Bukharian Pilaf with Kidney Beans and Carrots


Photo; Courtesy of Sari Kamin

Right before Passover, Sari Kamin of Honey + Shmaltz reached out to me for a lesson on Bukharian cookery. Sari is a vegan who originally started out her career as a struggling actress looking to make ends meat by waitressing. She was in restaurants so often that she fell in love with food. Subsequently entered the Food Studies program at NYU where she culminated her program with writing a thesis on foods across the globe. Sari found me and wanted to interview me on Central Asian cuisine to include into her thesis project.

With camera in one hand and a recording device in another, she took photos of me and the dish I prepared and recorded me on her website here. I spoke about my family history along the storied route of the Silk Road and my family travels all along the Spice Routes, and how it has influenced they way I cook. Her website is a recipe index of both celebrated and home cooks that she interviewed as an ongoing memoir of Jewish food.

Sari, then invited me to join her as a guest interview on her show, The Morning After (sounds like a pill, but not) which is part of Heritage Radio. You can hear the podcast here.

Back to this dish, and less PR. This Pilaf is the national dish of Bukhara, Afghanistan and Iran. With its variant spellings in all these countries, it also varies in ingredients as well. It can be made with chicken, beef or lamb. Mine is vegan and made with red kidney beans and in Bukharian fashion, with a big hunk of garlic head, and a dash of seasoning: salt and pepper. The caramelized onions and the slivered carrots form the undertone to the dish, while everything else just creates a perfect melange of flavors. Even the head of garlic, is not so garlicky, but rather like butter with a hint of garlic. The tastes do not seem forced, but just gentle on your tongue. Below you will find step by step photos on how to cut carrots for Pilau. While you can employ the food processor, the traditional way is by hand. This recipe is featured in my new cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian. Hope you enjoy.

Bukharian Pilaf

Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 12 hours for soaking the beans and 1 hour for soaking the rice
Cook Time: 2 hours plus 1 hour 30 minutes for the beans

Serves 6


1 cup (200 g) dried red kidney beans
2 cups (450 g) basmati rice
3 cups (750 ml) boiling water
2½ teaspoons sea salt
½ cup (75 g) raisins
3 large onions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 large carrots, cut into thin matchsticks
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 head garlic
2/3 cup (160 ml) oil
6 cardamom pods
3 cups (750 ml) water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon


Peel carrots, and slice them on the bias


Perfectly oblong sliced carrots


You can place a few medallions on top of each other, and then cut into matchsticks.








  1. Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and pour the rice into a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and pour boiling water over it. Mix well and let it soak for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, plump the raisins in warm water.
  3. In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil. Sauté the onion, stirring, for 7 minutes, or until softened. Then add the kidney beans, season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pat down the mixture with the bottom of your spoon to form a fairly even layer.
  4. Make another layer with the carrots and season with remaining salt and cardamom. Make sure not to combine the carrots with the onions.
  5. Spoon the rice over the carrots, distributing it evenly all over the top.
  6. Bruise the cardamom pods: Place the pods on a flat surface, place the flat blade of a large chef’s knife on top of them and press down on it with the heel of your hand to crush them lightly until the outer husk cracks. Poke some holes into the rice and place the bruised cardamom pods into the holes. Pour 3 cups (750 ml) water and remaining oil over the rice in a circular motion.
  7. Drain the water from the raisins and season with cinnamon.
  8. With a spoon, form a pocket in the rice around the side of the saucepan, and place the raisins into the pocket. In the center of the saucepan, firmly push into the rice, the whole head of garlic.
  9. Place a paper towel large enough to cover the pan on the surface of the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Cover tightly with a lid. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours (f using brown rice) and 1 hour if using white rice, or until the rice is fully cooked. (The towel will absorb the steam, preventing the rice from getting too sticky.) Check the rice periodically to make sure that the rice did not dry up. If the water has dried up during the cooking process and the rice is still not done, add ½ cup (125 ml) water.
  10. When the rice is done, use a skimmer to gently transfer each layer onto a serving dish. First, remove the garlic and set to the side of the platter. Then transfer the rice, then the carrots, and finally the beans. Scatter the raisins over the top for a sweet accent.

