A zingy accompaniment for mains with bold personalities, from Ed Smith’s new book On the Side
I remember red rice being a thing in the 1990s: the colour intrigued and promised a great deal. But I also remember that, once cooked, red rice was dull in both colour and taste, perhaps a little too wholesome for its own good. This version is different, largely on account of the beetroot, which adds its extraordinary colour and that earthy-yet-sweet quality. The rice absorbs all the liquid it is cooked in, so you don’t lose any flavour down the sink, then it is seasoned with salty, sharp feta, and fresh Greek oregano in oil, sometimes called ‘zahtar’. If that’s not available, sprinkle the finished dish with lemon thyme or a generous pinch of the spice blend za’atar instead.
Grilled mackerel, lamb chops, rib-eye steaks and baked mushrooms are ideal partners to this side; basically, things with big personalities to match the bold colours and flavours in the pot. You’ll only need one other thing alongside; I suggest something crisp and fresh.
250g Camargue red rice or a mixture of red and wild rice
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 red onion, finely diced
300g raw beetroot, peeled and diced
Juice of ½ lemon
15g fresh oregano in oil, 1 tsp za’atar or the leaves from 4-5 sprigs of lemon thyme
Put the rice in a sieve and rinse it until the water runs clear. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 4-5 mins, or until softened. Add the beetroot and cook for 1-2 mins, stirring occasionally before adding the rice, coating it in the oil and beetroot juices.
Pour 500ml boiling water over the rice and beetroot, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook with a lid on, slightly ajar, for 40 mins. Stir once or twice to check the rice isn’t catching on the base of the pan. Remove the lid when there are 5-10 mins to go. The rice is ready when fully tender with just a little nutty (but not chalky) bite. It should still be fairly loose-grained; if you push some to one side in the pan, it should fall back rather than sit prudishly. Turn the heat off.
Crumble half the feta into the rice and stir through until it melts. Taste to check the seasoning, adding the lemon juice and salt if necessary. Transfer to a platter or wide serving bowl. Sprinkle the remaining feta over the top, then the oregano (or lemon thyme or za’atar, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil). It’ll stay warm for at least 5-10 mins, but is best made just before you eat rather than a long time in advance. It’s good cold, mind.
Recipe: Ed Smith
Image: Joe Woodhouse