Cooking with Zeina Arida

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Zeina Arida wears many hats. Since 1997, the Lebanese-born, French-educated culture worker has been the director of the Beirut-based Arab image Foundation, a group devoted to promoting photography in the middle East and North Africa by locating, collecting, and preserving the region’s photographic heritage. Zeina is also a trustee of the newly-created Arab Fund for arts and Culture, whose mandate is to support artistic expression in the Arab World through philanthropy. She is also an indefatigable muse, famous (to those in the know) for cameos in the works of artists such as Lamia Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and Lara Baladi, among others. A few know Zeina as a culinary queen, her strengths in the kitchen unrivaled. With the help of her daughter Iris (who stirs) and her little dog Stella (who licks up any fallen food), she prepares a recipe of Bukhari rice and spinach that was passed on to her from her grandaunt Mai, who lived in Palestine and Jordan in the Middle East of yesteryear. Zeina keeps all her cuisine notes in one book and invites every guest to her home in Beirut’s Ras El Naba’a to contribute two additional recipes for her growing archive of Lebanese, French, and Asian dishes.

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1 KG KNUCKLE OF BEEF, CUT IN LARGE CUBES 4 ONIONS, PEELED AND SLICED
1 WHOLE ONION
7 LARGE CARROTS, PEELED AND SLICED
1 CAN CHICKPEAS
11⁄2 CUPS LONG-GRAIN RICE
21⁄4 CUPS MEDIUM-GRAIN RICE
1 TSP GROUND ALLSPICE
1 TSP FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER
1 TSP GROUND CARAWAY SEED
1 TSP GROUND CARDAMOM
1 TSP SALT
1 DOSETTE GROUND SAFFRON
1 CINNAMON STICK

Soak the rice in water for one hour.

Cook the meat in 1.5 liter of water with the whole onion, salt, pepper, and cinnamon stick for 1 hour. The meat should be tender (the cooking time may vary depending on the quality of the meat). Set the meat aside and filter the stock. Set 6 cups of stock aside that you will use to cook the rice.

Fry the onion in butter and vegetable oil until light brown. Set aside. Fry the meat in the same oil (you can add some more oil or butter if needed) for 5 minutes. Set aside. Fry the carrots for 5 minutes and set aside. Fry the chickpeas for 5 minutes and set aside.

In a medium-size nonstick pan, arrange some onion in the middle and the meat all around. Over the onion, add a layer of carrots, then the chickpeas. Drain the rice and add it to the pan, using a large spoon to pack it tightly. In a separate pan or pot, add the spice to the meat stock and boil.

Set the pan with the rice, meat, onion, carrots, and chickpeas over medium heat. Gently add the stock with a ladle. When the stock begins to boil, cover the rice and reduce heat. Sim- mer it over a low fire for 30 minutes.

Pack the rice again with a spoon before inverting the contents of the pan onto a serving platter.

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½ CUP TAHINI
½ CUP WATER
½ CUP LEMON
½ CUP YOGURT
½ CUP CHOPPED PARSLEY
½ CUP CHOPPED RADISH
¼ CUP CHOPPED GREEN ONION

Mix the tahini with the water and add the lemon, yogurt, and all other ingredients. Stir well. Your sauce is ready!

Serve the rice with the sauce on the side and suggest to your guests that they spoon some sauce into a separate small bowl and eat it with the rice.

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ONE TBS BLOSSOM WATER
ONE TSP SUGAR
ORANGE OR LEMON PEEL TO FLAVOR

Bring to a boil one cup of water with a tablespoon of blossom water and a teaspoon of sugar. Add orange or lemon peel and serve hot.

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2 KG SPINACH
2 ONIONS
2 CLOVES GARLIC OIL FOR FRYING

Wash the spinach, spinning or shaking off as much water as possible, and cut into strips. Put some in a dry pan, cover, and allow to steam in the water that clings to the leaves, a few minutes only. Repeat until all the spinach has been lightly steamed. Set aside, drain, and wring out or roll in a clean towel to eliminate excess moisture.

Fry two onions until they turn dark brown. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, gently sauté two cloves of garlic, then add the spinach and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add salt to taste.

Serve cold and with the onion on top. Provide lemon juice for your guests.