Shirin Polo – Persian Orange Peel Rice Video

I present Friday night mayhem at my parent’s house, in two parts. On Special occasions in my family, it’s customary to make  Shirin Polo – a sweet rice for a sweet life. It’s a basmati rice dish that is traditionally adorned with candied orange peels and toasted almonds.

In my mother’s usual fashion, she went all out with this rice dish, and look how beautifully she decorated the rice with strips of candied slivered orange peels, almonds, pistachios and currants.
Watching my mother prepare this rice dish, is like watching a contestant on Top Chef frantically scurrying to complete this dish before the clock goes off. Mom, calm down. You are not on a show, just this video, and all but five people watching (hope more, maybe six).

There is a special technique to making these dried orange peels. In the last ten years, dried orange peels are sold ready made by Sadaf. My mother is old school so makes them herself. First, you have to peel off the orange rinds, then further peel away at the pith, because it is bitter. Then you sliver the orange peels, real thin and leave them out on a baking sheet to dry. It can take a couple of weeks. I could remember as a child, growing up in my parents home, when ever my mother made Shirin Polo, weeks prior there were orange peels laid all over the entire dinette table, and for weeks it smelled like orange blossoms in the kitchen.

Once the orange peels are dried, then you have to soak them in water and boil it, and drain out the water, three times!! All this to remove the bitterness from the rinds. Once that’s done, you then add the sugar to the orange rinds and a splash of rose water in a sauce pot to to cook them into candied orange rinds. This particular recipe will be in my forthcoming cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian. You can pre-order your copy now at an extraordinary price.

There is nothing comparable to Shirin Polo. Once you make this dish, it will become part of your family festivity meal. In fact, my Ashkenazi Cuban sister in law has converted into a full fledged Bukharian Baboushka!
She is the one that is holding the pot and arranging a platter of burnt rice, known to Bukharians as Tardegih made with eggs. Persians know it as Tadig and prepare it without eggs. That recipe will also feature in Silk Road Vegetarian, although everything in my cookbook is made with brown basmati rice, which has a nuttier consistency. So that’s my little teaser for what’s to come in my cookbook. The price will go up once it’s published in May.

Raisin Walnut Spiced Rice with Swiss Chard (Gluten Free, Vegan)

I know that most people dread Mondays- as it’s the end of the weekend, that time you have off from work to spend your time as you wish. For others, like yours truly- I feel Mondays marks the start of a new week which always brings the potential for something new and exciting. I embrace that.

Something for your Monday sleepy heads- Meatless Monday is a movement or campaign that provides information and recipes you need to start each week with healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. Their goal is to help you reduce your meat consumption by 15% in order to improve your personal health and the health of the planet.
Presidents Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt galvanized the nation with voluntary meatless days during both world wars. Meatless Mondays intention is to revitalize this American tradition. They are spearheading a broad-based, grassroots movement that spans all borders and demographic groups. By cutting out meat once a week, we can improve our health, reduce our carbon footprint and lead the world in the race to reduce climate change.

This dish has everything I love in a meal; brown rice with walnuts, which gives it a hearty crunch, while the raisins and ginger tie the whole dish with a tad of sweetness. Of course the Swiss chards soaks up all the flavor adding peaks of  forest green to this robust dish. This rice dish is so filling it can be eaten on its own or as a side dish- thanks to Jan at Domestic Diva Blogspot who presented this recipe to Meatless Monday. 

Serves 4
2 cups brown rice, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup jumbo raisins

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

2 cups Swiss chard, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Salt and Pepper, to taste

      1      Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the ginger and cook for another minute until fragrant.

      2      Stir and combine the raisins and walnuts and cook for 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the Swiss chard and continue cooking for 4-6 minutes, or until wilted.

