Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sadaf’s Rice and Raita

I have been meaning to post this recipe for ages, and was reminded today when I watched the kid forget all about his demands for macaroni and cheese (out of a box, yes, it’s true) as he gobbled down two bowls of this yummy Middle Eastern classic. The proper name for the rice and peas is pullao, but in our household we call it Sadaf’s Rice, named after my friend Sadaf, whom the kid adores and I begged the recipe from.

I have modified Sadaf’s original recipe slightly, to make it a bit more compatible with my North American pantry. If at all possible, try to source all of the whole spices; they are available at many regular grocers and most bulk food stores, and can certainly be found in any Asian grocer. Since the spices are whole, they last a long time when stored away from light and heat.

Sadaf’s Rice:

1 – 2 cups basmati rice
4 tsp olive oil
1½ tsp black cumin seeds (use regular cumin seeds if you can’t find black)
12 whole peppercorns
4 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod (add a couple more green pods if you can’t find black)
1 cinnamon stick
1 medium onion, diced (reserve 1 tbsp for raita)
2 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 can chick peas, drained
chicken broth or 1 bullion cube

Rinse and soak rice in a fine mesh strainer or loose-weave cloth for 20-30 minutes. Drain.

In a heavy saucepot on medium-high heat, fry spices in oil until seeds begin to sizzle. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes.

Add drained rice, chick peas, and broth or water to cover ½ inch above the rice (about double the quantity of rice used). Boil uncovered until liquid is almost level with rice; cover with tight-fitting lid and simmer on low until liquid is absorbed, about 12 – 14 minutes. (Make raita while rice cooks.)

Let stand, covered, for a few minutes and then fluff rice with a fork or chopsticks. Remove the cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon before serving.

Raita (Yogurt Salad)

½ to 1 cup plain yogurt, ideally 2% or higher (I use 6%; it’s worth it)
1 cup or more English cucumber, sliced half-moons
½ cup carrot, shredded (optional)
½ cup radish, thin slice (optional)
1 tbsp onion, minced (or a couple pinches of onion powder)
½ tsp dried mint
½ tsp ground cumin

Mix all ingredients together and let stand in refrigerator for 10+ minutes, to allow flavors to blend. To serve, spoon on top of pullao.

When you can't find the whole spices

Any of the following ground spices can be substituted in the pullao, but they will alter the flavour a bit. They burn easily; only let them cook for a moment before adding the onion and garlic.

tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom (replaces both green and black pods)
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Greek Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

Take a cotton napkin, or a paper coffee filter, or a cotton tea towel, or a woven cotton shirt, or several layers of get the idea. Put the cloth in a strainer or colander standing in a bowl. Pour your yogurt into the cloth. Let stand in the refrigerator or loosely covered on the counter for 2-4 hours for Greek yogurt, or 8-12 hours for yogurt cheese* (known as labneh in the middle east). Transfer drained yogurt to a container and store in the refrigerator.

The drained liquid is whey, which can be used for cooking.

Don't have a colander? Pour your yogurt into a tea towel and tie the ends of the towel to hang off your kitchen sink tap. Put a bowl under it to catch the whey if you want to.

Yes, it is okay to leave yogurt out overnight at room temperature.

*If you are using yogurt cheese as a Phillydelphia-style cream cheese substitute, stir in ¼ tsp salt per cup of yogurt before draining.

Seriously Folks, Don't Buy a Yogurt Maker

Put down the $100 "gourmet" yogurt maker with automatic digital temperature control. Back away slowly. Now come with me....

I admit the process looks difficult, considering I dedicate five paragraphs to it below. But really it's quite easy and takes almost no time. This is the fancy equipment required to make yogurt at home:

A pot
A spoon or whisk
A clean glass jar (such as an old pickle jar), or thick glass/ceramic bowl
A medium towel or blanket
It is also helpful (but not mandatory) for you have a candy thermometer (sold for $5 in grocery stores)

Ingredients (can be scaled up or down; it is only dependant on the size of your jar):

4 cups milk* (any fat content you want)
1 heaped tbsp plain yogurt (this is your starter)
* don't use lactose-free milk: this will cause your yogurt will fail

So here's what you do:

In the pot, bring the milk up to froth. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer for two minutes.

Remove from heat and insert thermometer; allow to cool, undisturbed, until the temperature reaches 106-109°F. This may take 15-30 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. If you don't have a thermometer, test the milk by sticking your pinky finger in. If you can just hold it in the milk for a 10-count, the milk is ready. Take care not to let the milk get too cold; the yogurt can fail if it's not close to this temperature.

While waiting for the milk to cool, put the starter yogurt in your jar and beat it with a spoon or whisk until it is liquid and free of lumps. Once the milk is the right temperature, add a tbsp or two and blend thoroughly to warm up the yogurt. Now add the remainder of the milk and stir/whisk (I put the lid on my jar and give it a few shakes).

Put a lid or cover or plastic wrap on your jar/bowl/whatever. Wrap the towel around it and stick it in a cupboard or other draft-free hideaway. Wait 8 to 12 hours (overnight); longer aging increases the yogurt's sourness.

Store yogurt in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep for about a week. You can use this yogurt to start your next batch.