This story originally appeared in The Nosher.
We grew up in Barcelona, Spain. Not exactly your typical Jewish upbringing, and while we loved the beautiful city, it could be difficult and isolating during the Jewish holidays. Nevertheless, we managed to form a tight-knit group each year with our aunt, uncle and cousins who enjoyed the festive Syrian-Lebanese style food our talented mother prepared for us.
The main meal itself was amazing, but it was the symbolic foods we ate before the main meal that were our favorites. Our mom would make zucchini and spinach frittatas and cold leek soup, and we would enjoy sweet dates, apples with sugar, pomegranates with rose water and the head of a fish or lamb, a tradition for Sephardic families.
The Syrian Lebanese cooking we grew up eating didn’t usually include sweet flavors in savory dishes during the year. But for Rosh Hashanah, our mom would make an exception with her delicious sweet carrot and raisin rice. It was always a big hit, and we brought the recipe with us when we moved to the United States.
This year our parents will join us for the holidays and so we decided to change things up a little and make our mom a surprise rice dish. The first night of Rosh Hashanah, we will make her traditional carrot and raisin rice. And the second night, we will serve this new sweet fragrant rice that includes some of our mom’s favorite spices and dried fruit. We think she will be proud of keeping the old traditions, and making some new ones as well.
Sephardic Jeweled Rice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided, plus 1 teaspoon
2 medium onions, diced small
10 dried apricots, quartered
6 dried figs (we used Smyrna), quartered
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup pistachios or pumpkin seeds
1 cup long grain rice (we used Jasmine, but you can use Basmati or whatever you prefer)
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon or orange zest
1 cup pomegranate seeds
Combine salt, sweet paprika, turmeric, cumin and black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep, nonstick skillet with a lid. Add rice and spices and stir well.
Cook over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly and making sure the rice gets well coated with the oil and the spices.
Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for 15 minutes covered.
In the meantime, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick skillet.
Add onions and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes stirring frequently, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary, to prevent from burning.
Transfer onions to a plate and in the same skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add dried fruit and pistachios or pumpkin seeds and cook over medium low for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Once the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork, add onions, dried fruit, pistachios and lemon or orange zest and toss well.
Right before serving, sprinkle pomegranate seeds on the rice.