the appetizer:

Though the Middle East has many specific regional and national cuisines, one item ties them all together: aromatic spices. Middle Eastern cooking also features many ingredients in common, like pita, honey, sesame seeds, sumac, chickpeas, mint and parsley.

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Middle East

Festive Spiced Rice (Al Koozy)

More mildly seasoned than many Gulf pilafs, this spiced rice is a famous Bedouin favorite reserved for festive occasions. The moment honored guests appear at the encampment of black tents, the sheikh or patriarch gives the order to kill one or more sheep or a young camel. The men ceremoniously share ritual green coffee, reclining on red cushions and carpets until the feast is carried in on an immense tray: a whole roast animal splendidly arrayed on a mountain of savory buttered rice, luxuriously garnished with a bounty of golden brown nuts.

This rice, richly adorned with allspice, cinnamon, and almonds, is a reflection on the prosperity and generosity of the host family. Like baklava and roast meats, it's an extravagant and delightful interruption in the usual routine of vegetables and grains.

The following side dish of fragrant rice is still suitable for a feast, but with the butter/oil and nuts reduced by 50 per cent.

1 recipe Plain White Rice
2 tbsp. blanched almonds, halved or slivered
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 pound ground beef
Black pepper
1 tsp. allspice (divided use)
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1. Prepare the Plain White Rice in advance. Fluff the cooked grains and let cool to room temperature.

2. Slowly sauté the almonds in the olive oil, stirring frequently. When the almonds are beginning to brown, stir in the pine nuts and continue to cook until all the nuts are golden. Remove with a slotted spoon.

3. Brown the ground beef in the same oil, sprinkling with the salt, pepper, and half the allspice. Remove from the pan and drain in a sieve.

4. In a large nonstick pan, heat the 1/4 cup butter or olive oil. Stir in the rice and sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, and the remaining allspice. As the rice heats, continue to toss until it is hot and coated with spices. Taste and adjust seasoning.

The Arabian Delights
by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush
$15.00 / paperback
Lowell House, 1994
ISBN: 1-56565-219-3
Recipe reprinted by permission.

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This page modified January 2007