Serve this superb blend of hot, sweet, and tangy tastes on cold nights or evenings when you need to get some work done before you can sit down to eat. The casserole slowly cooks by itself. Timing is not of the essence here: 5 minutes more or less in the oven won’t make or break the dish.
It’s also helpful to know that this dish will keep piping hot for at least 30 minutes if you leave it covered once you have removed it from the oven.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 to 4 cloves garlic
½ cup dried apricots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup long-grain brown or white rice or cracked wheat
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ cup dried currants or raisins
2½ cups chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound smoked or baked ham, 95% or more fat free, leftover roast lamb, or smoked turkey
½ cup walnuts or pecans
Fresh mint or parsley for garnish (optional)
Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Mince the garlic. Halve or quarter the dried apricots, depending on how large they are or how big you would like the pieces to be.
3. Heat the olive oil in a medium-size heatproof casserole over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds until you can smell its aroma. Stir in the rice and spices, then the apricots and currants. Add the broth and bring the liquid to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 35 minutes (or 20 minutes if you’re using white rice or cracked wheat).
4. Meanwhile cut the ham into ½-inch cubes and coarsely chop the nuts. Mince the mint if using.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the ham. Cover and bake until the rice is tender, 15 minutes or more. Just before serving, stir in the nuts and mint. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot with sour cream or yogurt on the side, if you desire.
Variations: Vegetarians can substitute 2 cans chick-peas, drained, or 4 firm bean curd cakes, chopped, for the ham.
Especially Good for Children
Brown Rice Casserole:
Older children usually like this dish because of the combination of savory and sweet, but when I make this for our family, I omit the cayenne and ground coriander and, to make up for this loss, stir dried red pepper flakes into the adults portion at the end and douse the casserole with fresh mint or parsley.