I will never forget the first time I ate this dish.
I was visiting my dear friend Synda in Tunisia, and her downstairs neighbour who is from the island of Djerba had offered to make us a big bowl of this rice, prepared in the authentic Djerbian way. We had barely eaten anything that day in anticipation of this meal, so by the time Khalti Baya called us downstairs, we were two very, very hungry girls. We sat in her tiny dark living room and she ceremoniously emerged from her kitchen with the largest bowl I'd ever seen, filled with a deep red rice flecked with dark green. The steamy fragrance emanating from the magical rice was out of this world. We each grabbed a spoon and dove in, eating straight out of the same bowl in traditional Tunisian style. Well. Our mouths began to burn, our cheeks turned bright red, and we broke into a sweat. But we couldn't slow our voracious feasting down because it was one of the most delicious things we had ever tasted in our lives. So we just kept eating and eating, moaning and panting through the pain and laughing with pleasure, sweat pouring down our faces, mouths on fire. My whole head felt like the lid on a boiling kettle of water, whistling and ready to pop right off. The memory is seared into my brain forever as an oddly wonderful blend of agony and delight. I guess that's why people like spicy food so much, it gives you such a strange pleasure high.
It's a challenge to exactly recreate the magic of Khalti Baya's "Rouz Djerbi" or "Riz Djerbien" as it's called in Tunisia, but Synda's version is equally delicious, though a bit less spicy, especially when she makes it for a western audience :-) But you can adapt this recipe to the level of heat you like, adding more hot peppers or cayenne if you wish. And of course, if you can get your hands on some real Tunisian harissa, throw in a couple tablespoonfuls as well!
One thing I love about this recipe is how you simply mix all the ingredients in one giant bowl. Then steam the whole thing for an hour. So aside from the rinsing and chopping of vegetables, it's really fairly quick and easy to prepare.
Be sure to use a long grain white rice such as basmati, and not the short sweet brown rice you see in the above video, I made the mistake of thinking I could use another kind of rice than what is used in Tunisia and it was too heavy and sticky in the final dish.
You can sub other greens in lieu of the spinach, but try to use spinach if you can, it will yield the best results. The gorgeous spinach you see in the video is from the one and only Hatchet Cove Farm in Maine. A large leaf, freshly harvested local organic spinach is recommended, if available.
As they say in Tunisia, shehia taeeba (bon appétit)!
For the recipe, visit my post on PBS Food.