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A multinational rice salad. September 27, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I recently treated ourselves to supper at Alando Kenyan Cuisine (http://www.alandoscuisine.com/), a delightful, tiny little restaurant tucked away at the back of a coffee shop on Main Street in the historic district of scenic Bethlehem, PA.

The food at Alando is distinctly Kenyan, yet reflects the strong Indian influence on the area’s cuisine. Our favorite appetizers are lentil samosas and bhajia, out-of-this-world fried potato slices with pili pili sauce (a hot, housemade dipping sauce). And we can never resist splitting a cardamom-studded chapati, served warm and delightfully fragrant. (Actually, I’m sure we’d prefer splitting a whole basket of chapatis, but only if we opted to forgo food. It might even be worth it.)

Our friend Ben ordered coconut chicken (chicken in a coconut curry sauce) with sauteed cabbage and basmati rice. My entree was a rice pilau, which in this case is basmati rice mixed with masala spices. (Kenyan masala contains garlic, black pepper, coriander, ginger, mustard—presumably black or brown mustardseed—and cinnamon, according to the menu.) The rice was topped with kachumbari, a Kenyan-style fresh salsa containing chopped tomato, fresh peas, diced green and red bell pepper, scallions, and shredded red onion with cilantro, lemon juice and herbs.

The rice pilau and the kachumbari were both delicious, but I couldn’t help but feel that the combination wasn’t right. Strange as it might sound to put a fresh salsa over a masala-spiced rice, the combination wasn’t the issue: It was hot rice and fresh (cold) salsa. You don’t want to heat fresh salsa, since that would kill the crunch and flavor, so it seemed to me that the solution was to chill the rice. Fortunately, since Alando serves boat-sized portions, I was able to bring home a huge container of leftovers, refrigerate it, and experiment today when it was time for our lunch.

Poor OFB! I had big ideas but no idea what I was doing. But as I explained to him, if it turned out badly, the chickens would love it and we could try again with a more conventional lunch. Nothing ventured, nothing lost. Ben proved to be game, especially after being plied with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

You see, after thinking it over, my idea was to toss the chilled spiced rice and salsa with crumbled feta and extra-virgin olive oil, add pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for crunch, and serve it as a cold rice salad. Mixing elements of Indian, Kenyan, Greek, and Mexican cuisine could have proved disastrous, but it didn’t. In fact, it was delicious. “This is really good!” said OFB as he ate half my plate after polishing off his own. And it really was. Well worth recreating from scratch next time you make basmati rice and have leftovers. (I always make extra so I’ll have plenty for fried rice or to add to other dishes anyway.)

To put it together from scratch, here’s what I plan to do: Make a big batch of basmati rice, enjoying some hot with an Indian meal or as a side to chili, black bean soup, refried beans, a Chinese or Thai dish, or what have you. (We also love basmati rice as a side to conventional foods like baked sweet potatoes and broccoli or green and yellow wax beans, and of course it would be great with chicken, shrimp, or gumbo.)

While the food is cooking, saute masala spices in extra-virgin olive oil. You can use a blend of fresh-ground or powdered spices to make your own masala mix (such as the Kenyan mix), or use your favorite garam masala or chat masala mix. Don’t go overboard with the oil, since your goal is not to create greasy rice but to release the flavors of the spices and to help them adhere to the rice. Add the leftover rice to the masala mix and stir well to blend. (In Alando’s version, this creates the look of “dirty rice.”) Refrigerate the leftover rice.

When you want to make the salad, thaw a package of frozen peas. (America’s Test Kitchen swears that thawed frozen peas are sweeter, more tender, and generally far better than shelled fresh peas. I have no idea, so I’ll go with their assessment.) Finely dice a red and a green bell pepper, chop two red tomatoes, mince a bunch of scallions, chop a bunch of cilantro, and shred or dice a large red onion. Mix everything together and season with the juice of a fresh-squeezed lemon, salt (we like RealSalt), and fresh-ground black pepper to taste, stirring the seasonings into the salsa. Cover the salsa and let it sit, refrigerated, for 1/2 hour so the flavors can marry.

Toss the cold masala rice with the fresh salsa and crumbled feta cheese to taste (we like plenty of feta, half a carton for a two-person serving). Taste and adjust seasonings, including olive oil; add more, a little at a time, if the salad seems dry. Sprinkle on pepitas (again, we like lots). Serve each portion on whole Romaine leaves with halved cherry, pear, and plum tomatoes, a trimmed scallion, and fresh cilantro sprigs on the side. Yum! 

Our friend Ben and I found the rice salad to be a very satisfying lunch. But if you’d like an accompaniment, I’d think warm chapatis or chilled baked or grilled chicken breasts would be ideal. Or maybe some Kenyan soup, such as the African peanut soup or coconut lentil soup Alando dishes up. (I’m still dying to try them, along with Alando’s 16-bean veggie chili. OFB and I will be back!)

               ‘Til next time,




1. h.ibrahim - September 28, 2010

excellent post!


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