Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Antisocial rice

If you are on a low-carb diet, you need to go away now. That's right. Just back up, turn around, and keep going. I'll wait. See you tomorrow, ok? No hard feelings, just trying to take care of you.

For those who have stuck around, signed their health waivers, etc. I'll continue.

In Egypt, the local, baladi, bread is also called 'Ayesh, which means 'life'. Which, I can agree with. Bread is a staple of life. I love bread. However, this isn't about bread. I think the ancient Egyptians only gave bread the alias of 'life' because it must have been invented before koshari. Koshari is an amazing one-dish meal. It is solid. Hearty. It can hop off your plate, go plow the fields, wash the clothes, repair your car, and raise your kids for you. It definitely would have earned the nickname 'life' if that name hadn't already been used. When it was first described to me, I was blown away. It sounded... BIG, FULL, unreal. And it is. But it is also incredibly basic and simple. And addictive.

I do not eat high-starch meals. I love breads and pastas, but to me, a meal is "Meat, veg, starch". I go for 'balanced'. I'm not a believer in all-protein or other extreme diets either. If it works for others, then good. But I can't imagine living that way. I only have koshari rarely, but I really like it when I do. It had been awhile since my last meal of it, so, I decided to try and make some last night.

It started with eggplant. I know. There is no eggplant in koshari, but I had one, and decided to make babghanoush. A baked eggplant, mooshed up with a yogurt or tehina sauce, as a bread dip. Yummy, but not a meal. I also had a cauliflower. Kids didn't like it plain, so I thought I might fry this one in a very light batter. I hardly EVER fry foods - not healthy, very messy, I hate the process - but every so often I'll try something like this. Still not koshari though.

I also decided we needed meat. Figured I didn't want to cook that too, so I went on line and OTLOB'ed a small mixed grill selection.

Ok, the koshari. Basically. Koshari is lentils, rice, pasta - mix it together, scoop tomato sauce on top, add fried onions on top of that, serve. Yep. That's it. A pile of starch on starch. With beans. Tomato sauce. And oil. And onions. Mmmm!

I had some sort of mystery local brown, dry beans. No lentils. I cooked them (one cup) forever, and they turned out nice. A little harder than my kids liked, but I thought they were good. Very rich and nutty in flavor. The recipe I had seen for this type of bean did not suggest soaking. I think I will try soaking next time. Or maybe use actual lentils. I also cooked a cup of very small macaroni pasta, and one cup of white rice. All separately.

In a big pot, I sliced up two onions, several cloves of garlic, and then fried them to a nice golden-brown in a couple tablespoons of oil. I removed the onions and garlic to a paper towel, and kept the flavored oil. I dumped the rice, pasta and drained beans into the oil, stirred, and cooked it all for a few moments more. I used a plain, local tomato sauce with a little salt and pepper. The whole concoction is served with tomato sauce on top, onions/garlic over that, if you like. Some people add chili sauce as well. I'm the only one who'd like it in my house, so I left out the chili. Chickpeas also make a nice topper to the dish.

The kids weren't completely happy with the beans, but loved the rest. Ok, I know how to work with that. What I didn't like was the consistency of the rice. It was, how do I say this?? Too sticky. That seems like such a bad thing to say. To me, rice should be sticky. It is supposed to be a social animal, piling into happy little hugging piles of friendly rice buddies - snuggling up to your veggies, cuddling the meat, etc. Not flopped over, lifeless and inert, individual, antisocial, paralyzed little rice bodies that tumble freely over one another without a single attempt at grasping hands or holding on to anything. That's just so sad... and terribly wrong...

But, apparently, to make fluffy koshari, I need less sticky rice. I need the rice, pasta and beans to mingle, not gather in tight-knit communities. So, how do you make non-sticky white rice?? My mom used to make non-sticky rice... but she used (shudder) boil-in-bag instant rice. It had no flavor and I hated it. I make white rice by boiling 2 parts water, add one part rice, a bit of olive oil or butter, cover (no peeking at all!), and simmer for 20 minutes. Simple, perfect, sticky rice. Every time. I cook a lot. I experiment with nearly everything. BUT, I've never thought to alter this basic recipe. Why mess with a good thing?

Any ideas? Less water? More peeking? Stir? It's not like I plan to make koshari a lot. It's good, but HEAVY. But I'd like to make it with the proper consistency next time.


Cairo Typ0 said...

While i appreciate and bow down to your awesome use of otlob as a verb(!!!) I must take umbrage with your belief that babghanoush (or baba as it is known in the Typ0 household) is a not a meal in and of itself.

As for the rice issue: what kind of rice are you using?

Connie said...

plain ol' medium grain, cupboard staple, white rice. I sometimes get other rices. Long grains or Jasmine, are good. But I tend to make a bunch of 'plain old rice' - my kids love it - so that's what I keep on hand. I have heard that rinsing the rice thoroughly, before or after cooking, will help reduce stickiness, but I have also read that it washes away a lot of the nutritional value as well, and I would assume, flavor. Maybe it is the type of rice??

As for the babaghanoush - I could eat it as a meal, it's what's for lunch! :-) - but I'd be the only one.

Cairo Typ0 said...

Unless you're making sushi, i've never held with rinsing rice. Try using a nice long grain like Basmati or using less water with your existing medium grain.

Christine said...

THe garlice onion bean thing sounds so yummy Connie. No advice here.

Lynda said...

I like Koshari too.. but only downtown at ...what is that place... Tarek something or other.. then it is perfect. But maybe twice a year works for me.

That is a whole lotta work there for dinner...

I make a 'thing' with the little eggplants that are back on the market now - cooking them down with mint, tomato, onions, garlic and cinnamon until they are mushy... yumm hot or cold.

Mama Seoul said...

I just had koshary at a middle eastern restaurant here in Seoul. It was $8 and very bland. In Cairo I could get two large bowls of it with two fallafel sandwiches, delivered with tip for less than that!

I love the koshary!

Expat Mom said...

Mmm, I used to make Koshari all the time, but I`ve never had the real thing, just made it from a recipe I found online. SOOOOO delicious!

I had a real problem with non-sticky rice myself, but I`ve since been educated in the Guatemalan method. Here it is, though NOT healthy at all. :)

First, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil in a pot. We dump in a couple of sliced onions, but you don`t have to. Then you add a pound of rice and stir until it`s all covered in oil. Then you let it sit a bit until the rice starts to puff. Stir continuously for a few minutes until you`ve seen at least a dozen puffed bits and then add just enough water to cover the rice.

Boil until the water is almost gone, test and add just a tiny bit more water if needed. Keep doing this until it is the perfect consistency.

That makes the grains all stand on their own. Sad or not, it`s the only way my husband will eat rice. :P

Greetekees said...

Isn't it great that your kids grow up with all these yummie exotic foods? And for the babaghanoush I think eggplant cooked on the BBQ works best.

Anonymous said...

Connie, for perfect, not sticky rice every time, use Uncle Ben's converted rice. Put one and a half cups of uncooked rice into a medium-large pan. Add water to generously cover rice. No need to measure the water; pan should be full, but not enough to boil over. Add a teaspoon of salt. Put on high heat. Cook uncovered until it boils, then lower heat and boil twenty minutes more. Pour rice and water into a colander to drain off all liquid.

My husband taught me this when we started dating in 1970. Never had it to fail.
Atlanta, GA