Warm Embrace

My eyes are veering towards the window as I type this post... It snowed. Like, really snowed! Finally. It hasn't stopped since Monday, and I am ecstatic. Almost overnight, the landscape changed. Everything is covered with the plushest, fluffiest blanket of pristine snow. I must be one of the few people in Montreal jubilant at the sight of snow (we have the average age of ten...)

I don't know what it is about snow that makes me revert to childhood, but it puts a big, goofy smile on my face when it comes sprinkling/ tumbling down from the sky. I just can't help it. While I no longer build snowmen or snow angels (but I just might when next I see my nephew!), and even less snow forts (although, I suspect that if I actually owned a snowsuit, I just might...) I practically bubble over when I grab a shovel and clear a path through the fresh snow. I know, crazy, right? I'm practically dancing in the snow, while everyone else has a grim look of determination on their faces, like the snow is the first obstacle of the day.

My jubilation at the sight of snow has everything to do happy childhood memories of winter wonderland: snow days; Sundays spent cross-country skiing; the holidays; and all that food! My family isn't Christian, so Christmas does not have any deep, spiritual significance for me. However, the holiday season was always about family, friends and food. The gatherings have changed over time, but the food remains.

The following recipe for Jewelled Rice first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Gourmet Magazine, and has been an old standard ever since. It is a beautiful dish in its own right: lovely to look at, and divine in the mouth, it is a delightful sidekick to a gorgeous turkey, but will dazzle just about any meal. The killer, for me, is the brown crust at the bottom of the pot: typically, white rice in most Asian households is served snow-white. But every now and then, a brown crust is formed at the bottom of the pot. While some see this crust as the cook's failing, it is actually a delightful treat for many Asian kids: it is crispy and crunchy, with a hint of toasted smokiness; drizzled with soy sauce, it's just like a rice cracker.

While Gourmet's recipe tries to remain close to the traditional Persian method, I've adapted it, made it simpler so that it can embellish even a weekday dinner. This method does not always result in a brown bottom crust, but if you use the amount of butter and dried fruit listed, you shouldn't be disappointed. The dried fruits listed are mere suggestions: use whatever you have on hand, or like. You can even change the fruits' proportions. However, the quantities for rice, water and salt should remain the same. I also like to add pomegranate kernels as a garnish, along with the nuts. Admittedly, there is little to this dish, besides the dried cranberries, that is 'local', but it is seasonal, and oh so festive.


Jewelled Rice
Makes 4 to 6 portions

2 cups/ 400g Basmati (Indian) or Jasmine(Thai) rice
2 cups/ 250mL water
½ tsp salt
5 cardamom pods or ¼ tsp ground
3Tbs butter
¼ c/ 50g dried cranberries
¼ c/ 40g golden raisins
¼ c/ 40g dried apricots or mangoes
3 slices candied ginger
¼ c/ 30g pumpkin seeds
¼ c/ 40g cashew nuts
¼ c/ 30g pistachios, unsalted and shelled
pomegranate kernels

Chop apricots, if using, into cubes about the same size as the raisins and dried cranberries. Chop the candied ginger as finely as possible. Set aside.
Rinse rice in abundant water, until it runs clear. Drain thoroughly in a colander.
Place rice in a large enough pot (the rice will double in volume, so use a 2L/ 2quart pot) with a tight fitting lid, add the 2 cups of water, the dried fruits, 2Tbs of butter, salt, and cardamom.
Cover pot, and bring up to the boil.
When steam starts escaping from the covered pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15 minutes. DO keep an eye on the pot: if you hear it sizzle violently, and a stream of blueish smoke, turn off the heat! Let it rest for what remains of the cooking time, and it just might be rescued.
In the meantime, roughly chop the pistachios and cashew nuts.
In a frying pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat: when the butter bubbles, add the nuts and pumpkin seeds.
Toast until the nuts take on a golden sheen. Leave to cool on a paper towel.
When the rice is cooked, remove from heat, but do not uncover. Let rest for another 10 to 15 minutes, before fluffing up the rice with a fork.
Serve in a communal dish, garnishing the rice with the toasted nuts and pomegranate seeds, and bits of golden crusty rice -if there is any.

Rinsing the raw rice is a very important step. Most rice eating cultures deem it to be the foundation for a perfect bowl of rice. Washing the rice removes excess starch and any residual bran; while it does not really reduce the cooked rice's stickiness, it will prevent the rice from becoming stodgy. Each grain of rice becomes perfectly plump and shiny.

Bon app'!


  1. Just made some rice myself for our dinner of Hoppin' John, but the dish you pictured here may be the most creative rice dish I've ever seen!

  2. Why thank you! But I don't deserve the credit, it is an old Persian recipe. I only simplified the cooking process, and gave alternative ingredients.


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