Saturday, November 01, 2008

Greek-Style Rice Dressing for Roast Lamb or Turkey

There are very few dishes I would use Uncle Ben's rice for, but this is one of them. While the US traditionally consumes little rice, with the exception perhaps of Louisiana and areas with large Asian immigrant populations, this country has for years been one of the world's leading rice exporters. Uncle Ben's brand, a 'converted' rice (meaning parboiled and then dried again), has long been exported to the Middle East, where it became one of the standard varieties of rice in the local pilafs. That includes the lamb-filled pilaf that is used for a stuffing for whole roast lamb and for roasted chickens and turkeys. It has a unique texture and flavor, cooks into very separate grains, and absorbs butter and olive oil and spices suitably for Arab and regional cooking. Basmati rice can be substituted. For either rice, rinse it in cool water and drain well before cooking.

The dried cranberries are a recent addition to this type of recipe. Many Iranian-Americans use them in their elaborate rice dishes to substitute for Persian dried barberries now that imports from Iran are restricted. There is more butter and mosture in this recipe than would appear in an ordinary pilaf, since it is a dressing for a roast rather than a rice side dish. While this dressing is preferably made with ground lamb, lean ground beef (such as ground sirloin) also makes a good dressing, and it's easier and usually cheaper to buy.

The recipe makes a good load of dressing, suitable for a Thanksgiving or other roast turkey or lamb family dinner. The leftovers reheat well in the microwave and make a lunch or supper meal in their own right, especially if accompanied by a salad.

Rice Dressing for Roasts Tim

3 cups Uncle Ben's (or Basmati) rice
4-1/2 cups unsalted chicken broth or water
2-1/4 teaspoons salt for the rice and 1 teaspoon for the meat
2 bay leaves, broken in half
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 pound lean ground lamb or beef
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped medium fine
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped parsley

Rinse and drain the rice. In a large, heavy pan with a tight fitting lid (or in an electric rice cooker), place the rice, broth or water, 2-1/4 teaspoons salt, broken bay leaves, and lemon juice or vinegar. Bring to a boil (or if using a rice cooker, put the lid on and turn on the cooker). When it boils, cover tightly, turn the heat to the lowest, and let simmer 20 minutes without opening the lid. Turn off the heat, but do not open the lid, and let sit for 10 more minutes. (Rice cooker will turn off on its own. Let rest 10 minutes before opening.)

Meanwhile, fry the meat, onion, butter, 1 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, oregano, paprika, and black pepper together over medium heat, breaking the meat up. If it is clumped, mash it lightly with a potato masher to break it up. When the meat has fully changed color and the onion is tender, stir in the walnuts, raisins, and cranberries. Simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, and keep the mixture covered.

When the rice is done, lift it out of the pan into a very large bowl. Handle it gently with two large spoons or rice paddles, being careful not to break the grains. Add the meat mixture, and gently fold it into the rice. Return the rice to the pan (or rice cooker), cover and put on the lowest burner heat for 3 minutes (or turn rice cooker on, and it will take care of itself). Remove from the stove and place on a hot pad (or unplug the rice cooker), and cover the pan with several towels to insulate it and keep the rice hot. Or if the rice is cooked well in advance, it can be rewarmed in a covered casserole dish in the microwave, fluffing with a fork after every 1-1/2 minutes of microwaving, until hot.

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