Bas­mati rice en­livens Greek-style pi­laf

Woonsocket Call - - Food - By SARA MOUL­TON

With the ex­cep­tion of ooey-gooey potato con­coc­tions, side dishes rarely get any re­spect. Most of us de­vote our love and at­ten­tion to the pro­tein in the cen­ter of the plate and then throw to­gether some kind of veg­etable and/or starch as an af­ter­thought. Here, how­ever, is a pi­laf fully ca­pa­ble of steal­ing the lime­light from the usual star of the show.

It's bas­mati rice that makes Greek Style Rice Pi­laf so special. An es­pe­cially aro­matic grain used for cen­turies in In­dia and Pak­istan, bas­mati doesn't usu­ally show up in a Greek-styled pi­laf. But I pre­fer its nat­u­rally nutty taste to the bland­ness of the usual va­ri­eties of long-grain rice. The sea­son­ings, of course, are also key: sauteed spinach spiked with red pep­per flakes, feta cheese, olives and dill.

To make sure the cooked grains ended up sep­a­rate and fluffy — and to wash away ex­cess starch — I started by rins­ing the rice. This re­quires cov­er­ing the rice in sev­eral inches of cold wa­ter, stir­ring it in a cir­cu­lar mo­tion sev­eral times, dump­ing off the wa­ter and start­ing again with fresh wa­ter. Re­peat this process as of­ten as it takes for the wa­ter to be­come al­most clear.

Cook­ing rice also re­quires some care. It needs to be tightly sealed and cooked at a bare sim­mer to achieve the right tex­ture. Place a wet pa­per towel un­der the lid to en­sure that no liq­uid can escape. Wait­ing 10 min­utes af­ter it's cooked be­fore fluff­ing it up al­lows all the mois­ture to be ab­sorbed.

If you're no fan of feta, just swap in ri­cotta salata, a kind of aged ri­cotta. You're also wel­come to lose the dill in fa­vor of oregano, basil or mint. And if you don't like olives, just leave them out. Fi­nally, if you'd pre­fer a veg­e­tar­ian ver­sion of this dish, reach for veg­etable broth in­stead of chicken broth.

Born as a side dish, Greek Style Rice Pi­laf eas­ily con­verts to main-dish sta­tus. Top it off with sauteed shrimp or chicken and call it a meal.

GREEK-STYLE RICE PI­LAF Start to fin­ish: 1 hour (30 min­utes ac­tive) Serv­ings: 6

1/2 cup finely chopped onion 1/4 cup ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, di­vided 1 cup bas­mati rice, rinsed un­til the wa­ter runs clear and drained 1 tea­spoon minced gar­lic 1 tea­spoon lemon zest 1 2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth 8 ounces baby spinach 1/4 tea­spoon red pep­per flakes 2 ounces finely crum­bled feta cheese (about 1/2 cup) 1 ounce chopped Mediter­ranean olives (heap­ing 1/4 cup) 2 ta­ble­spoons chopped fresh dill

In a medium saucepan cook the onion in 2 ta­ble­spoons of the oil over medium heat, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally un­til it is golden, about 8 min­utes. Add the rice and gar­lic; cook, stir­ring, for 3 min­utes. Add the lemon zest and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, ad­just­ing the tem­per­a­ture to make sure that the broth main­tains a bare sim­mer, cover the top of the pot with a wet pa­per towel and a tight-fit­ting lid and cook, with­out stir­ring, for 17 min­utes. Re­move from the heat and let stand for 10 min­utes.

While the rice is sim­mer­ing, cook the spinach. In a large skil­let heat 1 ta­ble­spoon of the re­main­ing oil over high heat, add half the spinach and cook, stir­ring un­til it is wilted, add half the pep­per flakes, stir and trans­fer the spinach to a bowl. Re­peat the pro­ce­dure with the re­main­ing oil, spinach and pep­per flakes and set aside.

When the rice is done and has rested for 10 min­utes, add the feta, olives and dill and, us­ing a fork, fluff the rice to sep­a­rate the grains. Serve right away.

Nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion per serv­ing: 259 calo­ries; 110 calo­ries from fat; 12 g fat (3 g sat­u­rated; 0 g trans fats); 8 mg choles­terol; 211 mg sodium; 30 g car­bo­hy­drates; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 6 g pro­tein.

Sara Moul­ton via As­so­ci­ated Press

A Greek-style rice pi­laf served with chicken. This dish is from a recipe by Sara Moul­ton.

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