Unlike a lot of people who love to cook, I don’t tend to pick up cookbooks and read them like novels. The majority of the cookbooks on my shelves are there for reference only, useful when I need to check an ingredient’s preparation or cooking time. But Delights from the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah has changed all that. Lately I often lug the 3 1/2 pound, 650-page tome with me to bed just to read the fables, stories, and snippets of personal and cultural history woven among the 400 recipes.
Delights traces Iraqi cuisine back to ancient Mesopotamia and the first documented cookbook in history, written on clay tablets about 3700 years ago in Babylon, and explores the history of some better-known recipes (hummus, baba ghanouj) while bringing to light many that were new to me (I had no idea black-eyed peas were used in Iraqi cooking) .
Though it’s far from vegetarian–avoid particularly the section called “Recipes Not for the Faint of Heart”–the cookbook has chapters on vegetarian appetizers, snacks, sandwiches, and side dishes. Nasrallah points out that medieval diners thought of vegetarian dishes as “counterfeit,” though they valued them as snacks and accompaniment to to the meat dishes, so most of the main dishes contain some meat. She often notes when the meat can be left out without hurting the dish, and for other recipes, I’ve found that it’s easy to replace it with a vegetarian alternative, as in the case of this recipe.
Called “Hassle-free Kubbat Halab” in the book, this recipe is a simplified, “lazy day” version of Kubbat Halab, which is made by stuffing a dough made of grains such as bulgar or rice with a spicy meat filling and forming it into balls or disks that are then fried. (The football-shaped kibbeh found in Middle Eastern restaurants here in the U.S. is a variant of the same dish.) In the hassle-free version, all of the ingredients are mixed together and formed into patties and fried or spread into a pan and baked.
I’ve substituted lentils for the ground beef and changed the spicing a bit to make the recipe a little more accessible for those of us who don’t want to buy a jar of baharat seasoning for just one dish. I’ve also doubled the amount of raisins because, frankly, I misread the recipe. If you’re wary of putting raisins into a savory dish, let me tell you bluntly that the raisins, in my opinion, save this dish, which would be bland without them. They give these crispy yet tender patties a certain spark that you don’t want to miss.
Spiced Rice and Lentil Squares
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice (or 3 cups cooked rice)
- 1 1/4 cup cooked brown lentils (or canned, drained, liquid reserved)
- 1 medium onion , chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne or other red pepper
- 1 flax or chia "egg" (see Tips, below)
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Cook the rice according to package directions or use leftover rice. Put it in a large mixing bowl and cover until ready to use.
- Preheat oven to 375F. Brown the onion in a non-stick pan. Add it to the rice along with all remaining ingredients. Stir well so that seasoning are distributed evenly. If mixture appears dry, add a little of the reserved lentil broth.
- Spread mixture into an oiled or parchment-covered 9x12-inch pan. Use a spatula or knife to score into 12 equal rectangles. Bake until top is lightly crispy, about 40 minutes.
- Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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stephaniepOctober 13, 2009 at 8:44 am
I have been waiting for ages to see a new recipe! I recently moved to the UK (London) from Canada and am finding it incredibly hard to find vegan foods here in the grocery store, so I have found your website even more useful now than ever!
That recipe looks delicious- I just watched a documentary about Iran and wanted to sample some of their food.
Keep up the amazing work!
One question: Is there any way to make vegan yogurt at home without a starter? I can't find vegan yogurt here anywhere and am missing it big time!
purplefloydOctober 13, 2009 at 9:29 am
@ stephaniep, all the major supermarket chains in London do carry vegan soy yoghurts. Just avoid the smaller inner-city supermarkets which tend to have a more limited range and you'll be fine. Basically if the supermarket has more than 10 aisles they should be big enough to stock a fair range of vegan processed foods 😉
Alpro is a company that does good tasting vegan soy milk and yoghurts, their products are available at all major supermarkets.
Also vegansociety.com sells vegan shopping guides for the UK, check out the "Animal Free Shopper" book.
JessieOctober 13, 2009 at 9:36 am
This looks great.
Coriander is listed twice in the ingredients, should we just ignore the second line, or is it suppose to be something else?
SusanVOctober 13, 2009 at 9:42 am
Thanks for catching that, Jessie! One is supposed to be cardamom, and I've just corrected the error.
Stephanie, it sounds like Purplefloyd has given you some great info. If you can't get to a store that carries vegan yogurt, you may be able to order a starter by mail. Unfortunately, most of them begin with a minute bit of dairy milk, but there was at least one, in Canada, that was completely vegan. Bryanna Clark Grogan's blog (Vegan Feast Kitchen) contains info about it, so you may want to check there.
The Voracious VeganOctober 13, 2009 at 9:43 am
Looks delicious! I love the combination of spices and textures in here, this is brilliant!
The WomanOctober 13, 2009 at 10:15 am
This looks really good! And I'm a fan of raisins in savoury dishes, so I say bring it on.
