Dinner · Libyan · North African

An Easy Weeknight Meal – Rooz Keema

One of my go-to recipes when I don’t want to think about what to make for dinner or when I am running short on groceries at home is the Libyan dish “Rooz Keema.” It’s a pretty simple dish that is big on flavors. Steamed rice with a meat sauce and served with a simple, Mediterranean-style tomato-cucumber salad. My mama would always make this for us growing up and it has been one of my favorite foods for as long as I can remember. Without even putting thought into it, it was the first dinner I cooked for my husband and now it’s become a favorite of his too.

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Literally, Rooz Keema translates to “Rice Meat.” I realize that many Libyan dish names are straight-forward, which I find refreshing. You never have to wonder about what that fancy dish name means, like Steak Diane…what’s Diane have to do with my steak, etc? I’m not sure about the origins of Rooz Keema and it seems that not many Libyans are familiar with it, which isn’t surprising since western Libya doesn’t have many traditional rice dishes. Based on my knowledge, most Libyan dishes are pasta, couscous or barley based. My husband never heard of Rooz Keema until I made it for him and he still doesn’t believe that the word “keema” just means “meat.” He argues with me every time that I make it that “keema” is not Arabic for meat and that it probably isn’t Arabic. Whatever.

What makes Rooz Keema such an easy to dish to prepare is that it uses pretty basic ingredients and it is ready in about 45 minutes. What gives the sauce big flavors is that you start the dish by sautéing an entire bunch of chopped scallions with an entire bunch of chopped parsley in olive oil. Once they are softened, you add small cubes of beef and brown them. Add some tomato paste and spices to the saucepan, then add water before letting it simmer until the rice is ready. Since the pieces of beef are small, it cooks relatively quickly. If you have never steamed rice, it is actually quite easy. I actually find steamed rice is easier to cook properly every time compared to the standard preparation of boiled rice because steamed rice will never be sticky since you do not have to worry about the water to rice ratio! I also prefer the texture of steamed rice, which has a nice bite to it.

I’ve learned that most Libyans look down upon plain white rice. It is the epitome of bland food and an absolute disgrace to the spicy palate of our traditional cuisine. For example, my mama questions any family member that serves her plain white rice by asking “is this hospital food?” So optimally, rice should be served with a sauce, cooked in a meat broth, cooked with spices or be prepared as a pilaf of some sort. Rooz Keema is no different. Once the rice is steamed, you have to do what amounts to basting your rice to transform it from plain white to something more delicious. To do this, you will skim the oily goodness (called “dahaan” in Arabic) off the top of the sauce and mix it into the rice.  You should keep adding the dahaan (or some of the sauce without the meat) to the rice until it becomes a lovely shade of light to moderate orange. And problem solved, it is no longer plain white rice!

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An added benefit is that because of the dahaan mixed into the rice, your rice will be salted by the sauce and the grains will not stick or clump together once the rice cools.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 1 lb of beef stew meat, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (the sweet kind, not the smoked one)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (use less if you don’t want it too spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like your food spicy)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups medium grain white rice

To begin, fill the bottom pot of a steamer with water about halfway and place it on the stove on high heat. Then, rinse the rice with cold water in a bowl and drain the water out, then repeat. Next, fill the bowl with cold water again in order to submerge the rice and allow it to soak this time. As the rice is soaking, finely chop one whole bunch each of scallions and parsley. Next, finely cut the beef into small cubes between the size of dime and a penny. You want to keep them small so they cook quickly.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat before adding the chopped scallions and parsley. Sautee them until they are soft, then add the beef. Allow the beef to brown, then add the tomato paste and spices. Sautee them for about 2-3 minutes, which helps brighten the flavors of the spices and tomato paste. Add two cups of water and allow the sauce to come to a simmer. I generally place the lid over the pot, but leave it slightly ajar or at an angle to allow the steam to escape. The sauce will continue to simmer as you prepare the rice, just check on it periodically to stir and add water if it starts to dry up.

