Meals Sides & Sauces

Middle Eastern Rice

December 20, 2017

This gorgeous Middle Eastern rice dish is a magical combination of nutty, fluffy, grains of rice, sprinkled with specks of sweetness, tossed together with broken up vermicelli pasta and topped with golden fried onion. 

While it may look like there’s a lot going on in this rice dish; it is very, very simple to make. The beauty of it is that it is not necessarily eaten when hot. Serving it up warm or at room temperature means that you can make it ahead of time. I have included it as part of my Christmas recipes because it looks so striking and sumptuous on the Christmas table.

All the women in my family make this dish on a regular basis, particularly my Aunt Irini, who made it her speciality. My aunt was always on hand so l never bothered to write down the recipe …. until now.

Typically, the rice would be rinsed and drained prior to cooking. The idea is to remove the starch from the rice so that the grains are as separate as possible. Some cooks also say that rinsing beforehand also helps cut down on the cooking time. I have to admit that we usually skip this step, and still have a gorgeous dish with fluffy grains of rice.

 Make sure you keep stirring the vermicelli when sauteing to avoid it burning on the bottom. Make sure you keep stirring the vermicelli when sauteing to avoid it burning on the bottom.

 Once the rice is cooked, the vermicelli pasta will rise to the top. Once the rice is cooked, the vermicelli pasta will rise to the top.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes          Cooking Time: 20 minutes          Serves 4


  • 1 cup of rice (Note 1)
  • 1 wheel of vermicelli pasta (Note 2)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup of currants
  • 1 medium onion, chopped roughly
  • 40 g (1.5 oz) butter
  • 1 1/4 cups hot water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil


  1. Gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Break up the vermicelli wheel and add it to the pan. Turn up the heat a little and saute until golden brown.
  2. Add the rice, hot water and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to very low. Place the lid on the saucepan and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. While the rice is cooking, toast the pine nuts over medium heat in a small frypan until light golden. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, toss in the currants and heat them through until you see them swell a little; this will take only a few seconds. Remove and set aside. Heat the olive oil in the same pan and add the chopped onion. Saute for about 10 – 15 minutes or until soft and golden. Remove saucepan from the stove. (Note 3)
  4. Once the rice is cooked, tip it onto your preferred serving platter. Add the onions, pine nuts and currants and gently stir through (reserve a little of each to sprinkle of top of the rice).


  1. I use either medium grain or basmati rice.
  2. You need to add the vermicelli pasta to the saucepan for sauteing as it is; in it’s raw state. It will be quite solid during sauteing, but after it has cooked with the rice for 20 minutes, it will soften.
  3. Sauteing the pine nuts, currants and onions separately is my preferred method. It is possible to saute/brown them altogether, but you may end up with a sticky clump. Warming through the currants helps release their sweetness. Scatter them on a plate just before use so that they don’t form a clump.

My family doesn’t have a specific name for this dish, so l’ve called it ‘Middle Eastern Rice’, as that is where we learnt how to make it; there are also similar versions known as Lebanese rice.

I don’t think it matters what it’s called; the main thing is that l have done my aunt Irini proud!!


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