I don't know if I'm becoming a reluctant carnivore or if I am just an ambivalent vegetarian at heart, but as the years slip past I find myself leaning more and more towards meatless meals. Not really for any moral or spiritual reasons, but just because I find meat sometimes, well, superfluous. Now, not to say that I don't enjoy a lovely piece of crisp, salty bacon here and there, or a chewy rib from one of the many delightful barbecue restaurants here in K.C., but those adventures are becoming less the norm and more the exception for me. These days, there are many wonderful complex carbohydrate options out there, and this recipe features one of my new favorites--brown jasmine rice. Back in the day, brown rice was for the real hippies, dense and extremely chewy, and took for-ev-er to cook. Nowadays, the brown rice options available on the store shelves should dissolve anyone's reservations. Brown jasmine rice has all the wonderful fragrant and light qualities of regular jasmine rice, but has a lovely, nutty whole grain flavor and texture that I think is so much more interesting. So, whether you are a card-carrying vegetarian, or a reluctant carnivore such as myself, this dish will satisfy all those taste buds, whatever their leanings...with just a little help from some slightly exotic spices to keep things interesting.
I got the idea for these rice timbales from a special cookbook titled The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell. I thumb through this cookbook to find inspiration whenever I want to try incorporating more whole grains into our meal rotation. Although I do try to watch my intake of white carbs (sugar, flour and rice), I love diving head first into a meal brimming with whole grain goodness. Whole grains are packed with nutrients and fiber, are heart healthy, and provide so much energy, which I am especially appreciative of on those days that I'm headed to the pool to swim laps. For this go-round, I decided to add a little Middle Eastern flair, with some Aleppo pepper (I LOVE THIS STUFF) and some Zaatar (DITTO), which can both be found online or in your local ethnic store. If you haven't tried them, you are missing out on some delicious taste sensations.
I use Aleppo pepper on just about everything... fish, meat, pasta, roasted vegetables...anything that I want a subtle and slightly sweet kick of heat. Zaatar is a combination of thyme and sesame seeds, as well as a touch of sumac, all of which results in an over-all strong thyme flavor but is indescribably more interesting. My family loves this sprinkled on meat before it hits the grill. This rice and lentil recipe is very amenable to whatever spice combination you would like to use though. I thought the Middle Eastern spices paired nicely with my chosen ingredients.
Making the timbales couldn't be easier. Juice glasses that had been greased with a little olive oil provide the molds. The rice mixture is then packed in, somewhat firmly, allowed to set for a few minutes, and turned out onto a plate. The vegetable combination is totally up to personal interpretation, but I went with mushrooms (baby bellas), carrots and peppers, with a healthy portion of chopped garlic thrown in for good measure (and because I'm a garlic-a-holic). The original recipe called for chicken, carrots and dried porcini mushrooms, but I switched things up a little bit, and felt it would be just as tasty and provide an equivalent amount of protein by adding the lentils.
I added another layer of flavor by using fresh herbs, mostly a goodly portion of fresh thyme as well as some savory and a pinch of oregano. The dried thyme in the Zaatar and the fresh thyme from the garden complimented each other beautifully. Herbs were also in the wine sauce. The original recipe called for Pinot Noir, but I went with a dry Pinot Gris, which I thought would go better with my chosen ingredients and spices. Feel free to experiment!
Each timbale provided a nice sized portion suitable as a main dish if paired with salad and a crusty loaf of bread, or could easily compliment any meat dish as a side. I think it would go especially well with chicken or lamb. The original recipe layered the mushrooms in the bottom of the mold, resulting in a mushroom-topped timbale, but I liked the look of all the ingredients all mixed together. When I make this again, I will add some toasted pine nuts or maybe even pecans, which would add another level of crunch and interest (and heart healthy fat and some protein).
Whether an erstwhile or staunch vegetarian, or a carnivore on hiatus, rice and lentil timbales will gratify.
How will you make yours?
Rice and Lentils:
1 cup brown jasmine rice
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup lentils (I used brown)
1 large red pepper, small dice
1 pint mushrooms, small dice
2 large carrots, small dice
2 tablespoons minced shallot
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon Zaatar (to taste)
1 to 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, divided (if you don't have fresh, use dried)
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh savory
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cook the lentils in a saucepan according to the directions on the bag. Mine took only 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan with a lid, and cook the shallots and garlic over medium heat until just browned. Add the rice to the oil, garlic and shallots, and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about three minutes. Add the stock and salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat, replace the lid, and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until there are large holes scattered all over the top of the rice and the stock level is reduced below the level of the rice about 1 inch. Place the covered rice in the pre-heated oven to finish cooking, and bake for about 20 to 25 more minutes, or until tender and all the stock is absorbed. Remove from the oven when done, and set aside for 10 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, and brown the peppers, mushrooms and carrots until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in 1/2 the fresh thyme (1 1/2 teaspoon), the remaining fresh herbs, Aleppo pepper, Zaatar and pepper. Stir to mix and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the lentils, cooked rice and cooked vegetables and spices. Stir to mix evenly, and check for seasonings. Add more salt, spices and/or herbs as necessary. Evenly divide the mixture between 4 to 6 greased molds, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon, and allow to set up while you make the sauce.
2 cups water
1 cup Pinot Gris or any dry, white wine (not sweet), or stock if preferred
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, and any other herbs to taste (I added a little extra savory)
1 teaspoon corn starch or other thickener dissolved in a few tablespoons water
salt to taste
In a 1-quart saucepan, bring the water, wine and herbs to a boil. Slowly add the corn starch, and stir to dissolve. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until reduced down to about 1 cup. Season to taste and thin with water or stock if necessary.
To Serve:Place a plate over the top of the mold and quickly flip over, allowing the timbale to slip out onto the plate, keeping everything as level as possible so that the timbales don't come out crooked. Sprinkle some sauce around the timbale, and garnish with fresh thyme and Aleppo pepper flakes. Serve while warm, or cover and store in the refrigerator, and reheat in a 375 F oven for 25 to 30 minutes.