West African vermicelli and rice dish brings back memories of Rice-A-Roni

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Rice vermicelli with spinach and cashew nuts

Active time:15 mins

Total time:35 minutes

Servings:4 to 6

Active time:15 mins

Total time:35 minutes

Servings:4 to 6


I’m amazed at the connections you can make through food.

I grew up as a committed omnivore in rural central Florida in the 1980s, and I didn’t necessarily expect to be hit with a visceral taste memory flipping through Marie Kacouchia’s “Vegan Africa.” But I came to a screeching halt when I saw her spinach and cashew nut rice vermicelli recipe. Initially, it was because carb-based dishes always got my full attention. This one kept it.

Kacouchia recounts how the dish was one of her favorite meals growing up in Ivory Coast in West Africa and says she added spinach to the rice-vermicelli mixture when she started making it herself- even.

I’ll warn you, the connection may seem tenuous, but here’s where his story immediately took me:

When I was in high school, my mom started working outside the home. As the eldest of three children, I was responsible for cooking dinner for my siblings a few nights a week. At least once a week, that meant I made what has become my specialty: BBQ Flavored Shake ‘n Bake Chicken with sides of canned spinach (drizzled with vinegar) and a can of Rice-A- Roni.

If you’re not familiar with Rice-A-Roni – well, I’m quite surprised because I considered it one of the main food groups until about age 20, but here’s a introduction: it’s rice with broken vermicelli in it. You sauté them for a few minutes until the pasta browns, then add a packet of seasoning and water to cook it. Quite simple.

The nights I made this meal, I always thought the chicken was good, but I loved the rice and used to toss the spinach into it on my plate. I knew next to nothing about cooking or the cuisines of different cultures, but I always loved how the texture of pasta was a bit different than rice and then how the spinach added a different dimension to the OK.

I can’t remember the last time I bought a box of spinach, let alone a box of Rice-A-Roni, but reading this recipe put the taste of that combination in my brain a way that left me with only one option: I had to do it.

You can guess where this is heading. It was terrifying. Kacouchia, who writes that the dish she tasted as a child originated in Lebanon before being adopted by West Africa, does not call for browning vermicelli, so I suppressed my urge to do so. The curry powder and ginger add personality to the broth, and the wilting of fresh spinach in the rice codifies the personal preference I developed decades ago.

Cashews fulfill the protein role of chicken in a way that makes a lot of sense for the way I like to cook lately. I haven’t done that yet, but I’ve even considered sprucing up the toasted nuts with dry barbecue seasoning, and maybe hitting the final dish with a dash of vinegar, slightly bending Kacouchia’s memory just enough to meet mine.

Maybe I’ll do that when my brother and sister come over for dinner.

Joe Yonan will be back in May.

Rice vermicelli with spinach and cashew nuts

NOTE: If using regular spinach, coarsely chop.

Storage: Refrigerate up to 4 days.

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  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 1 1/4 cup white rice, preferably basmati or jasmine, rinsed until water runs clear and drains
  • 4 ounces vermicelli or angel hair, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or more if needed
  • 3 cups no salt added vegetable broth, divided (can also use home made)
  • 1 pound baby spinach (see NOTE)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the cashews until dark brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Keep the pan moving, as they can burn quickly. Transfer the cashews to a bowl.

Return skillet to stove and reduce heat to medium. Add the oil, then the green onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, vermicelli, curry powder, ginger, sugar and salt, and stir to combine. Add 2 ½ cups broth and increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Cover skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until broth is absorbed and rice is almost cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Add the spinach, a handful at a time, and stir it into the rice until it begins to melt. Keep adding handfuls of spinach until everything is incorporated, then add the parsley and the remaining 1/2 cup of broth. Cover and cook until spinach is wilted and rice is cooked through, another 3 minutes.

Serve hot, with cashews sprinkled over each serving.

Per serving (1⅓ cups), based on 6

Calories: 379; Total fat: 14 g; Saturated fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 347mg; Carbs: 59g; Dietary fiber: 4g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 12g

This analysis is an estimate based on the available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.

Adapted from “Vegan Africa” by Marie Kachouchia (The Experience, 2022).

Tested by Jim Webster; questions by e-mail to [email protected].

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