Rice is one of the most highly prized grains in Middle Eastern cuisine. In late medieval times, it was relatively costly and used sparingly by families of modest means. Instead, most cooks used bulgur to add heft to ground beef and to accompany vegetable dishes.
To enhance the flavor of rice, most Arab recipes call for butter. Because Jewish law prohibits mixing dairy and meat ingredients, Aleppian Jews use vegetable oil instead, lightly sautéing the rice before adding the water. In addition to enriching the flavor of the rice, the oil produces a’hata, the crispy golden rice crust that sticks to the bottom of the pot, which is much fought over when it reaches the table. A’hata can be enjoyed alone or eaten mixed with the fluffy rice, adding a terrific textural contrast.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil for about 30 seconds, then add the rice. Stir for 30 seconds. Add the salt and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the rice is fluffy.
2. To make a’hata (crispy rice), if desired, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and let the rice cook until the rice at the bottom of the saucepan begins to transform into a toasted crust, about 1 hour. Monitor the a’hata closely so that the rice doesn’t burn.
This recipe serves 8.