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When it comes to Arabic food, there’s one main ingredient that’s pretty consistent in most dishes — rice. In the old days, it was probably (don’t quote me on this) used as a way to make a small amount of food go farther — just like pasta for Italians — but today it’s just an essential part of any Arabic dish. It’s a perfect vehicle to soak up all the delicious juices that the food cooks in, especially when it comes to ruz-al-loubi.

This dish of green beans and lamb is braised in a light tomato sauce and then served over rice. It’s packed full of flavor, and without the rice, you’d loose a huge amount of that flavor.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4 to 6
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 to 2 lbs lamb, cut/chopped into small pieces
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1 small can tomato paste
– about 5 cups water
– 2 lbs frozen green beans (Billy’s grandma always insisted on using frozen, so we’ve never tried using fresh)

In a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until translucent and soft, about five minutes. Add the chopped lamb to the pan and brown, stirring to insure all of the meat gets color. Next, add the garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then add the tomato paste and water, scraping the bottom of the pot to get any brown bits. Bring to a boil and add the green beans to the pot, stirring to combine. Finally, cover the pot, reduce to simmer and let cook for one hour.

While the lamb and green beans are cooking, cook one to two cups of rice and set aside. You will serve the lamb, green beans and plenty of sauce over the rice.

Ruz al-Loubi

I love the tomato sauce that the ruz al-loubi cooks in. It’s full of flavor and the rice soaks up every drop of it. The green beans always cook perfectly, as does the lamb. Everything in this dish is really juicy and flavorful, and I love the hint of cinnamon you get in every bite.

This makes a great side dish, but can easily be a full meal if there’s a lot of meat in it. Another great way to eat the green beans and lamb (can you say leftovers?) is to make a sandwich using Arabic (or Greek, because it’s way easier to find in the regular grocery store) pita bread.

While we were in Colorado over Christmas, Billy’s grandma invited everyone over for an Arabic feast. It was one of the highlights of our trip, but for me the best part was getting to taste the real version of all the things we’ve cooked at home. As much as I love Billy’s cooking, nothing will ever be as good as when his grandma makes it.

During our feast, I got to try some new things. From that day forward, I had a new favorite Arabic dish — chicken and rice (and cauliflower, but for some reason everyone always leaves that out…I haven’t quite figured out why yet). It’s the perfect blend of rice, fried cauliflower, chicken and spices. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 4 cups water
– 3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
– 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets and dried
– 1 onion, cut into strips and 1/2 onion, cubed
– 2 cups uncooked rice, rinsed and drained
– oil (enough to fry the cauliflower)
– cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste
– salt and pepper

Bring the water, the cubed 1/2 onion, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a boil in a large pot. Once the water starts to boil, add the chicken and boil until completely cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a high-sided frying pan, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Fry the cauliflower (in batches, if necessary) until golden brown. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and allow to cool on a paper towel. In the same oil, fry the strips of onion until they just begin to turn brown. Remove from the pan and drain on a separate paper towel.

Once the chicken has cooked through, drain the water into a bowl and remove from the pot. Layer the ingredients, starting with the onion, then cauliflower and finally chicken, in the same pot. You should use all of the ingredients in one set of layers. Cover the chicken with the rice, then pour the water that was used to boil the chicken over everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 20 to 30 minutes.

Chicken and Rice

While we were eating this, I told Billy that I’m always shocked at the way Arabic food is prepared. The meat is almost always boiled (sometimes twice, as is with this dish), but it never gets overcooked or dried out and it’s definitely never short on flavor. I think the flavor combination created with the different spices used in most dishes infuses each bite with the distinct flavors of Arabic food.

I know I’ve said this just about every time we’ve made Arabic food, but chicken and rice is by far my favorite dish (so far, of course). I had never had fried cauliflower before, but after eating this I might have to try it in other applications. The flavor of the cauliflower totally changes when it’s fried, and it’s delicious. It adds a great flavor and texture to this dish. Since I’ve already had the real version of this, I know what it’s supposed to taste like and I can actually say that Billy’s version is pretty dead on. The biggest different we noticed was that his grandma’s was much darker. I think she fries her cauliflower and onions until they are pretty dark and we stopped ours before they turned completely brown, so that may have been part of the reason.

