Sunday, March 30, 2014

Putting Some Odds and Ends to Good Use: Easy Dirty Rice

Sometimes the stars align and it seems like a post pretty much writes itself, kind of like this one. It started out earlier in the week when I found a three pack of orange bell peppers on sale, so stuffed bell peppers became dinner on Monday night. Since I had a huge bag of basmati rice and was cooking some for my peppers anyway, I made extra for goodness knows what. For some reason I seem to do that a lot.

By Tuesday, I was thick into recipe experimentation all day and didn't have the desire to cook anything else by the time evening rolled around. After a little reluctant refrigerator foraging, I was thankfully able to find some smoked pork that was leftover from the weekend. Needing a side dish, I pressed on and pulled out that extra rice, my remaining bell pepper and a 1/2 pound of ground beef that I didn't need for my stuffed bell peppers the night before. After scratching my head for a few moments, I had an epiphany. Dirty rice.

Growing up in Houston and having relatives from Louisiana, this rice dish was always hanging around family reunions and church potlucks. As a kid I was turned off by the very unappealing idea of dirty anything. No way was I going to eat anything with a name like that. When I was old enough to figure out that it wasn't made with dirty water, or worse, I gave it a try and fell instantly in love.

Dirty rice has always been a delicious way to use the neck and giblets from chickens. Nowadays, giblets are often sold separately from modern day store bought chickens, so if you don't want to go buy a pint of chicken livers and a pound of hearts and gizzards, you are out of luck.

To be quite honest, even though I am one of those people who likes giblets, I don't really miss them too much in my dirty rice. It is probably a good thing that I do like to cook my rice with a teaspoon of chicken bouillon in my cooking water so, I have just a hint of chicken flavor in there.

Most dirty rice recipes not only call for giblets, but for pork sausage too. Since all I had was a little ground beef on hand, I turned to my spice rack to imitate that sausage flavor. A little thyme, some sage, and a generous grinding of black pepper was all it took. The end result was pretty darn close to the wonderful dirty rice that I learned to love while living on the Texas gulf coast. It's not what I'd call authentic, but I do call it delicious.

Easy Dirty Rice

I served this as a side dish, but it is also an excellent main dish when you need to stretch a small amount of meat. Serve with a salad or some juicy sliced tomatoes and you have a great light meal.

8 - 12 ounces ground beef (ground turkey, pork, pork sausage, or even lentils work great too), depending on how hearty you like it. Photo above is with 8 ounces ground beef
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light olive or vegetable oil
1/2 of a medium size yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/3 - 1/2 of a large bell pepper (any color or a combo of green and colored is good too), chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 cups cooked rice (if it's cooked in chicken stock it is all the better for this recipe)
2 small green onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground sage (or 2 teaspoons rubbed)
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon fresh, coarsely chopped
Black pepper (I like lots of coarsely ground black pepper)

Brown meat in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Transfer to paper towels to drain; set aside.

In the same frying pan that you have wiped out with paper towels, add the butter and oil. Heat until butter is melted and just starting to sizzle. Pour in the onion and celery. Saute for about 3 - 5 minutes or until they are slightly softened. Add the bell pepper and saute for another 3 - 5 minutes or so, or until the vegetables are done to your liking. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute longer.

To the sauteed vegetables, add the ground beef and rice; cook until heated through. Stir in the green onions. Sprinkle the thyme, sage and parsley over the top and stir well. Add salt and pepper (lots and lots of pepper if you ask me) to taste.

Serves 4 - 6

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