This Middle Eastern Lamb and Lentil Rice Pilaf is so aromatic that if you close your eyes you’ll be instantly transported to a spice market somewhere in the desert. With a surprising amount of greens “hidden” in the pilaf, this is a complete meal made in one pot with an “A” Grade nutrition rating. Just 10 minutes of active effort, a fabulous midweek meal to add to your rotation!
Wikipedia says “A Pilaf is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth.” That’s exactly what this dish is. Lamb mince and spinach cooked with rice seasoned with Middle Eastern spices. Hence it’s name – Middle Eastern Lamb and Lentil Rice Pilaf. I’ve repeatedly professed my love for Middle Eastern food. It’s the spices that does it for me. I find the smell and flavour of Middle Eastern spices irresistible. If you have a stash of cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, cardamon and cinnamon, you’ll have the flavourings for the majority of Middle Eastern dishes.
You’ll be surprised at the quantity of greens “hidden” in this pilaf. There are 6 cups of silverbeet (chard) – packed cups! It looks like a huge mound when you chop it but it wilts significantly, as you can see in the photo above. I alternate between spinach and silverbeet in this recipe depending on price as they can vary quite a lot. You’ll need 1 1/2 to 2 bunches of spinach, or about 1/2 – 3/4 a bunch of silverbeet (leaves only).
Even with that much silverbeet, my Middle Eastern Lamb and Lentil Rice Pilaf itself only has a Nutrition Grade rating of “B” (I ran it through a Nutritional Analysis). The challenge I find with coming up with fresh ideas for one pot meals is making sure that they are a complete meal. To me, a complete meal is one with a Nutrition Grade rating of A. So if you serve this with a few juicy slices of tomato (just plain, no dressing), it brings it up to A. This pilaf is so aromatic that plain slices of tomato are the perfect accompaniment to bring a burst of freshness to this meal.
Food Geek Stuff: This is the section where I prattle on about logic for why I do things a certain way, what works and what doesn’t. It’s kind of sharing my lessons learned from all the attempts and failures making this over the years. Those that aren’t interested can skip right over it and get to the recipe!
a) Silverbeet (chard) – I made this one using silverbeet because that’s what I had. Silverbeet leaves are thicker than spinach so the steps are slightly different. My preference is to tear the green leaves off the white stems because the stems take longer to cook and you’ll end up with slightly crunchy bits in the pilaf. If you don’t mind that, then include the stem but I recommend slicing it finely. Silverbeet cooked with the rice tends to turn brown.
So to keep the colour of this dish more appealing, I only cook half the silverbeet with the rice, then I add the other half while the rice is resting – just spread it over the top of the rice and clamp the lid back on. The residual heat wilts the spinach while the rice is resting, then stir it through. Why only half? Because silverbeet has thicker leaves than spinach and when I tried “steaming” all of it using the residual heat, it did not wilt very much.
b) Spinach – spinach leaves are more delicate than silverbeet, so it is best added after the rice has cooked otherwise it wilts so much that it almost disappears and also turns a bit brownish. So when using spinach, I add all of it to the resting rice.
c) Water quantity – when making pilaf, you need to get the water quantity right because different meats and vegetables absorb and release different quantities of liquid. To cook plain rice, typically the ratio is 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups of water. In this recipe, when you pour the water in with the rice, meat, lentils and silverbeet, it will probably look like there is not enough water. But the silverbeet and lentils cooked with the rice releases a bit of water, plus the silverbeet (or spinach) that is added to the resting rice releases a small amount of liquid as well which is absorbed. So the combination of these factors contribute to the liquid content to produce a perfectly al dente rice pilaf.
d) Adding more vegetables – if you want to add more vegetables, you need to take into account the effect of watery vegetables on the water to rice ratio. Too much liquid will result in overcooked rice which is sticky and gluggy. For example, peas and carrots will not release nor absorb (much) liquid so no adjustment is required. They can simply be added when you add the rice.
