I recently introduced "Cooking the Books", a new monthly series where I'll share three recipes from a cookbook on my shelf. This month I'm cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem, a book that won my heart with last week's astounding Pistachio Soup. Today's recipe, Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs, is featured in Jerusalem's "Grains" chapter. A fragrant pilaf of rice, legumes, and fried onions, the dish feels like the Sephardic equivalent of the Arabic Mujaddara. The flavors are subtle, but complex: cumin and curry-scented chickpeas, sweet currants, caramel-y onions, and a hint of grassy herbs. It's a dish whose textures are as important as its flavors - the toothsome rice, creamy chickpeas, crisp onions, and chewy currants play off one another, making each bite interesting. The dish is a filling, "comfort food" entree, but would also work beautifully as a side dish in smaller portions.
Here are my recipe notes:
1. The recipe has four separately-cooked components - wild rice, basmati rice, spiced chickpeas, and fried onions - meaning you can go through a lot of pots and pans while making it. I used the same pot for making both kinds of rice and the same pan for making both the chickpeas and the onions to reduce the kitchen clean-up a bit, which worked well.
2. The recipe calls for white basmati rice, but I chose to use brown basmati rice (it's what I had on hand, and Daniel actually prefers brown rice over white). Either will work, though the extra cooking time for the brown rice does mean a little more time in the kitchen. As expected, brown basmati rice adds a nutty flavor and chewy texture, which both Daniel and I enjoyed in this dish.
3. The fried onions are supposed to be deep fried in 3/4 cup of oil, which I blatantly ignored. I really hate wasting so much oil for such a small amount of food (throwing all that oil away just kills me). Instead, I used 1 tablespoon of oil and pan-fried them until they developed a deeply golden sear on all sides. Plenty rich-tasting, better for you, cheaper, and easier to clean up. I also used cornstarch instead of wheat flour when dredging the onions, just to keep the dish 100% gluten-free.
Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs
slightly adapted from Jerusalem
1/3 cup wild rice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup white or brown basmati rice
2/3 cup dried currants
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas (canned are fine)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped dill
salt and black pepper
Put the wild rice in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes, until grains beginning to split open and taste fully cooked but firm. Drain and set aside in large bowl.
Return same saucepan to medium heat and add one tablespoon of oil, followed by the basmati rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook the rice for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and toasted. Add water (1 1/2 cups for white rice; a scant 2 cups for brown rice), cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until rice has absorbed all the water (15 minutes for white rice; 30-40 minutes for brown rice). Remove from heat, add currants, and fluff with a fork. Cover with lid and allow rice and currants to steam for 5-10 minutes.
While rice is cooking, make the chickpeas and onions. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder and cook briefly (30-60 seconds) until sizzling and fragrant. Add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir to coat in oil and spices, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until heated through. Transfer chickpeas to the bowl of wild rice (be sure to get all that spiced oil out, too… there's good flavor in there!).
In a medium bowl, toss the sliced onions with the cornstarch until evenly coated. Return the large skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. When oil is shimmering, add the onions and toss to coat in the oil. Cook for 7-10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until onions are well-seared and tender. You want them to be deeply golden and somewhat crisp but not burned, so keep an eye on things and adjust heat as necessary. Once done, season with a pinch of salt and transfer the onions to the bowl of wild rice and chickpeas.
Add the chopped herbs, basmati rice, and currants to the bowl of wild rice, chickpeas, and onions and toss to combine all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Dish is best served warm or at room temperature, and can be kept in the fridge for about 5 days.