Risi Bisi

Thursday, April 27, 2006
The combination of rice and some type of legume is universal enough to seem almost chemical. India and Indian influenced cuisines have rice with dals; Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, and Southern US all have distinctive rice and bean dishes; there are Lebanese rice and lentil dishes; and on and on. Risi bisi, or rice with peas, is an Italian dish of rice and peas cooked in a broth. It often contains bits of Italian ham or bacon as well, though the meat is optional. The quick way to do it is to stir leftover rice, frozen peas, and chopped ham into chicken broth seasoned to taste with thyme, salt, and pepper.

You need a good broth for risi bisi, and can either use the chicken stock recipe or make it yourself by simmering a ham hock in a couple litres of water with a bay leaf for around two hours. If you are using the ham hock, you can use a bit of the meat from the hock to add to the dish and if you are adding meat separately try to find some good quality deli ends (I get them locally from the Italian Centre shop). Once your stock is ready, saute half a small onion in a saucepan til soft; then add 1/4 cup of rice and a pinch of thyme. (Fresh is best, but this is only frugal if you grow your own.) Saute this mixture til the rice is coated; then pour in one and a half cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer til the rice is cooked, which should take about fifteen minutes. Add a couple handfuls of frozen peas, a chopped green onion, and a handful of diced meat if desired; when dish is heated through taste for seasoning. Good with cheese on top, and worth the extravagance for meatless versions. This is quantity for one person. For more people, you would multiply the onion and rice exactly but careful with the liquid, just aim for a thick but soupy mixture. Don't add more than a half teaspoon of dried thyme, even if you are making the dish for eight people, and add as many of the other ingredients as people are hungry for.