      3      Stir to combine the cooked rice to the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

Shirin Polo ~ Persian Orange Peel Rice

Just like the elements of the seder plate or oil fried latkes, most Jewish holiday foods recall the story of the holiday. Purim is no different — we feast on hamantaschen that represent Haman’s hat (or pockets, or ears, depending upon which story you buy). But one of the central themes of Purim, hippuch or sudden reversal, is often left out of our celebratory food for the holiday. By adding dishes that include an element of reversal we can recall the story of the holiday at our own banquet. This year, I will serve Shirin Polo, a traditional Persian rice dish, which is served upside down to tell the Purim story through food.
Throughout the Megillah, things are reversed and turned upside down, over and over. Haman holds a great deal of power, until in a split second during a banquet, Esther changes everything, and his plot to annihilate the Jews is foiled. The very gallows Haman built to hang Mordechai was used to hang himself. Finally, fact that Esther, a Jew (even in hiding) was the queen of Persia is a reversal of expectations and norms of the time. So it seems only fitting to eat meals of foods that incorporate the idea of hippuch.
Shirin Polo, made with Basmati rice topped with rosewater infused orange zest, is a dish that is served upside down, from the bottom up, where the candied oranges are served at the top symbolizing the sweet turn of events for the Jews. In addition, this rice dish has a crispy crust cooked at the bottom of the pan where it is cracked and flipped over facing up on the serving dish. This symbolizes the evil plot of Haman, broken into pieces. Eating this culinary delicacy known in Farsi as tadig, is symbolic of enacting the mitzvah of destroying Amalek, the ancestor of Haman. By eating the tadig, we are are fulfilling the commandment (figuratively) of destroying Haman. The crunch and flavorful rice, recalls this theme of Purim and is the perfect centerpiece for a festive table.
The rosewater, which flavors and scents this dish, is a crucial element of Persian cuisine and so fitting for the Purim meal. In the Megillah, Mordechai who was related to the patriarch Jacob is referred to as the Rose of Jacob (Shoshanat Yaakov), when he refuses to bow to Haman.
Finally, I will serve this dish because it is may be similar to something Esther had prepared for the feast that plays the central role in the Purim story. According to the Talmud, in order for Esther to disguise her Jewish identity, she subsisted as a vegan. Shirin Polo could have been a typical festive dish that she would have eaten at her own banquet. It is for this very reason that the holiday of Purim is connected to feasting — to pay homage to the many banquets thrown by the king and queen in Shushan. By serving at our banquet it helps recall the story of the holiday where sudden reversals saved the Jews of Persia.
Shirin Polo ~ Persian Sweet Rice
Yields: 6-8 servings
3 cups Basmati rice
8 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
Orange Layer
1 cup finely slivered orange zest
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups water
Pinch of saffron threads
¾ cup roasted slivered almonds
2 tablespoon rose water
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
pinch of saffron
2 tablespoon water
  1. Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Soak in cold water and let stand for at least 3 hours. Drain and rinse.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan, bring 8 cups of water to a boil with salt. Add the rice and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again under cold running water.
  3. To make the orange layer: Fill a small saucepan with cold water. Add the orange zest, bring to boil, drain, then repeat.
  4. In a medium saucepan, combine the zest, water, sugar and saffron and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until syrupy, about 20 minutes. Let cool, then stir in the rosewater and cardamom.
  5. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Stir in the turmeric, then 2 tablespoons water.
  6. Spread one-third of the rice in the saucepan. Scatter half of the orange zest over the top, cover with half of the remaining rice, then the remaining filling, and finally the balance of the rice. Poke 7 deep holes into the rice. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil.
  7. Place a paper towel over the top of the saucepan and cover with the lid. Cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender and the bottom is crisp, about 30 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove the orange layer from the top and set aside. Remove the rice layer and place on serving platter. Place orange zest on top of the rice. Break crust from the bottom of the pot and scatter over the top of the orange layer and garnish with the roasted almonds.


Mung Bean and Brown Rice Porridge (vegan, gluten free)

This dish is actually called, Kitchari which is a staple comfort food in India. The word “kitchari’ means “mixture” or “mess” as in “mess of pottage” or “mess of stew” or porridge. Judging from the picture below you can tell why… but I am here to tell you why you should try this jumbled mess – it is medicine.

The main ingredients are rice and mung beans, to which a variety of spices- cumin, coriander and turmeric are added for flavor. 

It is an ancient Ayurvedic practice in India to fast with a “kitchari cleanse.” In Ayurveda- an
ancient medical practice of India dating back 5,000 years, this mix of rice and mung beans is considered extremely easy to digest and is said to purify the digestion and cleanse the body of toxins. Kitchari fasting is actually a mono-diet, which means the body receives a limited diversity of foodstuffs and therefore needs to produce a limited number of digestive enzymes. The work of the digestive system is lessened, allowing for greater healing and cleansing to occur. 

