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For many of us in this generation, we are not privileged to live anywhere near our families and the places in which we grew up. For whatever reason – ideological, practical or otherwise – we find ourselves scattered far and wide from our home towns and cities and the people we have loved all our lives.  We feel immense bracha from the opportunities that we have had and for the lives we have been able to carve out for ourselves, but this does not always negate the ever-present feeling of nostalgia for our people and places of origin.

My personal journey has taken me from Melbourne to the UK, to Israel and now to the US. Along the way, I have grown from the love, lives, influences and examples of many great people, Jewish women in particular, and especially by the way in which they nurture their worlds via the food that they cook and the Shabbos tables they create. This starts with my mother and grandmothers, and ends with some of the great Rebbetzins of the Holy City of Yerushalayim. One thing I love about cooking, then, is that each time I enter my kitchen I can bring with me the mentors in my life – past and present – in whose recipes and cooking styles I recreate.

My beautiful maternal grandmother, Dagmar Snyder, a”h, passed away two years ago, and on my recent trip to Australia my mother gave me the precious gift of her personal recipe file, which contains a collection of clippings and hand-written recipes and notes that my Nanna (with contributions from Zaida) put together over a period of 40 years or more. As I sat there sorting through pages, I found myself transported back to my grandparents’ warm home, the one in which I was privileged to spend hours and hours of my childhood and beyond being happy and loved, and of course, eating. I carried back with me back to Indiana a condensed version of the file, with enough material inside to keep me going for years experimenting with the recipes that my grandmother held dear enough to hold onto throughout her lifetime.

One of the pages contained within this treasure trove of recipes and such was a newspaper clipping (circa early 1990s?) describing the origins and uses for various different types of rice. Long grain rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, white rice, brown rice, parboiled rice, wild rice, arborio rice. Rice. To be honest, rice is not a food staple to which I generally pay much attention (several other grains being much lovelier to behold) and apart from Asian and Mexican Rice and sushi (which since everyone started doing it on their Shabbos tables has even become a little passe), I barely serve it at all. However, this ‘interaction’ with my grandparents really started me thinking that each of the billions of different types of rice you can currently get has so much potential (not to mention other virtues such as nutritional value, low cost etc) that I am now pledging to do what I can to bring it back to the table. I’m thinking rice balls, rice salads, risottos… Suggestions are welcome.

In the meantime, here are two rice-based recipes. The first is one I just came up with (dinner for my family for 4 nights straight) and the second is an old favorite:

Easy Lemon Chicken and Vegetable ‘Risotto’

I call this rice dish ‘risotto’ – in punctuation marks – because unlike classic risottos, there is no cooking the rice in broth. Rather, the rice is boiled separately in water and added to the chicken and vegetables towards the end of the process, which gives it a firmer consistency and helps the overall dish to retain its form when reheating – which is usually necessary when cooking for Shabbos in advance. In my opinion, it’s also an simpler form of cooking and therefore more likely to succeed, especially for those of us who may not be so confident in preparing dishes that involve overlapping steps.  This is a dish that is packed with flavor, can be served as a main or side, hot or cold, and multiplied for the largest of crowds. The quantities below should serve 20 people as a side, so multiply/divide according to your guest count. Note that it uses only frozen vegetables, which can be switched up depending what you have in your freezer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken (Breast or Thigh Meat)
  • 1 cup Frozen Peas
  • 1 cup Frozen Corn Kernels
  • 1 cup Frozen Green Beans
  • 3 fresh Lemons (can substitute with bottled lemon juice)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 cup Whole Wheat or Spelt Flour
  •  3 tablespoons Dried Basil
  • 1 tablespoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Granules
  • Olive Oil for frying
  • 2 tablespoons Salt

Boil rice according to instructions on packet and set aside. Cut chicken into approx. 4 inch pieces for frying (halve breasts lengthways if necessary. Crack the egg into a bowl and scramble, and then mix the flour, dried Basil, pepper and garlic granules together in another bowl.  Line a skillet with approximately 1/4 inch of olive oil, then heat oil for several minutes on a medium heat. Dip the chicken pieces into the egg, then the flour mix, and lay single layer in the skillet. Fry for several minutes on each side, squeezing a generous amount of lemon on each side as its cooks, then set chicken aside on paper towels. If you are frying the chicken in more than 2 batches, add more oil as required. Pour the vegetables into the lemon/chicken infused oil that is left in the skillet, squeeze in another lemon and saute for several minutes, then turn off the flame while you cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes. Turn the flame back on, add the chicken pieces and rice, and mix together, squeezing in more lemon and adding salt to taste. You are done! (Note: once plated, I drizzled the risotto with Thai Peanut sauce for accentuated flavor. Soy sauce or hot sauce may also work well.)

Tri-Colored Bell Peppers Stuffed with ‘Mexican’ Rice

This is another easy rice recipe that will look and taste impressive on your Shabbos table or buffet. These stuffed peppers can be served either as a side dish, or as a vegetarian main. This recipe serves 20 people.

Ingredients:

  • 10 large Bell Peppers (I like to use red, orange and yellow)
  • 4 cups Parboiled Rice
  • 1 cup Peeled, Diced Carrot
  • 1 large Onion, Diced (Sweet, White or Yellow)
  • 1 cup Sweet Corn Kernels
  • 1 8 oz can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 6 oz can Tomato Paste
  • 3 tablespoons Sweet Paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Cumin
  • 3 tablespoons Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Lemon Juice
  • Canola Oil for frying
  • Olive Oil

Boil rice according to instructions on packet and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F then wash, dry, halve and deseed peppers and lay them out single-layer, flat-side down in a baking tray. Brush the outsides with olive oil and place in oven for 20 minutes. Heat a cup of canola oil in a large wok or skillet on medium-high heat and add diced carrot and onion. Stir around for a few minutes before adding the corn, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir around for a few minutes more and then gradually add in tomato sauce, tomato paste and lemon juice. Add in the rice and toss well. (Note: this step may have to be done in batches, if your wok or skillet isn’t big enough. Alternatively, you can scoop the rice out into a large tray, then pour the vegetable mix over the top and mix.) Turn the peppers flat side up and fill with rice. Return them to the oven until rice is slightly brown and crispy on top (approximately 15 minutes). The peppers should be cooked but firm enough to allow for reheating.