You can serve the chicken and rice with yogurt, but this is actually one application where I don’t think it’s necessary. Using yogurt will make everything really creamy (which is delicious), but everything stands perfectly well on it’s own, too.

I’ve lived in New Mexico all my life, so green chili is pretty much a staple to me. Since Billy is a transplant, he seems to think that New Mexican’s use green chili for way too many things (like pizza and beer). Never the less, when we were out to eat a few weeks ago and he saw Parmesan risotto with a green chili white wine sauce, he had to order it. He cleaned his plate and was determined to recreate the dish at home…I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s turning in to a true New Mexican.

We pretty much made just a basic risotto and created a sauce to put on top, and it was amazing. It was one of the easiest risottos I’ve done in a while, but also one of the most flavorful.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Risotto
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 3 tablespoons butter
– olive oil
– 1 onion, chopped
– salt and pepper
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/4 Parmesan cheese
Sauce
– olive oil
– 1/2 of an onion, chopped
– 3 to 4 ounces green chili, chopped (2 or 3 fresh green chilies or 1 small can)
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 cup white wine

Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and let it sit throughout the cooking process — the idea here is that all liquid additions to the rice are warm. In a separate pot (or high-sided pan large enough to hold the rice once it’s cooked), heat two tablespoons of the butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until translucent, about three minutes. Season with salt and pepper (and a few red pepper flakes, if you like). Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with butter. Next, begin adding liquid, one half cup at a time, starting with the wine. Stirring constantly, let the liquid simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes per addition. Continue adding liquid, stirring and evaporating until thre rice is cooked through and creamy, about 20 minutes after the first addition of liquid.

Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat for the green chili sauce. Saute the onion until translucent, about three minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the green chili and continue to saute for another two or three minutes. Add the white wine and let simmer until reduced by half, or until there is a good amount of liquid to create a sauce for the rice.

Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon onto a plate and cover with the green chili and white wine sauce.

Parmesan Risitto with Green Chili Sauce

Considering we had really no idea what we were doing when going into this, it turned out awesome. Billy was in charge of make the sauce since he was the one that devoured the version we had at the restaurant. It was spot on, let me tell you. The flavors from both the green chili and the wine really went well together and added a ton of flavor to the risotto. The green chili wasn’t overpowering, but it added so much flavor to the dish as a whole. I think the sauce would go great on any type of plain rice (or other grain, like quinoa) as a flavor enhancer. Plus…if you live in New Mexico, green chili has to be a part of every meal and this is certainly a new way to do it!
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One of the things I’ve loved most since becoming a part of the blogging community is meeting other foodies and getting great ideas from all you wonderful cooks out there. Carrie over at Our Life in Food posted a few weeks ago about an Indian dish her and her husband tried. Her picture literally made my mouth water and I put it on our menu the very next week. Chicken Tikka Masala will most definitely be a frequent rotation in our weekly menu from now on…thanks Carrie!

Before trying this, I don’t think I had ever had “real” Indian food. I pretty much knew what kind of spices go into Indian dishes, and this tasted pretty much exactly like what I would imagine an Indian curry dish tasting like — only minus curry powder. It was thick and creamy and made for a perfect sauce to serve over rice.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
– 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (this is for garnish only, we left it out)
Marinade
– 6 oz. yogurt
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
– salt and pepper
Sauce
– Olive Oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp paprika
– salt and pepper
– 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
– 3/4 cup heavy cream

Keep in mind that the chicken should marinade for about an hour, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about preparing this dish.

In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, combine the yogurt, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger and salt and pepper. Add the chicken and mix well, making sure to coat each piece of chicken with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or high sided skillet and saute, over medium-high heat, the garlic and jalapeno for about one minute. Add the cumin, paprika and salt and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute. Next, add the tomato sauce and cream. Stir well to combine, bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Simmer the mixture for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade, heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken to the simmering sauce and stir to coat. Serve over rice.

Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice and Cauliflower

This was amazingly delicious. Although, it was pretty dang spicy (yes, even for two New Mexican’s), but so, so good. It was creamy, spicy and extremely flavorful. It was perfect over rice and paired really well with cauliflower. All the different spices and flavors came out in every bite, but didn’t overpower the flavor of the tomato-based sauce. This will for sure be something we make often…and will hopefully inspire us to try other Indian dishes.