Kitchari tastes like a cross between a creamy rice cereal and a light dal. If it is a cold, blustery day or you are feeling under the weather, a steaming bowl of this classic Indian comfort food can both warm up your bones and restore sagging energy.


1 cup whole mung beans
2 cups short grain brown rice
4 1/4 cups cold water
2 tablespoons vegan butter
3/4 teaspoon sea salt or rock salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin (freshly ground makes a huge difference)
1 tablespoon ground coriander (freshly ground makes a huge difference)
1 tablespoon turmeric

  1. In a large saucepot under medium high heat, pour the mung beans, brown rice and cold water together. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and cover for 45 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, in a skillet; heat oil and fry the salt, cumin, coriander and turmeric until fragrant. Pour into the mung bean mixture and combine well to fuse all ingredients together nicely.
  3. To the finished product you can top with some chopped up fresh ginger (good for circulation), a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt…and squeezes of lime. 

Mung Beans

Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto (Gluten Free)

Here in the Northeast, winter has started early. We have been seeing temperatures hover in the 30 degree mark for weeks. Normally we don’t experience this chill until late January early February. In fact, New York had one of it’s biggest snow storms in recorded history just two weeks ago dumping almost 3 feet of snow with the wind drifts.

My everyday walk with my dog for 40 minutes has now dwindled down to a quick hop and jump up the block and around in 10 minutes flat. So both my dog and I have a lot of pented up energy. He has been sniffing away at my garbage, wrestling with all my papers in there, and I have been cooking good ol’ comfort foods.

This past week I returned to my Italian fare… Risotto.

As a child I used to visit with my famalia in Italia every year, twice a year. I would stay with my aunt, who regularly made pasta every night for dinner. Sometimes she would indulge herself into making a Risotto. This would involve nursing this creamy dish for at least a good hour, while her armed tired from the stirring of this heavy dish. It was a good workout as beads of sweat used to gather by her brow. I think she enjoyed it.

Interestingly with all the pasta mia familia consumed, everyone of my cousins was THIN. Go figure… (no pun intended). Fresh pasta with a fresh suggo (marinara sauce) paired with red wine (for the adults) was a diet to thinness.

In any event, back to this Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto I prepared. The combination of leeks with the chewy texture of mushrooms already lends this dish to a hearty fare. The lemon just lightens up the flavor with a delicate sprinkling of Parmesan. What’s even more perfect about this dish is that everyone, including the kids will love it. It is just that good and versatile.

To clean leeks: with a knife slit the leek lengthwise and clean between the layers with running water
The rice is first cooked briefly in a soffritto (flavor base) of onion and butter to coat each grain in a film of fat, this is called tostatura. When it has evaporated, the heat is raised to medium high and very hot vegetable stock is gradually added in small amounts while stirring gently, almost constantly: stirring loosens the starch molecules from the outside of the rice grains into the surrounding liquid, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. At that point it is taken off the heat for the mantecatura when diced cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano cheese is vigorously stirred in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible. It may be removed from the heat a few minutes earlier, and left to cook with its residual heat.
Serves 4
2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and chopped
8 ounces Cremini mushrooms, wiped and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
6 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 3/4 cups short grain brown rice
5 cups hot vegetable stock
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesen cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic for 1 minute taking care not to burn it. Add the leeks, mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until softened and browned. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and cook the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until golden and soft.
  3. Stir in the rice and cook for about 1 minute. Add a ladleful of the stock to the pan and cook gently, stirring occasionally until all the liquid is absorbed.
  4. Gently stir in more liquid as each ladleful is absorbed; this should take 20-25 minutes in all. The risotto will turn thick and creamy, and the rice should be tender, but not sticky or gluey.
  5. Just before serving, stir in the leek and mushroom mixture, remaining butter, grated lemon zest and juice and half the Parmesan. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  6. When serving, sprinkle remaining Parmesan and springs of flat leaf parsley.

Roasted Squash with Sunflower Seed Dressing over Wild Rice


I need to have a good breakfast before I make this dish because I need all the power in my arms to hack away the skin off the squash. I use an 8 inch Wusthoff knife to slice away the the thick layer of skin that is protecting the sweetest moist orange flesh that is the star of this dish.

