Last week, I went to a lecture given by Martha Hall Foose, author of this week's Cook the Book selection, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. She strode up to the podium in dusty Keds, white ankle socks, and the same checkered dress she is wearing on the book jacket: the picture of down-home Southern charm. I couldn't help but imagine her in the kitchen, standing over a hot skillet frying up a country steak, or bending down to pull a pan of cornbread sticks out of the oven.
Which is only partly accurate.
Over the course of her hour-long talk, Martha made sure to emphasize that as much as her cooking is rooted in the historic traditions of the Delta, it is also influenced by the diverse and international flavors of contemporary Mississippi. Flavors like cumin, coriander, and cardamom, all of which are present in today's recipe for Apricot Rice Salad.
Enlivened with fresh-squeezed orange juice and studded with dried dates, apricots, raisins, and cherries, this salad would make a lovely, light lunch served with wedges of fresh melon and a tall glass of—what else?—sweet tea.
Win ‘Screen Doors and Sweet Tea’
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 green cardamom pod, crushed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
- 1 1/2 cups Basmati rice, rinsed thoroughly
- 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup chopped dates
- 1/2 cup diced dried apricots
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
In a 10-inch ovenproof pan with a tight-fitting lid, briefly heat the cumin, coriander, and cardamom over medium heat to toast, shaking the pan to prevent scorching. When the spices are fragrant, remove them from the pan and let cool. Grind the cumin and coriander finely with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and heat over medium-high heat; add the onion, cooking and stirring occasionally for 4 to 6 minutes or until the onion is tender. Reduce the heat and add the rice, spices, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Cook and stir until the rice is light golden and each grain is coated with oil. Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick and mix in the dates, apricots, raisins, and cherries.
Add 1 cup of the orange juice, 1 1/2 cups water, and the salt, stirring briefly just to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid.
Using a large fork to fluff up the rice and fruit mixture, turn it into a serving dish, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon orange juice, and combine using the fork. Allow to cool, covered by a clean dish towel, then serve at room temperature or chilled, sprinkled with green onion across the top.