Rice with vermicelli
FoodTraditionally seen on a Sephardic table

Rice with vermicelli

A wonderful side dish with meat, chicken or fish.

Rice with vermicelli (Photo by Wade Grann)
Rice with vermicelli (Photo by Wade Grann)

Rice cooked with toasted vermicelli and pine nuts is one of my favorite comfort foods and makes a wonderful side dish with meat, chicken or fish. It only takes a little bit longer to prepare than traditional rice, but it makes a much better presentation.

This is a traditional recipe served in the Levant that is often seen on a Sephardic table. You can omit the pine nuts if you have an allergy or if you don’t have them on hand, but they really take the dish to a higher level.

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup broken vermicelli pasta
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup rinsed white basmati or baldo rice
2 cups boiling water
⅓ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Put the uncooked rice in a bowl and cover it with water, allowing it to soak for half an hour, then rinse the rice under running water for a minute in a mesh strainer or a colander. If using a colander, make sure that the rice grains are larger than the holes so you don’t lose any rice in the sink.

Boil 2 cups of water in a kettle.

Place a 3-quart pot over medium-low heat for a minute, then add the olive oil to the pot. Allow the oil to warm for a minute or so, then add the broken vermicelli. I usually buy noodles that come already broken in a bag, but you can buy a regular package of vermicelli and break the amount of pasta needed for the recipe into pieces that are about an inch long.

Add the pasta to the oil and stay near the stove; the pasta should toast, but don’t allow it to burn.
Stir the vermicelli constantly every 10 seconds or so for 4-5 minutes or until you see mostly golden-colored pieces. Some pieces may look darker than others, and that’s OK.

Mix the rice into the pot, stirring every 30 seconds for 1½ to 2 minutes. The rice will sizzle when added to the pot because it’s wet. (Unless I’m making rice for an Asian recipe, I always cook the rice in oil before adding the water to the pot. I can’t tell you about the science of what happens when you cook it this way, but the result is fluffier rice.)

Pour the boiling water over the rice mixture, and give it a good stir. Any pieces that are sticking to the bottom of the pot typically release immediately into the water.

Add the salt, and turn the heat to medium-high.

Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot.

Let cook, untouched and without removing the lid, for 20 minutes. If using baldo rice, cook it for 25 minutes because the grains are a bit plumper than basmati rice.

Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit and steam, covered, for 5 more minutes.

If you have pine nuts, toast them while the rice is cooking.

Place the pine nuts in a sauté pan over medium-low heat (you don’t need any oil), and toast the nuts for a few minutes, stirring constantly. As with the vermicelli, some pieces will get darker than others. This is OK as long as they don’t blacken. It’s important not to step away from the stove while doing this because pine nuts can char in a minute.

Remove the nuts from the hot pan and set aside.

Once the rice has sat for 5 minutes, remove the lid from the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.
Stir half of the nut mixture into the rice.

When it’s time to serve the rice, sprinkle the remaining nuts on top.

This recipe is vegan and pareve and will serve 4 people as a side dish. If you’re having a larger crowd, simply double the recipe.

Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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