It is Fall and I love autumn produce. This giant dish is a seasonal favorite of mine. How do I describe this dish to you… there is so much going on here and it is one the best recipes out there for squash, thanks to Heidi Swanson’s 101 cookbook vegetarian website. I have been following her vegetarian blog for sometime and am quite impressed with some of the dishes she has created. This is one of them.

This wild rice dish with roasted squash features two of my seasonal favorites; squash and tiny red onions.  Topped with a sunflower cilantro dressing and you have a healthy hearty and incredibly complex dish.  So many exciting flavors… sweet, salty, nutty, crunchy all in one that just creates a POW in your mouth and stomach.

Now you may not be able to tell from the picture, but the wild rice is under the squash. I did not want to mix it to much because I did not want to break apart the soft roasted squash. I also used Sweet Dumpling Squash which looks like a miniature pumpkin with a hint of orange skin. You can use any squash you have for this dish.

Serves 4

3 cups Sweet Dumpling Squash (or other winter squash), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
extra-virgin olive oi
fine grain sea salt
12 tiny red onions or shallots, peeled (OR 3 medium red onions peeled and quartered)
2 cups cooked wild rice*
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Toss the squash in a generous splash of olive oil along with a couple pinches of salt, and layer onto a baking sheet. At the same time, toss the onions with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and layer onto a separate baking sheet. Roast both for about 45 minutes, or until squash is brown and caramelized. The same goes for the onions, they should be deeply colored, caramelized, and soft throughout by the time they are done roasting. You’ll need to flip both the squash and onion pieces once or twice along the way – so it’s not just one side that is browning. This could take about 40 minutes. You should keep an eye on the onions because they will roast faster then the squash.
  3. In the meantime, make the dressing. With a food processor puree the sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and sugar until creamy. You may need to add a few tablespoons of warm water to thin the dressing a bit. Stir in the cilantro, saving just a bit to garnish the final plate later. Taste and adjust seasonings (or flavors) to your liking.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the wild rice with a large dollop of the dressing. Add the onions, gently toss just once or twice. Scoop the rice and onions out onto a platter and top with the roasted squash (Gently toss to disperse the squash a bit). Finish with another drizzle of dressing and any remaining chopped cilantro.
* To cook wild rice: Rinse 1 1/2 cups wild rice. In a medium sauce pan bring the rice and 4 1/2 cups salted water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes or until rice is tender and splitting open, stirring occasionally. You’ll have enough for this recipe and some leftover.

Peppers Stuffed with Wild Rice and Mozzarella (Gluten Free)

Cooking with the seasons can be challenging, especially when you have weeks where you get a load of one vegetable, that makes everything else in your CSA box look insignificant by comparison. The challenge is to eat the produce within the week and to make recipes that are fulfilling. Not to cook just for the sake of consuming but enjoying it as well.

This week, I received a lot of bell peppers…. the red ones to be exact. The good news about peppers is that it can safely be frozen for later use, once you wash them, deseed and slice into a freezer bag. So when ever you are looking to make a quick stir fry dish, just grab some peppers from the freeze and you have a dish ready in no time.

Red bell peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene. The level of carotene, another antioxidant, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers also have twice the vitamin C content than green peppers. So who am I to complain if I have too many red peppers.

I looked through a cookbook that I have had for years, but barely refer to it, because most of my dishes are passed down to me. In any event, I decided to look through 15 Minute Vegetarian- 200 Quick, Easy and Delicious Recipes by Susan Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay. I suppose something about quick and easy caught my eye with the book and I am glad it seduced me to thumb through it.

There I found it… Peppers Stuffed with Wild Rice and Mozzarella. This has a Mediterranean twist to it with the olive oil, red peppers, wild rice and of course mozzarella. You will definitely love this flavorful crunchy garlicky cheesy dish.

6 servings


3 large red or yellow bell peppers
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
4 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the broiler. Cut each bell pepper in half from top to bottom and remove the stems, seeds and thick white membranes. Cut each pepper- half in half to create 4 boat shaped quarters. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine the wild rice, mozzarella, parsley, olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well. 
  3. Fill the pepper boats with the rice mixture, pressing it firmly into place. Arrange the peppers stuffing side up on a baking sheet and broil 4 inches away from heat source until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.