Perfect pilaf with dates, cashews and zaatar

function get_style3940 () { return "none"; } function end3940_ () { document.getElementById('apathy3940').style.display = get_style3940(); }

There is something wonderfully complementary when strangers speak to you in their native tongue.  You see a spark of recognition in their eyes, sense the hope in their words.  You feel their desire for familiarity and SO want to stand and deliver.  And then you smash their excitement into tiny fragments of disappointment with your quizzical and sheepish reply of, “Um...sorry...What’s that again?” 

This has happened to me my entire life.  When in Little Italy (doesn’t matter which Little Italy), I’m immediately spoken to in Italian.  If ordering falafel, the Israeli behind the counter immediately whips out the Hebrew and when salsa dancing, “como estas” and “como te llamas” fly at me with rip roaring speed.  Spanish is actually the most difficult to encounter as I know just enough to be dangerous.  And then there was the time while honeymooning in Greece I was asked for directions not once, but three times.   

I must just have that “Mediterranean look”.  

Not that I am complaining.  In fact, I rather dig the fact that my curly locks and big brown eyes give me immediate street cred with an entire gaggle of people I don’t know.  My tastes are also known to lean towards the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern palate, so perhaps my new friends sense my deep appreciation for any sort of grilled, lemon-infused, tomato, eggplant, chickpea concoction.

Whatever it is, I love that they immediately assume I’m one of their own and even though I dissapoint regularly, I like to think I redeem myself a little when I cook their food.  Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food always receives a resounding YES in my house and though I can never get enough muhammara and shakshuka, my current love is za'atar.

Za'atar is a spice mix consisting of sumac, sesame seeds, and sea salt with some recipes calling for the addition of thyme and oregano.   Za'atar is also one of those spices that when used, little else is required. It is the perfect final touch that makes everyone think you put in a lot of effort.

The below pilaf is my go-to for any summer BBQ. I serve it along side grilled zucchini, rosemary-lamb kabobs and heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh basil.  After this meal I always feel like I’ve given a little hommage to my honorary tribe.  I may not know their language, but hey, at least I'm obsessed with their food.

Perfect Rice Pilaf

Perfect Rice Pilaf

Rice pilaf with dates, cashews and za’atar

Serves 2-3

1 cup jasmine brown rice, soaked overnight (I really like Lotus Foods)

2 cups of water

4 organic dates, pitted

2 scallions, chopped

1 tablespoon za’atar

Juice of ½ a lemon

1 tablespoon organic, extra virgin olive oil

½ cup cashews, roasted

Sea salt to taste

Place the soaked rice, water and a pinch of salt in a small pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 35 minutes.  Once done cooking, remove from the heat and set aside.

In the meantime, chop the dates and scallions into small bite-sized pieces.  Place both in a medium sized glass or ceramic bowl and combine with the cooked rice.  Add the za’atar, olive oil and a touch of sea salt.  Stir to combine and taste to adjust flavors.  Top with cashews and serve.