For the original recipe, visit Carrie’s blog (and while you’re there, make sure to check out her other recipes!).

We love risotto. It’s a lot of work for a typical meal, but the results are always well worth it. One of the great things about risotto is that there are so many flavor options and Giada de Laurentiis’ variation is a perfect example. The natural sweetness of the squash combined with the vanilla gives the risotto a whole new flavor base that you wouldn’t expect for a normally (very) savory dish.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 1 large vanilla bean
– 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/2 Parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper

This recipe is ultra easy because there’s no extra pots for cooking meat or anything else that you add to the actual rice. Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking.

You’ll want to add the vanilla bean to the broth right away. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and put everything in the broth. The big difference here is that you’ll cook the squash in the broth, so once it comes to a boil add the squash and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the squash from the liquid and set aside. Leave the heat on the broth in order to keep it at a warm temperature.

Meanwhile, in a pot (or pan) large enough to cook all the rice in, heat two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion with salt and pepper until tender and see-through, about three minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Next, add the first batch of liquid — the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the liquid has evaporated, begin adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition. Make sure to continue stirring throughout the cooking process. Continue adding liquid and letting it evaporate until the rice is tender, but still a little firm, and creamy, about 20 minutes after adding the wine.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the Parmesan cheese, cubed squash and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

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Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

I absolutely loved this variation on risotto. Billy…not so much. The sweetness of the squash and vanilla added a hint of sweet to this normally savory dish, but Billy seemed to think it was overpowering. I thought it was perfect. It was a great meal for a fall day — not to mention that it made the house smell delicious. The one thing I didn’t like about the dish were the cubes of squash. I would have rather pureed them or just left them out completely because the flavor that was left in the broth was enough for the whole dish. An alternative to the over-sweetness that Billy tasted could be to leave out the vanilla…maybe that’s a test for the future.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site. Even though Billy wasn’t a huge fan of the dish, I highly recommend it for anyone who loves risotto!

Ever since trying it for the first time a few weeks ago, we’ve been on a quinoa kick! It’s a pretty tasty, easy alternative to rice or other grains — plus, it’s (supposedly) healthier for you. You can’t beat healthy food that tastes good, right? In the last month or so, we’ve used it as a rice alternative in a few dishes. In the stuffed peppers, I found the quinoa was a better vehicle than the rice. It was more flavorful and the texture it gave to the dish as a whole was better than any stuffed pepper I’ve ever had (sorry mom!).

There are probably a million different ways to make stuffed peppers, but Billy and I usually make a fairly Italian version.
Here’s a list of what we like to use
– Sweet bell peppers (red, yellow and orange usually work best)
– Onion
– Shrimp
– Tomato Sauce and Paste
– Quinoa (or rice)

After cutting the top off the bell peppers and cleaning them out, we like to chop the meat of the pepper that won’t be used to saute it with onions as part of the stuffing. You can skip this step and probably won’t miss out on much, but we like to use it since it would just be thrown away. Anyway, I digress. We like to saute the onion with the extra bell peppers so they cook all the way through and also get a little flavor boost. Once they’ve cooked about half-way through, add about a tablespoon of tomato paste (and a little bit of water to help break it up), salt, pepper and a few red pepper flakes. Let the tomato paste reduce a little and set it aside to let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the stuffing, cut the shrimp into bite sized pieces and mix together with the quinoa and sauteed onions and peppers. Add about 1/3 of a small can of tomato sauce to the mixture for moisture and to help everything bind together. Stir to combine and you’re ready to stuff the peppers! Spoon the stuffing into the peppers, filling to the top. Place the peppers in a deep casserole dish and fill about 2/3 of the way with water and the rest of the tomato sauce.

Bake at 375 for about an hour, basting with the water surrounding the peppers often (every 10 or 15 minutes). The cooking time can vary based on how stuffed your peppers are and how often you baste them. Once the quinoa and shrimp are cooked, they’re ready to eat.

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After trying stuffed peppers with quinoa, I’m pretty confident that I won’t ever stuff them with rice again. Something about the taste and texture of the quinoa really made the dish. Sauteing the onions and peppers with the tomato paste and adding the tomato sauce to the mixture really gave the stuffing a great flavor. Despite the cooking time, the shrimp didn’t end up overcooked…which is a total plus! These stuffed peppers will most definitely be a repeat recipe!

