You may be thinking that this cool-looking Syrian rice and peas cake looks way too hard to make. But I’m here to tell you it’s not. It’s a cake that looks difficult but is actually incredibly easy to make. Simple and fast. And let’s face it, it looks super impressive. Like you spent all day decorating it. Break this out at your next dinner and you’ll probably incite at least a few oohs and aahs.
This is a dinner that my mom would frequently make for us growing up. It is a staple in the Middle East and is composed of two major ingredients that Middle Easterners love: rice and nuts. Since she just made it for us, she would skip the fancy cake presentation. After all, it does lose its shape once cut into. And so she would just serve the ingredients in different pots. Same flavor but not as cool looking. We would always have yogurt on the side – it’s amazing how much it complements this meal.
Ingredients for Syrian rice and peas cake
The ingredients are basic: meat, onions, peas, rice, nuts (almonds and pistachios/pine nuts), and a little bit of butter. You’ll find that a lot of Middle Eastern recipes are basic ingredients – no canned soups, no pre-made foods, no powder packets. This is one of the reasons why the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern diet is considered to be so healthy. Fresh foods with wholesome ingredients.
Ground beef: This is the preferred meat of choice. Sauté the beef with onions until the onions are soft.
Peas: Frozen peas works best here
Rice: Use white rice. Traditionally, we steam the rice with angel hair and some butter to make a very fluffy rice. If you prefer, you can use plain white rice.
Nuts: A variety of nuts is best but if you cannot find pine nuts, almonds will do.
A Syrian recipe for Riz wa Bazella, a Middle Eastern rice and peas cake that is served for dinner with yogurt.
- 1 cup mixed nuts: pistachios, pine nuts, almonds
- 2 T butter, unsalted
- 16 oz ground beef**
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 16 oz frozen peas, blanched
- 1 "nest" or handful angel hair pasta (aka egg noodle pasta)
- 1 T butter, unsalted
- 2 c jasmine or basmati rice
- 1/2 tsp salt
1. Layer 1: In a small saucepan over medium heat, sauté nuts with butter until golden and aromatic. Set aside.
2. Layer 2: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, combine beef, onion, salt and pepper (and oil if using). Cook until beef is thoroughly browned and cooked through. Set aside.
3. Layer 3: Blanch peas in a large pot. Strain water and set aside.
4. Layer 4: In a large pot over medium-high heat, break angel hair noodles into pieces. Add butter and sauté until golden. Add rice and mix well until rice turns white in spots, about 1 minute. Add water. Bring to a boil then cover and turn to low heat. Simmer until water is completely absorbed. While rice is cooking, prepare layers 1-3.
Assembly: In a bundt cake pan, spread nuts (layer 1) evenly across the bottom. Top with meat (layer 2), spreading evenly to distribute. Top with peas (layer 3). Finish with rice (layer 4). Pack rice down as firmly as possible, trying to make the surface as flat and even as possible. Cover cake pan with foil for about 2 minutes. Carefully flip cake over on to a flat surface (baking sheet or flat plate). Allow to set for 1-2 minutes before removing pan. Serve immediately.
*Cake will lose shape. Spoon out portions over top a flat surface that can catch the crumbles.
**Add 1 T olive oil if using lean beef