GLUTEN-FREE | CLEAN EATING | PALEO+RICE* (omit cucumber side dish)
My boy and I both have a serious love for that crossover between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors: where pine nuts, feta, coriander, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, tomatoes, lamb, beef, cucumbers, hummus, pita, olives, sumac, and pomegranate all intermingle.
One of our favorite restaurants in Nashville, Epice, achieves that combo beautifully. Each bite contains unique combinations of spices that make it impossible to discern whether what you’re eating feels Isreali, or Greek, or Lebanese… and eventually, you give up on trying to “place” it and recognize that it’s just beautiful food and you should savor every bite.
This recipe was inspired by the well-spiced flavors at Epice. I made it this Saturday, after we had just gotten back from the farm with a ton of beautiful produce, including late-season tomatoes and cucumbers. We had some thawed ground beef in the fridge, and some leftover cooked rice from Zoe’s Kitchen, so my brain started immediately moving towards Epice-inspired flavors.
(Side note: If you ever need to cater food for a group, I’d highly recommend Zoe’s. We had it for our team at work this week and got a lovely spread of chicken kebobs, spinach roll-ups, Greek salad, quinoa salad, roasted vegetables, and fruit. It was a perfectly light, healthy lunch with a great variety of flavors and textures.)
Anyway — the cherry tomatoes at the farm are not like the normal cherry tomatoes you can pick up any time of year. Theirs seem to be an heirloom variety — they come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes. Usually, I eat tomatoes of this quality raw, but for this recipe, I decided to bring out their natural sweetness by blistering them and cooking them down with some spices, salt, and olive oil.
Then, I sauteed onions until translucent in olive oil, browned the ground beef and added some Epice-esque spices and lemon zest.
On the side, I made a simple version of mizeria — cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, salt — with the addition of oregano.
I toasted some pine nuts and crumbled some feta to use as garnishes.
Then, I put it all together: Warm rice, spiced beef, blistered tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta, and a basil leaf to make it pretty. I served the cucumbers on the side, but we decided they they were a welcome bit of freshness in the bowl itself. The result is an exciting symphony of flavors that’s completely unexpected from a humble bowl of ground beef and rice.
This meal has a few components, but they’re all cooked in one pan — just not at the same time. You’ll use the same pan to blister your tomatoes, then toast your pine nuts, and finally cook your meat. It may be frustrating to clean your pan for each step, but you’ll be grateful when you’re done that you only have one pan (and two bowls) to clean. I highly recommend Trader Joe’s frozen Organic Brown Rice pouches, which cook in 3 minutes and help you avoid the sticky mess of cooking rice. If you don’t have a #ricehack, you’ll need a pot to cook your rice as well.
These bowls would be be equally great for a busy weeknight as they would be for a dinner party. This recipe serves 2 — double or triple for a crowd.
- 2 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/2 tsp.+ oregano
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 tsp.+ ground coriander
- 1 tsp.+ smoked paprika (regular paprika works fine)
- 1/2 tsp.+ cumin
- 1/4 tsp.+ cayenne pepper
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup raw pine nuts
- 1/4 cup feta, crumbled
- 2 cups cooked rice (I recommend Trader Joe’s frozen Organic Brown Rice, which cooks in 3 minutes)
- Make your cucumber side dish: Combine the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, a hefty pinch of salt, and ground black pepper in a bowl. Place the oregano in the palm of one hand, and rub your hands over the bowl (this wakes the oregano up). Stir to combine, then toss in the cucumbers and set aside.
- Now start your tomatoes: Heat a small pan on medium heat, then add about 2 tbsp. of olive oil. When the oil is hot (but before it smokes), add the cherry tomatoes. Allow them to blister in the heat for a few minutes, then start to stir them. Sprinkle them with a hefty pinch of salt, then a pinch each of: coriander, paprika, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper (tiny pinch!). When the tomatoes are hot and broken apart, they’re done. Remove from heat and put in a small bowl.
- Wipe your skillet out for the next step.
- Toast your pine nuts in the same pan you used for your tomatoes: Place the pine nuts in the pan over medium-low heat and toss often. When they’re golden and fragrant, they’re ready. Remove the skillet from heat and toss with a pinch of salt.
- Wipe your skillet out for the next step.
- Heat the pan on medium heat, then add about 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent. Add the ground beef to the skillet, crumbling it up with your spatula and stirring often.
- Sprinkle the amounts listed in the ingredients list of coriander, paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper into the beef and stir to combine. Stir in the lemon zest as well. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Assemble your bowls: Rice, then beef, then tomatoes, pine nuts, feta, and basil garnish, if you have some around. Serve with cucumbers on the side (but feel free to stir them in while you eat — delish!). Enjoy. ❤