The World of Jewish Cooking
Posted by : Ruth Heiges
Iíve frequently referred to Gil Marksí "The World of Jewish Cooking" [Simon
& Schuster, 1996, ISBN 0-684-82491] but have never written a review of the
book. Not long after its publication, my daughter brought it back from a
visit to the US as a gift for me. She had no idea I was interested in
acquiring it but had a good sense that it would appeal to me, considering
my love of Jewish cuisine. I adore this book!
Marks has a remarkable background: He is an historian, a rabbi, a writer,
and an authority on Jewish cuisine. Each of these elements comes into play
in this book like a perfectly seasoned dish which you know the cook has
His writing style and presentation are a study in economy and clarity, with
the recipe I am including here being a perfect example. In two facing
pages, he conveys a short study about rice [7000 varieties which can be
sorted into three categories, with the characteristics of each], the
Persian traditions and techniques associated with it ["invented many new
ways of preparing their favorite grain"], the Jewish connection, including
Talmudic references, plus the recipe and variations!
The book is a true world tour of Jewish cooking and cuisine through the
ages, highlighting both Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions and their
contexts. Its scholarship is entertaining and edifying, and the recipes are
I am intentionally providing a recipe for a staple dinner course, rather
than something "dazzling." I think itís a great example of how the recipes
Marks provides can lift the mundane to the level of the extraordinary. Itís
all very well to serve an elaborate main course, but I find it gratifying
to provide culinary surprises in the side dishes as well.
Persian Crusty Spicy Rice [Chelou]
Adapted from "The World of Jewish Cooking," by Gil Marks
Preparation Time: Overnight to soak
15 minutes prep time
Cooking Time: 1 hour or less
Serves 6 to 8
3 cups long-grain rice
8 cups water
2 Tablespoons salt, or to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper [optional, but I recommend it]
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 Tablespoons chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
2 medium potatoes or onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick [optional]*
2 Tablespoons additional vegetable oil
Rinse the rice in lukewarm water. Place in a large bowl and fill with cold
water that covers the rice. Soak overnight or a minimum of two hours. Drain
and rinse with cold water.
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt and the rice and cook over
medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain
and rinse under cold running water.
* Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
* Place the onion or potato slices in the oil and leave alone while they
brown. Add more oil if necessary. When very golden, remove to a plate.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil, the broth and the spices and stir.
Add the rice slowly, creating a mound of rice in the center and leaving
space on the sides. Using the handle of a long spoon, poke a hole in the
mountain of rice that goes to the pan bottom. Drizzle the remaining oil in
the hole and around the rice.
Place a kitchen towel or several paper towels over the top of the rice and
cover with a lid. Cook over medium heat until you see some steam. Reduce
heat to low, and simmer until the rice is tender and the bottom is crisp.
It takes between 20 minutes and an hour depending on the amount of liquid
that the rice absorbed.
A cloud of steam will escape when you lift the lid, so be careful. This
will indicate that the rice is ready.
To remove the crusty rice easily, fill the sink with about 2 inches of cold
water. Place the pot in the water and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
Remove the toweling. Spoon the rice onto a platter, placing the crusty part
*The onion or potato is to be used only if you donít want to have a crusty
bottom to the rice. Personally, I find the crust to be the major appeal of
the recipe, so I canít imagine one would want to avoid it. I fried onions
--Polo (Rice with Meat or Vegetables): Spread half of the parboiled rice
into the pot; spread 2 cups filling Ė such as cooked lentils, beans, peas,
shredded chicken, or meatballs Ė over the rice, leaving the edges
uncovered; and tope with the remaining rice.
--Reshteh Polo (Persian Rice with Noodles): Stir 8 ounces cooked thin egg
noodles and, if desired, 1/2 cup raisins into the parboiled rice when
assembling for the final cooking.
MY NOTE: If you wish to make a smaller recipe, do not reduce the seasonings
(except for the salt for parboiling the rice). Regardless of the quantity
of rice, the full measure of seasonings is needed for forming the crust.
I found the process of preparing this dish absolutely fascinating. The
purpose of the soaking is to incorporate water into the rice for the final
cooking. I was amazed at the amount of moisture in the pot, in spite of the
fact that no water is added for the final cooking, so the towel was
absolutely necessary for absorbing the steam. Meanwhile, the process of
rinsing the rice before and after the parboiling removed the surface
starch, causing each grain to come out absolutely separate.
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