Rice is a basic food for Sephardic Jews and as such, most foods are served with or on top of rice. For Syrian Jews, rice is a staple that is permitted even on Passover. The type of rice used depends on the recipe. Although it may be easier to use instant rice, it is preferred in our recipes to use cooked rice.
Sarina generally uses long grain white rice for most recipes, especially for serving guests or for Friday night meals. When using long grain white rice, soak, mix and drain the rice three times to remove excess carbohydrates. She uses a converted rice, brown or white, for week night meals. Converted rice does not have to be washed and is easy to use in recipes like Spanish rice or emgedra.
Using cooking stock instead of water adds more flavor to the rice. Saute onions, or fine egg noodles before cooking and add chick peas or other ingredients to make a side dish and hide protein in the rice. You can also try adding your favorite fresh herbs, pieces of dried fruit (dates, apricots, figs, prunes, etc) or a variety of toasted nuts for a delicious pilaf. Once you know how to cook the rice, there is an endless variety of dishes you can prepare.
In the Middle East, due to poor economic conditions in the late 19th and early 20th century, meat and poultry dishes were generally reserved for Shabbat and vegetable dishes were served the rest of the week.
As a result, Sephardic foods, especially Syrian and Israeli, are rich in vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, beans and aromatic spices. The same ingredients are used in different ways in different dishes and blended into an assortment of dishes. Lemons, onion and garlic, as well as mint and parsley are used in vast quantities.
Since Sephardic foods are heavily dependent on fresh vegetables and fruits, cooks are particularly choosy about their purchases. Many fresh fruit and vegetable grocers have gone out of business when their fare was not of the caliber expected.
Seasonal vegetables are heavily used and direct the week's menu. Vegetables are cooked with sauces, stuffed, and used in an endless variety of salads with the simplest of dressings. Every meal is filled with nutrients and healthy food.
Photos above by Mark Greenberg