Kale, Bean, and Avocado Salad

This salad is a good way for me to eat my kale as I’m not a big kale eater. It is also very healthy and yummy, so what more could I ask for? I first had it in one of the farmers markets I used to sell at in South Florida. I was attracted to the salad because of its vibrant colors and its refreshing look. I was indeed a happy customer once I tasted it, and so I recreated it at home, with some tiny changes, and now I get to share it with you as well.

1 bunch fresh kale, chopped into 2 inch wedges (leaves only)
2 tbs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups cooked white beans
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into small wedges
1 large avocado, pitted and cut into 1 inch pieces
Lemon juice from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lemon

Heat the oil in a saute pan and saute the sliced garlic on medium heat, until garlic is starting to brown. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix well. Allow all flavors to absorb for about an hour before serving.

Bulgur Couscous

Bulgur is a delicious and nutritious grain. It is basically cracked wheat and you can find it in Middle eastern stores in two sizes, coarse and fine. The coarse bulgur has a nice bite to it. It is used in tabbouleh, salads, and side dishes. I call it couscous because it reminds me of couscous in its look, although it doesn’t taste at all like couscous. The fine bulgur is used for kibbes, stuffing, and porridge-like dishes.

This recipe is a very basic method to cook bulgur. Usually you don’t even need to cook it. Soaking it in hot water for half an hour gets it ready to be used in tabbouleh, for example. The added cooking process is only to let the bulgur soak in the flavors we want to add to it. Since it is already soaked in water, there is no need to add much water during cooking time. ¼ cup water for two cups of soaked bulgur is all it takes.

2 cups coarse bulgur
4 tbs oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp coriander seeds
1tsp Aleppo pepper
½ tsp turmeric powder
Black pepper
¼ cup water

Place the bulgur in a medium size bowl and cover with warm water, about 3 inches above the bulgur. Soak for half an hour. Drain the bulgur and discard of the remaining water.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion until golden. Add the garlic and sauté for one more minute.

Add the drained bulgur and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add the spices and ¼ cup of water. Stir well, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.

Cauliflower, Asparagus, Pea, and Herb Salad

This salad was born as I was making it. As I was roasting the cauliflower with the idea of making some kind of salad, I was exploring the options in my head. I wanted to add texture and flavors that would complement a Moroccan lamb dish we made for Passover dinner. I wanted the salad to be refreshing and not too packed with flavors as the lamb was already very flavorful. And I had to use what I already had in the fridge. The result is a refreshing, delicious salad that can accompany any meat, chicken, or fish dish, as the flavor is mild and lends itself to a wide variety of flavors.

1 medium head cauliflower
1 cup frozen green peas
7 asparagus spears
½ cup chopped green onion
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped parsley

½ cup olive oil
3 tbs red wine vine
1 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp salt
¼ black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the cauliflower into small florets, and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle a little oil on top. Roast in the preheated oven until cauliflower has soften, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Remove 2 inch of the bottom of the asparagus and slice the spears on an angle into 2 inch pieces.

In a medium saucepan, place the asparagus and the peas. Fill the pot with water just to cover the veggies and bring to a boil on high heat. Cook for 2 more minutes, then remove from the heat.

Transfer the asparagus and peas to a bowl filled with ice water, to stop the cooking process and retain the green color of the veggies. Remove the veggies from the bowl once cold.

In a large bowl, combine the roasted cauliflower florets, peas, asparagus, and the chopped herbs.

In a small jar combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Closed the jar with the lid and shake well until the dressing emulsifies.

Pour the dressing over the salad and mix it in well.

Easy Rice Pilaf Tex-Mex

Sometimes you want to eat well but you don’t feel like thinking too much or spending time and effort in the kitchen. This is when this dish comes in handy. Not to mention that it is really delicious, so you don’t really need excuses to make it. I like to eat it as is, but it is a great side dish for grilled meats and chicken.

3 tbs oil
2 cups rice
1 cup canned corn
1 cup salsa
2 cups water
Black pepper

In a medium pot, heat the oil. Add the rice and sauté it for a few minutes until the rice starts smelling nutty.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, lower the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes.

Not All Rice is Created Equal

In 2012 Consumer Reports and the FDA published some findings about the existence of organic and inorganic arsenic in rice. Organic in this case refers to organic matter (i.e. soil and water), not the organic growing process. Inorganic refers to pesticides and fertilizers used on the rice. The arsenic content of rice varies depending on the type of rice and where it is grown. 

  • Basmati rice is the safest to consume. It absorbs the least amount of arsenic, compared to other types of rice.
  • Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type, due to the accumulation of pesticides and fertilizers in the outer layer of the grain.
  • Rice grown in India, Thailand, Pakistan and California contains less inorganic arsenic, because it is treated with none or less chemicals than in other parts of the world.
  • All types of rice grown in the U.S, with the exception of Sushi rice and rice grown in California, have the highest levels of pesticides and fertilizers. Consumer Reports states that rice from California has 38 percent less inorganic arsenic than white and brown rice from other parts of the country.
  • Rice that’s grown organically, may not have inorganic arsenic content, but it takes up organic arsenic from the soil and water, the same way conventional rice does.

