RICE RICE BABY? I SHOULD COUSCOUS!
Over the past two weeks I've been tempting you with our family's easy 'F.N.F' recipes, created for fuss-free entertaining and maximum relaxation and so that you can enjoy being with your families and friends rather than being a slave to the stove. There is nothing more boring than spending hours chopping, stirring and preparing food that you are then too tired to eat!
We've covered the lamb and chicken components and made all sorts of suggestions of how to serve it and now's the time to share the recipes for some super sides and accompaniments.
The first recipe is Saffron Rice which has become known as 'Nithe Rithe' in our house, as it has been Louis' favourite since he was a very small boy with no front teeth. The couscous is anther easy catch-all recipe that can be changed up and modified depending on your taste and family preferences.
I have included a few vegetable and salad ideas to shake it up a bit. I see these more as aide-memoires than anything else as I often adapt them changing the french beans for sugar snap peas for example, or using pecans and walnut oil and I have been known to add the juice from the pickled cucumber jar on the baby cucumber salad rather than bothering to make an acetic acid dressing (but that's our little secret!
We can all get into a bit of a rut and make the same dishes week-in and week-out, but they do say a change is as good as a rest; I'm not too sure about that part as a rest is ALWAYS welcome but these ideas should help to add a bit of variety particularly as we are hurtling towards the long Summer holidays and are more inclined to have friends and family over.
Saffron is ruinously expensive and at one time was worth more ounce for ounce than gold! There is nothing as delicious as a steaming fragrant bowlful of this rice and it has become our 'go-to' comfort food. It is a great accompaniment to chicken or lamb or just on its own.
It can work well for vegetarians made with vegetable stock and butter rather than chicken stock and margarine or a neutral cooking oil.
Basmati rice is a must, so don't be tempted to substitute, as it has the perfect texture and the right amount of starch in the grains; I usually use white but if you would like to use wholegrain then it will take at least 30 minutes and won't be quite as gloriously golden and sun-shiny to look at.
If there is any left over, spread it over a shallow tray to cool quickly and then into a ziplock bag in the freezer. Thaw the rice under refrigeration and rejuvenate it by tipping the thawed rice into a Pyrex or similar bowl adding a splosh of cold water and microwaving it until piping hot or pass it through a hot oven for about 15 minutes until fluffy and steaming.
I have given the quantities for 4 hungry people, so up it or halve it depending on how many you wish to serve.
250g Basmati rice -measured in a jug
Chicken stock - I use chicken soup to come up to double the volume of the rice.
(If the rice reaches the 500 ml mark use 1 litre of stock. To be quite honest I just eyeball it an then use one of the tubs of chicken soup from the shop and a slug of water)
30-40g Mehadrin margarine - it's the only one I use as it has no trans fats and non GMO and it tastes very good; or a tablespoon or so of neutral oil such as vegetable, sunflower or rapeseed.
A very large pinch of saffron
Juice of half a lemon
Large pinch of Maldon salt
5-6 green cardamon pods crushed.
Add the saffron to the chicken stock and heat until simmering, I bung mine in the microwave with the lid off and give it about 6-8 minutes.
Meanwhile, find a heavy bottomed saucepan with a well fitting lid. Put it over a low light and melt the fat and then add the dry rice, no need to soak as you will need the starch, and stir to coat in the melted fat or oil. You will notice the grains starting to turn opaque but DO NOT let it burn as singed rice tastes disgusting! Keep it moving with a wooden spoon or similar.
As soon as it starts to smell a little bit nutty and fragrant tip in the hot stock, I pour in what is in the container and then add a slosh more water to rinse out any of the lingering saffron threads; it's expensive so don't waste it!
Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, I just shove the wooden spoon into it and twist it about as it saves on the washing up and works just as well as a lemon reamer. Any pips will float to the surface and can be removed.
Add a nice big pinch of Maldon salt (less if you are using saltier tasting table salt) and then the crushed cardamom pods.
Give everything a good stir, bring it to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and slam on the lid. If the lid is a bit wonky like some of mine are after being dropped just put a square of foil over the pan and then the lid to make it fit more snugly.
