Today’s Solo meal is Riz be Bazalyah – Rice with Green peas, cooked just the way Salma used to do it… +
She wakes up at 5 am and does her prayers. Lights the gas on a small coffee pot with water, she prepares Turkish coffee and the day has just started.
She starts by calling the vegetable shop, she inquires about what is fresh and what is new. She asks about some vegetables she hasn’t cooked in a while. The guy says the zucchini is good but she just cooked that a week ago. She settles with some tomatoes, red but firm ones, for the fattoush. Another half a kilo of cucumbers and some watercress. It is the season of peas, so she gets a couple of kilos to clean, blanch and freeze. The shop will send the vegetables over in a few minutes.
She has made sure she got the fresh vegetables for today, so she picks up the phone and calls the butcher. She tells him exactly which cut of meat she needs, where to cut it and how to prepare it for her dish today. Should the meat be finely minced, with a knife or with the machine? He tells her he has got some fat that would be perfect for grilled kibbeh.
The butcher will send the stuff with one of his guys in a few as well. She spends the morning in the kitchen and by noon she has prepared lunch and soon will start doing the peas, peel, blanch, and freeze.
See the reason her food tastes like no other is because she cooks seasonally. She knows what is in season, she knows what vegetables are good for what, and she knows that this size of eggplant would have way too many seeds so it won’t be good for frying, nor Mutabal.
Her vegetables are all prepared in their season, whatever could be frozen then it is kept. Even garlic she gets in the season and hangs it on the balcony till it dries, then it is peeled and kept in the chiller in preserved jars.
She knows her meat, where to cut from if you wanted to do a stew, which part tastes better minced and which she doesn’t like at all.
On a day like yesterday, 14 years ago, Salma left us. She left this world behind her a little bit colder and lonelier. It is funny sometimes when I think of it that we most of the time remember her for her great food only, but this supports the fact that every single meal we had cooked by her was a memorable experience.
Every single dish she cooked created memories that are stored deep in us, memories that are now stories we tell people. Eating food with her was not a life survival act, on the other hand, every single time it was a culinary experience cooked by no one but my greatest chef of all time Salma.
So today on my way to Mumbai I decided to write this recipe and share it with you. To be honest, this dish was not a dish that Salma cooked, cause it is too simple and she used to pamper us when we used to visit. But this dish is one of my favourites as it reminds me of her and Syria.
Let’s get cooking….
Start by soaking the rice in water and taking the peas out of the freezer. In a medium-size pot melt, the ghee add the peas and the sugar and saute for around 5 minutes, by now the peas will be bright and shiny green in colour.
Boil the water and add it on top, boil the peas in the water for another 5 minutes. By now you have the peas cooked but still a bit firm. Strain the rice and add it on top of the peas and water. Add in the salt and cover. Keep the pot on medium to high heat while the water boils for another 5 minutes then transfer to low heat. Let it cook for 10 minutes. By now, the rice should have absorbed some liquid. Stir the rice and taste for salt; adjust if necessary. At this point, the rice will still be moist. Reduce the heat to the minimum setting, or if you’re using a gas burner, use the simmering ring Leave the rice for the last 5 minutes.
For the meat, in a frying pan on high heat melt the ghee. Season the meat with salt and Salma’s spice and mix it. Add the meat to the pan and cook for a few minutes till it is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
For the almonds, you can either fry or air fry or even roast that is totally up to you. I have shallow-fried mine.
To assemble, place the almonds all around at the bottom of the bowl, and place the minced meat on top. Then the rice and peas go in, and you will have to push a bit with the spoon for the rice to stick together and take the shape of the bowl. Flip it and serve it along with yoghurt.
- Adding sugar is what Salma used to do to keep the peas green. Now we can debate if this is a myth or not however, I find the little bit of the sugar adds a nice sweet flavor to the peas.
- If you are lucky and can get your hands on fresh green peas then make sure to blanch it first and then follow the steps, as the frozen products are all pre-blanched.
- This dish can be vegan by changing the ghee and removing the meat. You will find some versions of the dish where you add some meat to the rice and cook it. I got used to it without meat as when I was in Hong Kong I really hard time finding minced beef in the supermarkets next to me. So, I ended up cooking most of my dishes with no meat at all.
- The ghee can be changed by corn or sunflower oil. However, if you want to taste the food as Salma used to cook then you have to stick to the ghee.
- This Solo meal is good for 2 meals. I ate this for lunch for 2 days, don’t worry it tastes as good as it is the next day. Or maybe you can cook this on a date as it is pretty simple and looks good.
Riz be bazalyah
- 10 g Ghee
- 150 g Green peas
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 225 g Rice
- 550 g Water
- 1 tsp Salt
For the Meat
- 5 g Ghee
- 150 g Minced beef
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Salma Spice
- Start by soaking the rice in water and taking the peas out of the freezer.
- In a medium-sized pot melt, the ghee add in the peas and the sugar and saute for around 5 minutes
- Boil the water and add it on top, boil the peas in the water for another 5 minutes.
- Strain the rice and add it on top of the peas and water. Add in the salt and cover.
- Keep the pot on medium to high heat while the water boils for another 5 minutes then transfer to low heat.
- Keep it for 10 minutes, by now the rice should have made some halls, mix the rice and taste for salt if need to be adjusted.
- Lower the heat to the minimum or of you are suing gas burner use your simmering ring right now. Leave the rice for the last 5 minutes.
For the meat
- In a frying pan on high heat melt the ghee.
- Season the meat with salt and Salma spice and mix it.
- Add the meat in the pan and cook for a few minutes till it is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.