Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jeweled Cardamom Comfort: Koshary .. kind of.

This first time I read about koshary, it was in the hazy heat of July. And I drooled. Seriously. Even has I was drinking endless cups of iced tea and lemonade and eating nothing but watermelon and Popsicles, this recipe for a big pot of tasty carbs, made me hungry for the comfort they promised. But then I saw this cherry sherbet and forgot all about the rice, lentils and pasta. Boo for me.

Even though I favoured pitting cherries over stirring pots of grains infused with spice that summer, the idea of koshary stayed in the back of my mind, and then one day last month -- pop! I'm going to make koshary. Originally, I thought of it because I thought it would be great accompanied by a dollop of rhubarb raisin relish that we recently acquired from a cute little store in the market. But in the end, I strayed from that idea.

I strayed from the traditional elements of koshary as well. It is supposed to be served with a spicy tomato chickpea sauce and fried or caramelized onions, but I only had dried chickpeas that hadn't soaked, no tomato product in the house, and not enough patience to caramelize onions --  I was totally having the Sunday panics. Darn. But I did have a beautiful head of cauliflower beaming up at me, and I thought that this roasted cauliflower would go perfect with all that carby goodness. And it totally did. Next time I'll definitely try chickpeas, but this cauliflower was perfect with the dish -- tangy and earthy from the za'atar spice it was coated in, and still retaining a nice satisfying crunch.

For ease, I cooked the rice and lentils -- brown medium-grain Japanese rice and green lentils -- in the same pot, like a pilaf. The green lentils held up well during the slight over-cooking while waiting for the brown rice to get tender. Spices were simple -- just a some cumin, turmeric and a few cardamom pods. But I did use a special ingredient that I've never used before: preserved meyer lemon. It's really unique tasting and very salty- so I didn't add any salt to the pilaf. You could totally substitute this with a squeeze of lemon juice, the zest of half a lemon, and a good pinch of salt, although if you went this route, I'd wait til the very end to add the lemon. I also threw in two big handfuls of  baby spinach for a bit of green, and topped the whole thing off with a sprinkling of pomegranate arils. I happily dug into this delicious bowl of carby comfort and I am pleased to say that it totally set me right for Monday morning.

Koshary with Roasted Cauliflower
serves 2 hungry people -- doubles nicely
adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

For the cauliflower
half a head of cauliflower, broken in the florets and washed
juice of half a lemon
a splash of olive oil
1 teaspoon of za'atar spice mix
a good pinch each of salt and pepper

1. Toss everything together in large bowl and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes, tossing once or twice, or until the cauliflower reaches your desired tenderness -- I like a slight crunch still remaining.

2. Put your pasta and pilaf on while your cauliflower is roasting.

For the koshary
1 cup of short pasta -- I used brown rice vegetable spirals
1/2 cup of brown rice
1/4 cup of green lentils
1/2 onion, chopped
an inch bit of ginger, finely minced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
4 whole cardamom pods
a few good grinds of pepper
1 tablespoon of chopped preserved lemon (about an eight of a lemon)
2.5 cups of water
3 cups of baby spinach, or chopped spinach
2 handfuls of pomegranate arils -- about half a fruit's worth

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain when it's almost done -- when it's still got a tiny bit of a bite to it. Set aside.

2. Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in a pot for about 1 minute, or until things start getting soft and fragrant. Add the spices and preserved lemon, and stir well. Add the rice and lentils and toss in the oil and spices. Cook for about 1-2 minutes so things get a bit toasty.

3. Add the water and mix well. Cover, turn down the heat to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost tender -- about 20 minutes.

4. Add the spinach and pasta, and mix well. Cover for about 2 minutes to let the spinach wilt and to let the pasta and rice finish cooking.

5. Serve in bowls topped with the roasted cauliflower and handful of pomegranate arils. This would also be lovely served family style, in a large, shallow serving dish.

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