This is a real centre piece dish which is simple to make and packed with big flavours and colours. This recipe will add a little warming spice and vibrancy to your autumn cooking.
You may not have roasted, or baked, rice before, but it’s an easy way of getting really intense flavours into a rice dish. This is a great base for all kinds of variations, I made it Lebanese, down to the fresh spices I had; bharat, za’atar and sumac, but you could easily make it Moroccan, Italian, Indian, even Spanish, whatever spices and herbs you prefer. The technique is the same, highly untraditional, but tasty non-the-less.
You could say that this is a Lebanese Paella, but maybe that’s pushing things. I have a feeling I’d upset many of my Spanish friends and readers. Paella is a passionate subject!
I’ve never had a dish like this in Lebanon, I know there are a load of rice dishes, but I’ve not tried a baked rice one. I do love a Maqluba though, here’s my recipe from a few years ago Maqluba with Roasted Pepper, Aubergine and Almond.
This was cooked when we were in Spain, so I was making Paellas regularly, mainly because I love them dearly. They are great cooked on a hob in a traditional Paella dish and in the oven, a little variation cannot be bad. I think nailing a paella is important, get one paella that you know and love and your quality of life increases dramatically. Paella is such a satisfying dish, a dazzling centre piece and like I said, is pretty easy when you know how. Practice + a little know how = yums!
A baked rice dish (some may call paella!) goes well on a sunny day, but I think they’re even better in autumn and winter time, when the toasted, roasted, aromatic flavours of this dish really come into their own. There are many layers of flavours and textures, to me, this is what makes vegan cooking awesome. I was talking at the weekend at Ludlow Food Festival, to a tent full of meat eaters, about the very same thing. Most agreed that they’d eat vegan/ plant-based food if it was tasty without any qualms. It’s all about unlocking the deep and stunning flavours in plant-based food. This dish is like a key. Meat eaters will love it, something you can cook for your family or a group of friends, and all will leave satisfied.
Crusts. They taste good. They’re like a concentrated version of the rest of the dish. The crispy, dark best bit. Many cultures agree with me, those who know a thing or two about cooking rice, I’m thinking Iran and Spain in particular. The crust has a special name and is the prized part of the dish, handed to the most deserving person and polished off with relish. Don’t fear a crust on this dish. It’s a good thing. Scrape it off and serve it as a crispy topping. Of course the art is to discern between a crust and a layer of burnt food. It’s a skill best learned through practice and a keen sense of smell. You can also peek a little when the rice is cooking.
Let us join together and educate the word that crusts are our friends, especially children. Why are many children adverse to crusts? Cutting crusts off bread seems like madness to me. Unless we’re saving the crusts for later to make some epic, crust based dish for a special occasion. What would that dish be? Answers below in the comments please.
Rice is a source of carbs, which is a good thing. They keep us ticking over. Nothing wrong with a nice plate of carb rich bits like rice mixed with plenty of fresh veggies and legumes in our opinion. They give us the energy to swim and run around. Using brown rice here would make the dish even healthier, slow release carbs, long lasting energy.
I love this dish served with hummus or tangy labeh (yoghurt or sour cream would also be ace), a crisp green leaf salad and some lemon wedges. Maybe even a sprinkle more za’atar and bharat. Now that’s getting my taste buds excited. In fact anything which combines the Lebanese flavour trinity of bharat, za’atar and sumac is exhilarating food. If you haven’t tried these together in a dish, I highly recommend you pop down to the shops and get some. They are widely available. A nice idea is to toast some flatbread/ pitta, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over these spices/ herbs. Instant Lebanese toast! Serve with chopped tomatoes and cucumber, a nice breakfast there.
If you’re interested in my travels around Lebanon last year, here are a couple of blog posts:
Or just click on the recipes header (above) for a selection of Lebanese recipes. Surely one of my favourite cuisines with so many vegan options.
If you like this recipe, please let us know. If you make this recipe, maybe you’d like to share a picture over on our Facebook cooking group, click here. Lots of vegan cooks with positive outlooks over there doing amazing things with vegetables. Feel free to share this recipe far and wide! It makes our day when we see our recipes on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Adding chickpeas is a nice idea instead of lentils, stir a tin’s worth of cooked chickpeas into the rice before topping with veg.
Top this dish with any veg that is looking good. Autumn is here in the UK, we are spoilt for choice. I used Med Veg because I was in Spain. If I cooked it here I may top this with ingredients like red cabbage, more onions, wild mushrooms, carrots or squash. My point is, feel free to play. Let us know about your amazing creations in the comments below.
Don’t have bharat, use another spice mix like garam masala or ras el hanout.
Don’t have za’atar, use dried thyme with a few sesame seeds mixed in.
Don’t have sumac, leave it out. When you serve this dish with lemon wedges, it adds the citrus kick we need.
Lemon wedges. Yes, I do serve everything with lemon wedges! It adds a lovely citrus lift to this dish.
You can use any type of shallow oven dish.
This dish will vary, mainly depending on the type of rice and dish used. Check after 25 minutes, most of the liquid should have evaporated, remember, the rice will soak up a little liquid when you leave it to rest.
Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Rice – Lebanese Style
The Bits – For 6
400g short grain rice (risotto or paella rice works well)
50g green/ brown lentils
1 tbs cooking oil
1 tbs cumin seeds
2 medium onions (sliced)
4 large cloves garlic (sliced)
2 tbs bharat – spice mix
2 tbs za’atar
2 teas salt
650 ml light vegetable stock or hot water
400 ml tomato passatta
1 big red pepper (sliced)
1 small aubergine (sliced)
1-2 tbs olive oil
Toasted walnuts/ almonds
Za’atar and sumac
Chopped fresh parsley
Hummus or vegan labneh
Wash and rinse your rice and lentils with plenty of cold water. Drain well.
Preheat oven to 225oC. Place in your shallow oven dish to warm.
In a large frying pan on medium high heat, add the oil and when warm the cumin seeds. Fry them for 30 seconds and then add the onions and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until nicely golden and caramelised. Add the bharat spices, garlic and za’atar, stir and fry for a minute then pour in the passatta and 1 teas more of salt. Simmer and stir for a couple of minutes. Now mix in the rice and lentils and then vegetable stock, stir well to combine.
Pour the rice mix into your warm, not hot, oven dish. Level it out with a spoon and scatter over the aubergine and peppers and gently press them down with your hand, until they’re roughly half submerged in the stock.
Place your dish in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Check after 25 minutes and drizzle over a little more olive oil to help the vegetables caramelise and add richness.
Once cooked, cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes to cool a little. Then sprinkle over parsley, more spices and toasted nuts. Best served as suggested, with hummus/ labneh and a crisp salad.
Aubergine (bizarrely known as eggplant to some!;) is a superhero of the veg world. Us vegans use it all the time for its brilliant texture. Have you tried cooking an aubergine on an open flame until charred. When peeled, the aubergine is smoky and delicious, ready for traditional dishes like Babaganoush, but also makes an amazing burger filling or pizza topping.
Nutrition wise, aubergines are not exactly outstanding. They do contain some fibre, vitamin B1 and minerals like copper and manganese, there are some cool chemicals in the black skin that are really good for us. Like many veggies, eating aubergines with the skin on is best from a health point of view.