BiancaOctober 13, 2009 at 10:27 am
How neat! I've never seen anything like that. I love that you veganized a very meaty ethnic recipe.
MonicaOctober 13, 2009 at 10:41 am
These look very interesting! And it uses some of my favorite ingredients. I can see eating this with a nice coconut chutney or cashew gravy.
noraOctober 13, 2009 at 10:53 am
These look wonderful, Susan! I love raisins in savory dishes.
JosianeOctober 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm
Oh, another (no doubt delicious) Iraqi-inspired recipe, yay! I love fruits in savory dishes, but I don't like raisins anywhere; I'll sub dried cranberries or cherries, I'm sure it'll be great!
Just a quick question about the amount of rice: is it 1 1/2 cup cooked or dry?
Fayinagirl (means Free One)October 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm
This looks delicious! I'm going to look for the cookbook too. I absolutely love reading about the history and cultural origins of cuisine. Thanks for the recommendation.
moonwatcherOctober 13, 2009 at 9:47 pm
These look very good. Kind of remind of a baked rice lentil polou from Laurel's Kitchen I used to make back in the day all the time. Except I like the idea of these being baked into squares. I'm in the "raisins in savory dishes are awesome" camp, too. And the history in that book sounds fascinating as well. I look forward to trying these out sometime. . .thanks!
SusanVOctober 14, 2009 at 10:22 am
Josiane, it's 1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice or about 3 cups of leftover rice. Sorry for the confusion. I'm trying to edit the recipe, but Blogger won't let me. I'll correct the printer-friendly version, though.
juicing recipesOctober 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm
That's a very interested idea, and it couldn't have come at a perfect time, because I was looking for a new dish to serve up – thanks so much!
RubyOctober 15, 2009 at 9:02 am
Wow, I never realized you can make "chia" eggs as well! Thank you for that awesome tip. And these look great.
ElessarOctober 15, 2009 at 9:17 am
Stephanie P, I can buy Alpro vegan yogurt anywhere (like Waitrose) out here in deep dark farm town Ely…so I am confident you can in deep London. Purple Floyd is being sensible.Us veggies will help you all we can, in welcoming you to england.
Is there anything to the idea of "too much rice"? Nuh UH! I have been doing some wicked basmati & wild rice stuff, so I always have leftovers. I LOVE my freezers! So, to Josiane, I say, wake up double the rice dried, with water or stock, let it steam preggers, then add as much as you want to what you are making that day, Then keep the rest in the freezer Until the next time you get inspired.
Also…I have to say (since I am growing them) now is a wonderful autumn to grow/harvest peppers and tomatoes. I am about to make some blistered tomatoes…just for when |I need them in deep January.Pesto too.
Susan, I truly love your site. You inspire me. I've been making lots of refried pintos with my salsa, and great flour tortillas, and the ravenous horde are knocking my front door. "Feed us, Elessar." There is no higher compliment for an amateur cook then to have your food craved.
NikkiOctober 15, 2009 at 8:24 pm
Susan – I think your photography is amazing. It always makes me hungry, even when I'm not actually hungry at all (like now) and I always think to myself: I can't wait to try that!
Christi NielsenOctober 16, 2009 at 12:03 pm
I made these last night, and they were fabulous! My boyfriend even liked them, and he usually won't touch a legume. Thanks so much!
JessicaOctober 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm
Tried to make these this morning but after baking and cooling all I got was a big pilaf mess….they didn't bind together at all. Have put some egg replacer and am re baking it….maybe this will work.
Has anyone else had this problem.
Susan…what did I do wrong?
SusanVOctober 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm
Jessica, I'm so sorry, I just don't know why they didn't bind together. It could be a difference in the kinds/starchiness of the rice we used, or it could be that I cooked my rice until it was stickier. I used a rice cooker and had to add more water than usual to get the rice done all the way through. Perhaps that was the difference.
JessicaOctober 16, 2009 at 1:44 pm
Yes perhaps it was the rice, expecially since I used kamut instead!! Ha! Serves me right. In any event…after adding 2 tbsp of egg replacer and re baking for 20 minutes it seems that I'm all bound! The tops aren't crispy, but I'll throw it under the broiler for a bit to warm up for serving and that will help with that.
Thanks as always for your fantastic recipes.
AnonymousOctober 18, 2009 at 1:28 pm
Susan, can you use egg replacer in this recipe instead of flax or chia? And what do you think would be the best side dishes? It sounds good, and I've been making lots of brown rice and lentils in different ways to save money and give us protein, so this will be fun.
SusanVOctober 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm
Instead of egg replacer, I recommend adding a little starch such as corn or potato starch or arrowroot. Egg replacer contains leavening that you don't need in this recipe.
Some side dishes that I would suggest are salad (of course!), grilled vegetables, vegetable soup, baba ganoush with raw vegetables, and steamed broccoli (of course not all at the same time!)
