Sunday 14 April 2019

Somali Bariis

Hi guys! It's been so long. My apologies for the delay. I've been so busy but I have my first week off of work since my last post so I have some time to give the blog some much overdue focus. Oddly enough, this recipe is actually a dish that I prepared last summer. It was my first time ever making it so it was more of an experiment that I wasn't planning on posting, but it turned out so well. I loved it and I know you will too. It's a baked Somali rice dish called bariis (bah-reese). The word bariis in Somali literally translates to "rice" in general as well as the name of this dish. It's essentially rice cooked with spices and usually some kind of meat on top. It's also not uncommon to be eaten with french fries on top (sometimes dyed with food colouring prior to frying). In this version I'm also topping the bariis with caramelized onions and red pepper for colour and flavour. The be-all and end-all is the banana. Many Somalians eat bariis with banana and I have to say, it's quite delicious. Traditionally this is a dish eaten with your bare, right hand. The banana isn't a palate cleanser on the side. They actually eat pieces of it with the rice and meat. 

This is a dish commonly prepared at special events, especially weddings. It's the type of dish that everyone seems to make a little different. Therefore it's a hard dish to mess up. The spice blend this recipe calls for is called xawaash, which again in Somali, literally translates to "spices". You'll need 1 tbsp of it for the rice and the rest of it you can use to marinate your meat. I'm using lamb in this version but you can substitute beef if you prefer. 


Xawaash (spice blend):

1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg


2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 white onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tomato, diced
1 cinnamon stick
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1/4 cup fresh cilantro stalks, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup raisins
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper. sliced
1-2 lb lamb leg, cut into cubes
Oil for frying (not olive oil)
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
2 ripe bananas

Ideally, you will want to get a 2-night head start before when you plan to serve. Start by combining all of the spices to make the xawaash. Reserve 1 tbsp of it for later and use the rest to rub into the pieces of lamb along with salt to taste and just enough oil to lightly coat. Marinate the lamb in the fridge for 1-2 nights. 

When you're ready to start cooking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 in Celsius). Roast the lamb for a total of 30-35 minutes. The bariis will only need 20 minutes at the same temperature so try to give the meat a 10-15 minute head start. 

Warm a pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil. Add the sliced white onion, garlic, tomato and cinnamon stick. Stir for a couple of minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the onions have darkened in colour.

Add the vegetable bouillon cube and the minced cilantro stalks. You don't want any of the cilantro leaf, just the stems. Stir until the bouillon reduces and melts into the mixture. 

Add 1 tbsp of the xawaash spice blend and stir to combine. Stir in the rinsed basmati rice and continue stirring to incorporate. Add 2.5 cups of boiling water from a kettle. Add the bay leaf and bring back to a boil. Place a tight-fitting, oven-safe lid on the pot and place it in the preheated oven with the lamb. The bariis spends 20 minutes in the oven.

While the bariis is baking, sautée the yellow onion and bell pepper over medium-high heat with oil and salt to taste and deeply caramelize the onions. 

Remove the bay leaf and the cinnamon stick from the bariis. Stir in the raisins. Serve family-style topped with the caramelized onion-pepper mixture, roasted lamb and fresh cilantro. Peel two bananas and put one at each side. 

Traditionally, bariis is eaten with your bare right hand. Everything is meant to be eaten together. It's a delicious combination of flavours and textures. 

I'm salivating thinking about how fantastic this dish was. You should definitely give this a try. I'd never had banana with warm rice and meat before but I can't describe it. It just worked. The banana adds that extra element that balances the entire dish. The raisins plump up a bit after they mix in with the hot rice and they add another sweet note to the savoury, scrumptious flavour profile. The spices of the xawaash work really beautifully with the lamb. I managed to get a couple of pieces of lamb leg, each with a bone filled with delicious, melt-in-your-mouth marrow. Everything about this dish was a success. It's worth pointing out that I've never had this dish before so I can't lay claim to its authenticity. I picked and chose my favourite elements from a few Somalian recipes and personalized my own. If you give it a try, I'm sure you will love it.

Trust me on the banana.


PS: This post was a bit of an after thought. Please excuse the quality of the photos and lack there of. But there is MORE coming soon to the blog. My next project is a cuisine I've never cooked before. It's not Somalian but it is from the same general region. I'm very excited. You won't want to miss it. 

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