But zucchinis, eggplants and capsicums (bell peppers) have a high water content. So if you want to add vegetables with a high water content to this recipe, you need to sauté them separately, then set aside to add later when you are adding the rice. The reason you have to sauté them separately is because with the quantity of ingredients already in this recipe, adding more vegetables will crowd the pan and you’ll end up “stewing” everything instead of sautéing it. Who here likes stewed mince? Not me!
e) Other meats – this dish is just as fabulous made with beef mince (ground beef). Lamb is best because the flavour of lamb is quite strong which goes well with these aromatic spices. The strength of the spice flavour is the reason why I don’t think chicken mince is suitable because you just won’t taste any chicken at all!
f) Vegetarian – yes, this dish is great to make into a vegetarian dish. Substitute the lamb with more vegetables (follow d) above) or just omit altogether. Great vegetables to add are: grated or diced carrot, zucchini and eggplant.
OK, enough with the foodie geek stuff! Here’s the recipe. It serves 4 normal servings or 5 smaller servings. Love to hear if you try it and what you think! I always love getting feedback (constructive criticism is always welcome :)).
- 400 g / 13 oz mince/ground lamb
- 1 onion , diced (brown, white or yellow)
- 6 cups (loosely packed) spinach or silverbeet/chard, roughly shredded
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tin lentils , drained (400g/14oz) (Note 6)
- 1 cup rice , preferably basmati (see notes)
- 1 1/2 cups water (see notes)
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 2 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder , or cayenne pepper or other hot chilli powder (not American Chilli Powder) (optional)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 tomatoes , sliced thickly
- Fried Asian Shallots (Scallions) (optional - see notes)
- Parsley leaves (optional)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat.
Add garlic and onion. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until golden and translucent.
Turn up heat to high and add lamb. Use spatula to break mince up and cook until browned.
Add Spice Mix and cook for 30 seconds until spices are fragrant and mixed through the mince.
If using silverbeet/chard, add half the silverbeet into the pan and sauté for 15 seconds until starting to wilt. (If using spinach, do not add any at this stage).
Add rice, water and lentils and stir. Bring to simmer, then put lid on and turn down heat to medium low.
Cook for 10 to 12 minutes until water is absorbed.
Remove pot from heat, take lid off and quickly spread the remaining silverbeet or all the spinach on top of the rice, then put the lid back on.
Rest rice for 10 minutes. Remove lid, stir through silverbeet/spinach and fluff up the rice.
Spoon rice into serving dish, top with Fried Asian Shallots and parsley if desired. Serve the sliced tomatoes on the side.
1. If using silverbeet (chard) which is what I did for this photo, tear the green leaves off the thick part of the white stems. The thinner part towards the leafy end are fine to include - the thick part is too thick and will still be crunchy unless you dice it up pretty finely.
2. The best substitute for basmati rice is long grain rice, followed by medium grain rice then short grain rice. This recipe is NOT suitable for arborio (risotto) rice.
3. Check your rice to determine quantity of water required as it may differ. You want the amount of water required for the absorption method. For most rice brands, it is 1 cup of rice with 1 1/2 cups of water.
4. Fried Asian Crunchy Shallots (Scallions) - I've repeatedly professed my addiction to these. Little slices of shallots that have been deep fried and perfectly seasoned. They are like Asian croutons. They are brilliant on many dishes (including many non Asian dishes) to bring a little burst of salty texture to a dish. They are now readily available in the Asian section of most large grocery stores. They go particularly well with Middle Eastern dishes which often have deep fried onion slices as garnishes on recipes.
5. If you want to add extra vegetables: non watery vegetables like carrots and peas are easy to incorporate, just add them with the rice. For watery vegetables like zucchinis, you need to dice (or grate), then sauté them separately. Once sautéed, set aside, proceed with the recipe then add to the pot along with the rice. The reason is that the pot will be too crowded if you try to sauté it with the other ingredients. And you must sauté watery vegetables otherwise there will be too much liquid when cooking the rice.
6. I used canned lentils and they are already cooked. So if you make this with dried lentils, cook them separately first then drain, then use per the recipe.
7. Nutrition Facts assumes this serves 5 people.