Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dinner: Basila wa roz (peas & rice)

Today was going to be my mom's lentil soup day; but I may have overdone it on soups this week; so today will be a hearty stew day. Next week will be brown lentil soup day.

So stew day will be one of my favourite stews: peas and beef. It's commonly known as basila whey rosa = peas and rice. Appropriately named. It's a very popular family meal; though you'll rarely see it in a restaurant. It doesn't exactly scream haute-cuisine.

When I meet other canadian-egyptians, a few things immediately bond us: no arabic, bastarma (cured beef) and basila whey rosa. It's just one of those staple dishes we all grew up eating and never thought twice about. To my dad's credit, he even mastered it and was able to add that to his repertoire of home-cooked meals. That's a total of two. He then went on to learn how to cook a whole turkey in the microwave. I don't count that as meal #3 and neither should anyone else. Microwaves don't count as cooking.

Although between his version and my mother's version of this meal, I kind of like his a bit better...sorry...Not because hers is not good; it's great! The difference lies in what makes up the liquid portion of the stew. My mom uses fresh chicken stock and my dad uses water. I like the water because it lets the flavour of the tomato come through better. But it's a personal preference.

The tomato-base stew is nearly identical to that in bamya; except my version will use water and not chicken stock and there is no garlic. The tomato-based stew is popular all throughout the Middle East, even though, as I've mentioned before, tomatoes were introduced to the area in the 1800s. Nonetheless, tomato-based stews reign supreme throughout the area.

Peas and rice, on the other hand, have been staples for centuries. Green peas originate from the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. One article I read said peas may either originate from China or Egypt, since they have been in artifacts in both places. In Egypt, the charred remains of peas were found in Egyptian tombs from the 12th dynasty (1991-1783 BC). They were also found in the Nile Delta region dating 4400-4800 BC and in Upper Egypt from 3800-3600 BC.
So the green pea is no stranger to Egyptian cooking; but apparently it was never as popular as lentils. Instead, peas were dried and used during times of famine, which is how some other cultures also depended on them, like the European explorers who set off for the new world.

Rice made its appearence in Egypt around 4th century BC. At the time, India was exporting rice to Greece, which is probably how it made its way down to Egypt. With the fertile farming land in the Nile Delta, growing rice was easy enough. It's still grown in that area today.

So with peas and rice being in the area for so long, it's no wonder they got together in a stew. Add some protein, in this case beef, and you have the makings for a hearty stew. The flavouring of the tomato base is really where the beef gets its taste.

For fun, I decided to buy a jar of ghee (clarified butter) the other day. In Egypt, most of the cooking is done using this which is why most of the meals are super heavy, but tasty. While I never eat ghee; I figured I'd get wild today and trade in the olive oil for some ghee. Woop woop!

Total Cooking Time: 2 hours-though could be longer depending on cut of meat
Yield: 4 peresons


1 tablespoon of olive oil (or butter)
1 white onion
1 lb. of cubed beef (or lamb)
2 cans of tomato paste
2 cups of water
2 cups of green peas (can be fresh or frozen)

1cup of rice
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon of butter
salt to taste

1. Dice onions
2. In a stewing pot, heat oil and fry onions
3. When onions are soft, add beef
4. Brown beef for a few minutes until everything is seared on the outside
5. Add tomato paste and water
6. Salt and pepper to taste
7. Let stew cook for about an hour or more; until meat is tender
8. Make rice
8. When meat is tender, add peas
9. Let cook for another 15 minutes
10. Serve on rice with fresh green onions or sliced onions in lemon juice (or white vinegar) and salt

Let me just start off by saying that today was my first time cooking with ghee and it will be my last time. The smell of it made me want to spread bleach all over the kitchen to overpower the stench of rancid ghee. Lesson #1 learned: do not buy ghee from the local grocery store that has a dusty ethnic food section. Lesson #2: leave the ghee alone. Horrible, horrible stuff. But that aside, the final dish is still yummy though; especially when made with non-ghee fats.


  1. I just started using ghee and I Looooooove love it. Before I even put any food in it my kitchen smells awesome. Sorry it didn't work out that way for you! lol Maybe you got a bad batch. I'm switching over from olive oil for sure. (I even used the same brand as you show in your picture. But yeah...the "ethnic" section isn't always to be trusted in the good old otherwise-not-ethnic grocery stores.)

  2. Hi there

    Your blog is beautiful! As a first born-child born outside of Egypt too, I can totally relate to the childhood memories of growing up with these very tasty and satisfying home cooked meals! Just wondering: do you have a good receipe for Molokheia?

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Thank you for the kind words! I do in fact have a recipe for molokheia, it is one of the earlier entries (

      Enjoy and thank you again.

  3. Hi there, I tried this recipe tonight and it turned out absolutely wonderful! I used beef stock instead of water and added some green olives instead of onion at the top. Yum!

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      I'm glad to hear it worked out! The green olives sounds like a great idea too. Thanks for letting me know.