water to a boil on a medium-high heat, add the rice and cook for 10 minutes, or until just cooked through. Drain, then set aside in the sieve to cool (you should be left with about 630g cooked rice).
Meanwhile, make the kofteh by putting the mince, onion, herbs, egg, gram flour, half of each of the chilli, cumin and cinnamon, and a quarter-teaspoon of turmeric in a large bowl with one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and a good grind of pepper. Add the cooled rice, then knead the mixture by hand for five or six minutes, until the rice grains are well crushed and the mixture is quite pasty. Using well-oiled hands, shape into 12 large, roughly 120g balls, then refrigerate.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large, wide-based saucepan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on a medium-high flame, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about seven minutes, or until nicely golden. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cardamom, apricots, the remaining half-teaspoon of chilli, a teaspoon and a half each of cumin and cinnamon, and a teaspoon of turmeric. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about four minutes, until the tomatoes have started to break down, then add 850ml water, a teaspoon and a quarter of salt and a good grind of pepper, and bring to a gentle simmer. Carefully add the kofteh to the sauce one at a time, then turn down the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and leave to cook for 45 minutes, until the kofteh balls are cooked through and the sauce has reduced slightly (it will still be quite brothy).
To serve, use a spoon to transfer the kofteh to a large serving bowl and pour the sauce over the top. Scatter over the extra picked herbs and serve warm.