Baked Rice with Pomegranate Relish
Here is a great recipe with an almost Christmas feel.  The relish topping ingredients do combine for Christmas colors – the red of the pomegranate seeds and the green of the olives are backed by the white of the baked rice and feta cheese for a snappy color combination. The Castelvetrano olive has a mild taste which does not overpower the rest of the dish like most olives will.  They are also a really much brighter green, which adds to the color of the dish.  Plus they are not bitter at all, like many olive variety.  People who do not normally like olives love the Castelvetrano.  You can substitute any other mild tasting olive which hopefully is a bright green. For the pomegranate relish: ½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees then cooled ¾ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives, coarsely chopped ¾ cup pomegranate seeds ½ cup olive oil ¼-½ cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped fine 1 pinch each of salt & pepper For the baked rice: 2 cups uncooked rice – I use Thai Jasmine or Basmati or long grain brown rice 3 ½ cups water 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted ¾ teaspoon non-iodized salt 8-10 mint sprigs if you have them, omit if not available 8 ounces feta cheese in a block, sliced very thin to make 8 thin slices less than ¼ inch thick Prepare the pomegranate relish ingredients and then add the just the garlic and salt & pepper to the olive oil.  I like to toss the rest of the relish ingredients at the last minute, especially so that the walnuts do not soak up the olive oil and get soggy. Use a 13”x9”x2” baking dish for the rice.  I have used a 15”x10”x2” but I have to watch out for excessive drying of the rice during the final steps of this recipe.  Alternatively, you could use a rice cooker then spoon the cooked rice into any wide oven-safe serving dish for those final steps. At this point set the oven at a very high 450 degrees. For the in-pan method, combine the water with the rice, butter & salt and then drop the optional mint sprigs on top of the mixture.  Then cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30-35 minutes at 450 degrees until done.  Remove the cover and discard the mint sprigs used for flavoring.  Fluff the rice with a fork and arrange the slices of feta cheese evenly on top of the rice.  Broil under very high heat until the feta starts to brown a bit, but not so much that the rice turns crispy, except at the edges of the dish.  We want the high heat of the broiler so that the feta browns quickly before the rice dries all out. Remove from the broiler, toss all the ingredients of the relish and spread the relish over the dish for a spectacular presentation of a tasty dish! Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, my go-to source for trying new recipes.
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