By the way, until fairly recently we had never heard of quinoa, but it seems that it’s becoming more and more common. We have found it in our regular grocery store as well as in specialty stores like Wild Oats and Sunflower. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would really recommend it

There are certain family traditions and meals that were a staple in our families as kids that we simply will never be able to duplicate in exactly the same way. While my parents and I found Saturday’s cooking experiment both fun and delicious, Billy just didn’t get the results he wanted. I guess nothing is as good as Grandma’s, right? We can all attest to that….

Regardless of whether the rolls were “perfect,” we had a chance to carry on a family tradition. And, whether Billy will agree or not, they were tasty! I think Grandma Alice would be proud. (Anyway, this won’t be the last time we attempt the “long, tight” rolls his grandma is famous for.)

Here’s what you’ll need
– large, whole cabbage leaves (as many as you can get from one head of cabbage)
– 1 cup long grain white rice
– 1/2 lb lamb, cut into small cubes
– salt and pepper
– 1 pinch each, cinnamon and nutmeg
– 1 tbsp butter, melted
– lemon juice

First, make the filling for the rolls by rinsing the rice with water and then combining it with the lamb, seasonings and butter. Meanwhile, blanch the cabbage leaves for about 30 seconds before soaking in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Finally, drain the leaves and create two rolls out of each leaf by cutting out the hard middle part of each cabbage leaf (you can carefully tear each side off the middle vein). Once all the leaves have been blanched and cut, you’re ready to roll!

Spoon one to two teaspoons of the filling at the bottom of each leaf. Very tightly, but carefully, roll the leaf and the filling, tucking in the sides if necessary. Make sure the roll is tight so the filling doesn’t sneak out during cooking, and place it directly into the pot. (The rolls should look like mini burritos made of cabbage.) Continue rolling until all the leaves or filling have been used, whichever comes first. Once all the leaves have been rolled and placed in the pot, cover them with a flat plate and fill the pot with water about an inch above the rolls. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and lamb are cooked through. In the last few minutes of cooking, add a few drops of lemon juice.

Cabbage Roll, Pre-Roll

Cabbage Roll, Pre-Roll

My 'Billy-Approved' Roll!

My 'Billy-Approved' Roll!

The best way to get the rolls out of the pot is to carefully flip the pot over (over the sink so water doesn’t go everywhere) so all the rolls fall onto the plate that was holding them down. Cabbage rolls and grape leaves are traditionally served with a dollop of yogurt. I know it sounds interesting, but believe me — it really is good. It gives the rice a great creamy texture and you can’t even taste a difference.

Cabbage Rolls and Grape Leaves with Yogurt

Cabbage Rolls and Grape Leaves with Yogurt

Before meeting Billy I couldn’t even tell you what Arabic food was. Now, I don’t know how I lived without it before. While Billy will always believe that his Grandma and Great-Grandma’s food is better than his, I will always compliment his efforts and eat all the leftovers! Our rolls didn’t turn out perfect, some of them fell apart during cooking, but I thought we did a pretty good job for our first time. I think, of all the Arabic food Billy and his family have cooked for me, that cabbage rolls are officially my favorite. Even though the filling is the same as Koussa, the taste is completely different. The filling in the cabbage rolls is more the “star” as compared to the Koussa and the texture of the cabbage really adds to the dish as a whole.

P.S. If using grape leaves, do everything the exact same except there’s no need to blanch the leaves.

For those of you who don’t already know…Billy is half Arabic. As he got older and started taking an interest in cooking, he made a point to learn how to cook his great-grandma’s and grandma’s famous Arabic dishes. Let me tell you…it’s a good thing he did! This particular recipe probably isn’t something you would think of when you think of middle eastern cooking (if you really even think of it at all), but it’s worth trying and it dos have all of the traditional flavors of middle eastern dishes.