Did I get you freaked out? Before you start panicking, let’s put things in proportions. Rice has been eaten for centuries all around the world, and in some cultures it is a staple item. Yet, people are alive and are generally healthy. Additionally, there is some arsenic in everything we eat due to environmental conditions and the way we grow our food. But we are still around, aren’t we? So no need to stop enjoying rice. Just eat it in moderation. I’m certainly not giving rice up. I love it! 

Here are some tips on how to minimize the amount of arsenic you get from eating rice and products containing rice:

  • Avoid processed foods that contain rice syrup, especially brown rice syrup. Processed food is not that great for you to begin with. Now you have yet another reason to stay away from it.
  • Look for imported rice from India, Pakistan or Thailand. California rice is also good. Avoid rice that was grown in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. Same goes for rice flour.
  • Try, if possible, to purchase white basmati rice (Indian or Pakistani) or white Thai Jasmine rice. Brown rice is also an option, but since it contains more arsenic, eat it in smaller quantities.
  • Soak the rice in water for 20 minutes before cooking it. Rinse well and then cook it according to your recipe. Some of the vitamin B in the rice may be lost in the rinsing process, but some of the arsenic will be washed away as well.
  • Some minerals such as selenium, magnesium and zinc, can help our body rid itself of arsenic, so if you are a rice eater, consider adding these minerals to your daily food consumption. 

And now to my favorite part – recipes. There are many ways to cook rice, either on its own as a side dish, or as part of a whole dish. At home we eat a lot of both. As part of my Persian and Kurdish heritage, I grew up eating rice very often, so for me it is a staple item in the kitchen.

The best tasting white, plain rice, in my opinion, is basmati rice cooked the Persian way, such in this white rice recipe. If you’re looking for ‘all in one pot’ try Halebibi – Persian Pilaf.

The easiest and fastest way, though, and what we usually do at home on a regular basis, is the following recipe. You could use Jasmine rice, or any long grain rice, but the best result in texture and flavor is when you use basmati rice.

If using whole grain rice use 2 cups water for every cup of rice. Cooking time will be longer as well, and the texture will be closer to cooked wheat or oats.

Everyday White Rice
4tbs oil
2 cups white basmati rice
3 cups water
1 tbs salt

Place the rice in a bowl and rinse well, two-three times, to get rid of the starch and any potential arsenals. If you have the time, it is even better to soak the rice in water for half an hour and then rinse it. Drain.

Heat the oil in a medium pot. When oil is hot, add the drained rice carefully, and stir lightly. Be careful not to break the rice grains.

Add the water and salt. Give the rice a stir to prevent it from clumping. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to low, cover the pot and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand covered for 5 more minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the rice.

Enjoy with your favorite chilis, stews, soups, or just eat it with a spoon strait from the pot.

Halebibi – Persian Rice Pilaf

Halebibi is one of my childhood Shabbat dishes. I remember eating Halebibi at my Iranian grandparents’ house, when we visited them on Shabbat. Unlike other Jewish ethnic groups, Iranian Jews in Israel have a wide repertoire of Shabbat dishes, so we never knew what we would get to eat at my grandparents’ house. Not that it really mattered, because we loved it all. Halebibi, however, was one of the kids favorite Shabbat dishes, because in comparison to the rich flavored and sophisticated Persian dishes, Halebibi was simple and comforting.

The recipe below is very similar to the one my Naneh (grandmother in Persian) used to make, only it has some more complexity of the flavor added by the coriander seeds and the sour grape juice (found in Middle Eastern stores). I prefer this version over my grandma’s, but if you like mild flavors, you may omit the coriander and use water instead of the sour grape juice.

2 cups rice
1 ½ lb chicken drumsticks
3 cups water and 11/2 cups sour grape juice (or 4 ½ cups water)
1 tablespoon chicken soup powder
1 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup oil
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
2 onions, sliced

Place the rice in a bowl and cover it with hot water. Mix the rice and discard of the water. Repeat the process two more times. Transfer the rice to a strainer, and rinse under running water. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 ½ cups water with the soup powder. Add the chicken and bring to a boil. Add the tomato paste, turmeric, salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.

Add to the pot 1 ½ cups of sour grape juice (or water) and the rice, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all liquids are absorbed in the rice, about 30 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and sauté the coriander seeds for 2 minutes. Add the onion and sauté for 3 more minutes. Add the cooked rice, the remaining ½ cup water, and the chicken, and cook covered, over low heat, for 50 minutes.

Plate the rice on a serving platter and place the chicken pieces on top. Serve hot and enjoy!