Growing up, we only ate one type of white rice: Assyrian rice. My Nana made the best rice, and when I was living on my own, I spent a day with her learning the secret to making rice just like her.
My Nana’s recipe for Assyrian rice is a true labor of love. It starts with rinsing the starch from the basmati rice and soaking it in salted water for twenty-four hours.
When it’s time to begin making the rice, you sauté the rice in salted butter and then parboil the rice in fresh water. You add salt to the water while the rice is parboiling. Once the rice is about halfway cooked, you remove the rice from the stovetop and place it in the oven to finish cooking.
Imagine my surprise when my cousin Anna taught me her recipe for Assyrian rice.
- Pour the basmati rice into a medium-sized bowl.
- Fill the bowl with water until it covers the rice, and gently stir the rice to release the starch. Discard the water.
- Repeat this step 2-3 times to rinse the rice until the water becomes clear. Again, discard the water. If needed, rinse the rice in a fine mesh colander until the water runs clear.
- Add extra virgin olive oil and salt to a pot, and warm it slightly. Add the rice to the pot, along with 1 rounded teaspoon of salt (ish) for every 2 cups of rice.
- Sauté rice in the oil and salt.
- Add 2 cups of water to the pot for every cup of rice. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat.
- Allow the water to continue to boil until the rice has absorbed it, and you no longer see any water over the top of the rice (roughly 5 minutes).
- Turn the heat down to low and cover the rice.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes.
Over the years, I’ve cooked many pots of Assyrian rice. I my eyes to measure olive oil and salt in the pot and to ensure I’ve removed the starch from the rice.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that the fewer the ingredients in a recipe, the more important it becomes to pay attention to each one.
Use filtered water. Choose pure 100 percent extra virgin olive oil. Find a pot that’s large enough to give the rice space to expand and has a lid that fits well. Not all basmati rice tastes the same, so it’s important to use long grain basmati from the Middle East. Finally, choose your salt wisely, and add it liberally.
The thing about Assyrian rice is that without salt, it’s just bland white rice. If you forget to add salt during the sauté step and try to incorporate it while the rice is boiling, it doesn’t completely flavor it. If you try to add it after the rice is cooked, it’s almost as if the salt doesn’t exist at all. It’s vital to add salt to the pot before you start to sauté the rice.
As the salt and oil heat up together, the smell immediately informs our whole household that rice is on the menu.
Salt is the key ingredient, and not just in Assyrian rice. This is something Jesus understood.
In the Sermon on the Mount, he starts teaching the crowd by presenting what we know as the Beatitudes. Each characteristic Jesus names blessed, such as poor, peacemaker, and merciful, is the opposite of a Pharisee’s principle. Then, he tells the crowd they are blessed when they are persecuted in his name, just like the prophets before them.
“Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (CSB)Matthew 5:12-17 CSB
Jesus tells the crowd they are prophets. He then compares them to salt and asks an important question: “But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty?”
Jesus’s next statement about tossing the salt away could cause alarm, except in verse 17, where he specifically says, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
So, what is Jesus telling the crowd here?
Michael Youssef writes, “When Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ He meant that all of His disciples were to serve as preservatives, stopping the moral decay in our sin infected world.”
To be salt means to look for ways to love our neighbors intentionally actionably. Lights illuminate things and make them visible in dark spaces. Jesus says to let your lights shine bright so everyone sees your good deeds.
These symbols call on the prophet or followers of Jesus to live actionable lives that point others to him. He includes warnings, though. There’s no guarantee that a believer will stay salty or that their light will stay illuminated. Continue reading over on The Glorious Table