'River'October 18, 2009 at 6:41 pm
Wonderful ideas here as always, Susan! Even as I turn more and more towards Raw, I still return and still like to make some of your lovely recipes. As you can see, I've nominated you in thanks for a Kreativ Blogger award 🙂 Enjoy!
ElessarOctober 24, 2009 at 3:37 am
I don't even know WHAT chia seeds are! Yet another thing to put at the back of the "spices Lesley can't even reach" spice condiment cabinets!I love your concept of this adaptation. An as soon I kick my new, bells'n'whistle major-terrain hogging printer…I'll hardcopy it.
I just came up with–after the raisin debate- an idea to sear green grapes, halved, in lemon juice, then add those to this recipe,upping the you-pick chili dust, and slice cold just ripe avocados on the side, teentsy bit salted, and smothered in lime juice. a tiny bit of of fresh cilantro/coriander leaf would top it, don't you think?
AnonymousOctober 25, 2009 at 7:11 pm
Susan, you're an inspiration!
A quick question — do you think dry French green lentils would work in this recipe?
AnonymousOctober 26, 2009 at 8:32 am
My attempt started out w/ two misatkes: I cooked dried lentils and lentils together in a rice cooker so it was way too wet, and my boyfriend refuses to use non-stick pans and stirred it quite a bit to keep it from sticking, so it came out terribly mushy, like mashed potatoes or meatloaf, but really quite tasty. We had some unbaked since I didn't have any egg replacer. After eating it for the first night, we decided to bake it without the egg replacer since it was so mushy anyways, and it actually binded w/o any flax seeds/chia/eggs. But then it was too dry, but the taste reminded me of the stuffing balls my mom used to make for Thanksgiving when I was little.
But since they held together fairly well, I figured I could put them into a soup, like dumplings. A friend from college made matzah ball soup from scratch w/ just water and mashed up matzah, so I figured rice and lentils would do as well. I mixed a little cornstarch and water into the remaining unbaked rice/lentil mash, shaped them into small balls, baked them. Then, I let them cook in a simmering soup broth for a few minutes and ate it like matzah ball soup, and it was tasty, chewey, and moist. I've been trying to figure out how to make something that's vegan but dumpling-like enough to hold together in a soup, so this was just perfect.
AnonymousDecember 6, 2009 at 6:58 am
Just a tip about brown rice and rice cookers- for woonderful, very soft rice ( the way I like it) ignore you rice cooker instructions and double the water called for. The cooker knows when to shut off based on when all water is absorbed. This works very well with a variety of mixed grains. Just mix whole rye, wheat berries, and others with rice and put in your rice cooker with lots of water. Cooks up very nice and tender!
JessicaJune 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm
Love this one. I have combined it with lots of different foods. Spinich, onions, bell peppers, and pinto beans are all good accompaniments. Also hummus or chipotle hot sauce slathered on top taste good. I cut mine up into squares, wrapped them individually in aluminum foil and then froze them in ziploc bags. I just pull one out and combine with frozen veggies or whatever I have on hand and microwave!
nicoleJune 21, 2010 at 10:02 am
Hi, these look lovely..I’m planning on making these tomorrow night and was just curious, what did you serve these with Susan?
SusanVJune 21, 2010 at 10:09 am
Nicole, it’s been a while, but I believe I served hummus, pita bread, and either salad or roasted vegetables with these. Hope you enjoy!
KathleenSeptember 18, 2010 at 3:54 pm
Hi! Just was looking for a vegan meatloaf on your site, and couldn’t find. I was wondering if you have one? New to the site..Thanks so much..Kathleen Johnson
SusanVSeptember 18, 2010 at 6:23 pm
I don’t have one of my own, but here’s a link to one that gets good reviews from the people who’ve tried it:
ElizabethOctober 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm
Just wondering what veggies you’d suggest adding to this recipe- I saw one commenter has added spinach, any other ideas?
KatherineOctober 18, 2013 at 10:37 pm
This is one of my favorite dishes in the world. I am serving it for lunch tomorrow for my daughter and her friend, who are testing the waters of a vegan diet. This dish will surely win them over. However, what do you suggest I serve with this? I would like to note that these squares are wonderful when topped with mango chutney.
Susan VoisinOctober 13, 2016 at 10:46 am
I serve these as part of a Middle Eastern meal–hummus, baba ganoush, salad, etc.
JennyApril 29, 2018 at 10:48 am
Hi – this looks very promising! I have only found red lentils around here – have you tried making this with red lentils? I’ve never tried brown so I don’t know how they would compare.
Susan VoisinApril 29, 2018 at 11:14 am
Brown or green lentils hold their shapes, while red lentils turn mushy, so I’m not sure you’d get the same results with red lentils.
Eric L.November 1, 2019 at 7:06 pm
Who else is drooling over this recipe 9 years later? Cant’ wait to make it. Great site.