Drain the rice from the water it was soaking in, then transfer it to the top portion of the steamer pot and place it on the steamer pot that contains the boiling water. Cover the steamer with the lid and reduce the heat to medium. Take a shallow bowl or pie plate (the dish needs to be slightly wider than the top portion of your steamer pot) and place it in the sink. After the rice has been steaming for about 5 minutes, remove the lid from the steamer pot, then take the top portion of the steamer pot with the rice from the stove and place it in the dish in the sink. Turn on the cold water over the rice and stir with a spoon for about a minute under the running water, breaking up any clumps. Turn off the water and allow the rice to soak in the cold water for about 3-4 minutes, then return it to the stove and continue to let it steam for another 20-25 minutes.

After about 20 minutes of cooking, remove the lid from your steamer (careful, the steam when you first uncover it will be very hot) and give the rice a quick stir with a spoon. Take a few grains of rice, blow on them to cool them off and taste them to determine if it is cooked. If it’s not cooked, cover the steamer and give it another few minutes until it is cooked. Once the rice is ready, turn off the stove and transfer the steamed rice to your serving dish. Taste your meat sauce to ensure the salt level is good, adjust as needed. Then use a spoon to skim the oil/dahaan off the top of the sauce and drizzle it over the rice. You will need at least 1/3 to 1/2 cup (eyeball it, no need to measure) of oily sauce/dahaan (or use sauce without the meat if you don’t have enough dahaan), then mix it into the rice, ensuring all the rice is a light orange shade. The more sauce you add, the more moist your rice will be…so feel free to add a little more sauce.

After you’ve finished mixing the rice and all the rice is coated, smooth the top of the rice with the spoon. [Just so you know, if you don’t plan to immediately serve this, you can cover your serving dish full of rice and place it in a warm oven at this point. When you are ready to serve it, warm up the meat sauce and continue with these directions…] Then take the meat sauce and, using a serving spoon, evenly distribute it across the surface of the rice.

Make sure to cover the entire surface of the rice with sauce. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and it’s ready!

 

I always serve this with a tomato, cucumber and pepper salad that is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Today, I had some fresh arugula, so I tossed that into the salad as well. And just so you know the proper way to eat this, you should scoop up the rice and salad with your spoon together and deliver it to your mouth. The rice tastes great alone and the salad does too; however, when experienced together, they are mouth-wateringly delicious! And look at those beautiful grains of rice, each one plump and individually perfect…that’s why I love steamed rice.

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Rooz Keema

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A delicious Western Libyan dish of steamed rice with a tomato-meat sauce. Great for a weeknight meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley, rinsed well and chopped
  • 1 lb of beef stew meat, cut into dime or penny-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (the sweet kind, not the smoked one)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (use less if you don’t want it too spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like your food spicy)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups medium grain white rice

Directions

  1. Fill the bottom portion of a steamer pot with water halfway and place it on the stove over high heat. Rinse the rice twice, then allow it to soak in cold water.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat before adding the chopped scallions and parsley. Sautee the scallions and parsley until they are soft, then add the beef. Allow the beef to brown, then add the tomato paste and spices. Sautee them for about 2-3 minutes. Add two cups of water and allow the sauce to come to a simmer. Cover the pot, put leave the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape.
  3. Drain the rice from the water it was soaking in, then transfer it to the top portion of the steamer pot and place it on the steamer pot that contains the boiling water. Cover the steamer with the lid and reduce the heat to medium. Take a shallow bowl or pie plate (the dish needs to be slightly wider than the top portion of your steamer pot) and place it in the sink. After the rice has been steaming for about 5 minutes, remove the lid from the steamer pot, then take the top portion of the steamer pot with the rice from the stove and place it in the dish in the sink. Turn on the cold water over the rice and stir with a spoon for about a minute under the running water, breaking up any clumps. Turn off the water and allow the rice to soak in the cold water for about 3-4 minutes, then return it to the stove and continue to let it steam for another 20-25 minutes.
  4. Once the rice is ready, turn off the stove and transfer the steamed rice to your serving dish. Taste your meat sauce to ensure the salt level is good, adjust as needed. Then use a spoon to skim the oily sauce/dahaan off the top of the sauce and drizzle it over the rice. You will need at least 1/3 to 1/2 cup (eyeball it) of oily sauce/dahaan (or use sauce without the meat if you don’t have enough dahaan), then mix it into the rice, ensuring all the rice is a light orange shade.
  5. Once all the rice is coated, smooth the top of the rice with the spoon. Then take the meat sauce and, using a serving spoon, evenly distribute it across the surface of the rice. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the rice with sauce.

 

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