Koussa is basically squash stuffed with rice and lamb cooked in boiling water and tomato sauce.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 to 4 Mexican squash (depending on how many people you’re serving — allow for one squash per person)
– 1 12 oz. can of tomato sauce
– 1 cup rice
– 1/2 lb. lamb, cut into small cubes (you can use any cut of lamb you prefer, but we find that the meat from the chop is the most tender)
– salt and pepper to taste
– A pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
– 1 tbsp. butter, melted

This is a simple recipe actually, but not something you find every day. The first thing you want to do is hollow out the squash. Billy has a really old “tool” that his great-grandma used to use, but any type of zucchini corer (or even a knife or small spoon) will work fine. First, cut off the tip of the squash, but make sure to save it. Take out all the meat that’s inside, but make sure to keep enough flesh so the squash is stable and you won’t poke a hole through it, and discard. Next, rinse the rice with cold water and mix with lamb, butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stuff the mixture into the squash until it’s about 3/4 of the way full. Make sure not to over-stuff or the rice won’t cook all the way. “Plug” the opening with the tip you cut off using two toothpicks to hold it in place and poke several holes in the body of the squash.

Billy coring the squash

Billy coring the squash

Place the stuffed squash (aka, koussa) in a large pot and cover with tomato sauce and water until completely submerged. Using a glass plate (or something else heavy), cover the squash in order to keep them completely submerged during cooking. Bring to a boil and let simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, the squash, rice and lamb will all be cooked to perfection! That’s it! Simple, right?

Koussa, cut open, served with Arabic pita bread

Koussa, cut open, served with Arabic pita bread

Koussa, like many middle eastern dishes, is traditionally served with plain yogurt as a sort of “dressing.” It took me a long time to try this — it just sounded kind of weird to me — but I was sorry I did. Using yogurt give everything a different texture and really helps it all come together. And contrary to what you might be thinking, you can’t even taste it. So, go ahead, give it a try…I promise you’ll like it!

Sunday morning we were going about our weekend morning tradition of relaxing, cooking breakfast and watching Food Network when Paula Dean came on. I’m not usually a fan of Paula Dean (sorry Southerners), but Sunday was an exception. Well, sort of. Paula had a “guest chef,” that I had never heard of, on her show for some odd reason and she couldn’t stop mimicking her Mexican accent. Anyway, I digress. The guest, Patricia Jinich, made rolled tacos, salsa verde and Mexican white rice. Her taco filling was cooked in a red sauce, something I had never had before, and her rice was cooked with onions, celery, chili and lime juice. It all looked so delicious that we made our own that night.

The filling for the tacos called for boiled chicken, tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, onions, cream, and bread crumbs. Easy enough. While the chicken was boiling, we combined the tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, and onion and pureed until smooth. Once the chicken was cooked through, we shredded it then combined it with the puree in a pan. The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes before we added the cream and breadcrumbs. Once the cream and breadcrumbs combined with the mixture, it was time to start rolling. Yum!

We heated the corn tortillas in a dry pan for about a minute until they were warm (this prevented them from cracking and falling apart when we rolled them together). We then put some of the chicken mixture (a few tablespoons) in the center of the tortilla, rolled it up, and fastened it with a toothpick. The tacos fried for about three to five minutes each (we did two at a time in our little fryer). And…that’s it! The tacos drained on a paper towel and were best while they were still hot.

Tacos: Pre-Frying

Tacos: Pre-Frying

The flavor of the sauce that the chicken cooks in is…different. Not bad different — really good different, actually. I’m not sure how to describe it really. It was tomato-y, but also had a lot of flavor from the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns. It didn’t remind me at all of Mexican food at all, but it was so much better than any other taquitos I’ve ever tasted. We had three dipping “sauces” for them: regular red salsa, queso and guacamole. My personal favorite was the guac.

Tacos: Post-Frying

Tacos: Post-Frying

The rice cooked just like normal white rice except that we sauteed onions and the rice in the pan before adding liquid. Once the onions turned translucent and the rice turned bright white, we added the liquid, celery, chili, lime juice, and parsley. The rice simmered away and cooked to a lovely, fluffy, limy bowl of deliciousness.

A Bowl of Fluffy Goodness

A Bowl of Fluffy Goodness

Note: Sorry for my not so informative post. I feel odd writing about a recipe that’s not mine or at least a variation on something we learned from someone else. Nevertheless, the tacos was yummy and I hope you try them too!

Recipe Links: Click here for the rolled taco recipe and here for the Mexican rice recipe. (We didn’t do the fried plantains that the rice recipe calls for.)