Don't be tempted to take the lid off for a good 12 minutes or so as you need the steam to cook it. I tend to use a glass lidded pan as I can see when it is ready. You will be able to tell as the liquid will be almost all absorbed and there will be round holes on the surface of the rice that look as if someone has stuck their fingers in it in a random pattern.
Turn off the heat and leave it for 5-10 minutes to absorb whatever liquid is left and then tip into a serving bowl, fluff with a fork and garnish. I sometimes spread it into a Pyrex and then into the oven for another 20-30 minutes to get a lovely crust that everyone fights over!
COUSCOUS -ANY WAY YOU LIKE IT.
This is another of my 'suggest-ipes' not really a recipe, but more of a 'this is how we do it'.
I use any old couscous and my standard is that for every 200 g couscous I use 300 ml stock; so if you have 400 g couscous you will need 600 ml and so on.
Sometimes I fry some chopped onion and garlic in a pan before adding the stock and heating it and other times I don't. If I don't use sauteed onion then I add some olive oil to the stock before adding it to the couscous.
I tend to season the couscous before adding the stock varying the flavours to complement the main dish. Just as with rice, salt is a must and a usual combination for me is salt, cracked pepper, cumin, dried parsley and garlic granules, if I am making a fruity one I add some cinnamon too.
Put the couscous in a heatproof bowl and stir the seasoning through well, add the hot stock with or without the onion/garlic combo and cover tightly with some clingfilm. give it about 7-10 minutes to soak up the hot stock.
While the couscous is swelling, prepare the additions that you will stir through at the end:
Diced cooked root vegetables - great in the Winter
Chopped apricots or dates
Sultanas or raisins
Sauteed baby carrots
Chopped fresh herbs
Chopped spring onions
Cooked brown lentils - again great in the Winter with sauteed onion and garlic.
Flaked almonds, pine nuts or broken up pecans.
When the stock is absorbed fluff up the couscous with a fork and stir through what you have chosen. Garnish with some more fresh herbs and serve.
If the couscous seems too cool, heat and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve and then stir through your chosen bits and garnish before serving.
MARSHA'S 'A BIT MORE THAN JUST A CUCUMBER SALAD'
This is a really light, crunchy and refreshing salad. I would only dress this about 30 minutes before serving as you don't want it to be too pickle-juicy.
Equal quantities of baby snack cucumbers (not the ridge ones as they are too dry) and radishes. Mooli, the long white Asian radish would be good too as it keeps its crunch well.
A handful of Spring onion or red onion or a combination of the two.
Chopped fresh dill
Chopped fresh mint
Acetic Acid dressing or a few tablespoons of pickle jar liquid.
Peel and slice the cucumbers into rounds, slice the radishes and combine with the onion and herbs in a serving dish.
Make the Acetic Acid dressing by melting a dessertspoon of sugar in some boiling water in a heatproof jug. Let it cool and add 200 ml cold water and Acetic Acid to taste. You will know when you have the right amount of acid as it should just pucker the inside of your cheek.
If you have neither the time nor the inclination to make the dressing, just slosh some pickled cucumber juice over it and mix gently before serving.
FRENCH BEAN AND HAZELNUT SALAD.
800g French Beans or a mixture of French Beans, sugar snap peas, broad beans , snake beans, freshly podded peas - any combination.
Grated zest of one orange
Small bunch chives snipped
150g of toasted hazelnuts lightly crushed
Garlic clove crushed
2 tablespoons Hazelnut oil (Clearspring is kosher)
3 tablespoons Sunflower oil or olive oil
Salt & freshly milled black pepper
Blanch the beans and/or peas until tender and then refresh under cold running water and drain well.
Scatter over the hazelnuts and then stir together the crushed garlic, hazelnut oil sunflower or olive oil, salt, pepper and orange rind and mix gently.
I have successfully made this salad with crushed pecans and walnut oil; toasted pine nuts with just olive oil and lemon in place of the orange and it is remarkably good with all the variations!
I'm not going to insult your intelligence with a chopped salad recipe as it is just as simple as chopping various salad vegetables and mixing them together. We like a mix of red, yellow and orange baby tomatoes, seeded cucumbers, red or spring onion, parsley, chopped bell peppers and diced avocado.