Miami-based chef and restaurateur Yaniv Cohen is known as "The Spice Detective," and he has a food blog of the same name. He grew up in Israel in a Sephardic Jewish family of Middle Eastern and North African heritage and he says his fascination with herbs and spices started early in life.
"Our little apartment in Kiryat Malachi, in the southern district of Israel, always smelled of fresh garlic, cumin, paprika, coriander, caraway, cilantro and onions, so you can pretty much say I was born into the magnificent world of spices," Cohen writes in the introduction of his first cookbook, "My Spiced Kitchen." Each of the book's 15 chapters focus on a spice (or spice mix) that is essential to Middle Eastern cuisine, and Cohen shares 70 of his favorite recipes that make good use of those spices.
He says that his mother, grandmother and aunts all make different versions of this rice dish from the chapter on turmeric _ and it's always a crowd pleaser.
TURMERIC BASMATI RICE WITH RED LENTIL KITCHRI
Makes 6-8 servings
1/2 cup canola oil, or more as needed
1 onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups uncooked basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cups orange lentils, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon caraway or cumin seeds, for garnishing
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and saute for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the garlic and simmer for 1 minute. Don't let the garlic burn! Add the rice and lentils and saute over low heat for 8 minutes, or until fully covered in oil.
Add the water, cumin, turmeric, coriander, salt and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover tightly with the lid. (In my family we put a kitchen towel over the lid to make sure we lock all the steam inside as it helps to cook the rice.) Cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it stand with the lid on for another 15 minutes. Do not open the lid as the heat and moisture will escape.
Transfer the kitchri to a serving dish and sprinkle with caraway or cumin seeds.