Replicating/replacing "Near East" Seasoning Packets
I love the Near East brand of rices, couscous, etc. In fact, I bet they make their flavor packets with some kind of controlled substance they're so addictive and yummy.
Well, for cooking for our kids, my wife wants everything to be as freshly made at home as possible and has vetoed using the Near East products and flavor packets in favor of buying the grains in bulk and flavoring them ourselves. Similarly, when having people over, we don't want to "stoop so low" as to making side dishes for people from a recognizable brand.
The problem, in my view, is that we have yet to find recipes in cookbooks or online for such things as couscous, Israeli couscous, quinoa, etc that hold a candle in flavor and desirability to what Near East has seemingly nearly perfected. In fact, I would say our efforts so far have been so poor that I'd rather not have, say, quinoa at all then stomach some of our creations so far. I actually believe there are so few good recipes online because, secretly, everyone is just eating Near East products.
Thus, my question for all is:
Has anyone at home perfected recipes for their own "flavor packets" for couscous and rices that are a good facsimile of the commercial products or ones that you like more?
I'm especially looking for good flavorings for recipes for Israeli couscous. Thanks all!
My wife is of Armenian heritage. Even though the recipe is very simple, her families recipe for rice pilaf has a great flavor.
Armenian Rice Pilaf
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta (or angel hair pasta/spaghetti pasta broken into 1/4 inch pieces)
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute pasta in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until lightly brown. (Sauteing the pasta to a darker brown adds a great nutty flavor. Careful not to burn it.)
Add rice and continue to saute for a minute or two until rice is coated with butter and translucent.
Slowly pour in simmering chicken broth, bring to a boil and stir once or twice with a fork to prevent rice clumping on bottom of saucepan.
Reduce heat, add pan cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
Fluff the pilaf with a fork, replace cover and allow it to stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Here's a microwave version:
Microwave Armenian Rice Pilaf
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup orzo pasta, uncooked*
1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
3 1/2 cups hot chicken broth
In a 2-quart, covered, microwaveable casserole dish:
-Melt butter on high for 30-seconds.
-Add orzo pasta, stir to coat with butter, cover and cook on high for 2-minutes.
-Add rice, stir to coat with butter, cover and cook on high for 2-minutes.
-Add hot chicken broth, stir well, cover cook on high for 7-minutes.
-Stir well, cover and cook on high another 7-minutes.
-Stir well, cover and cook on high a final 7-miuntes.
-Stir, cover and allow to rest 5 to 10 minutes, serve warm.
*Uncooked vermicelli pasta , angel hair pasta or spaghetti pasta , broken into 1/4-inch pieces, may be substituted for the orzo pasta.
Makes 2-cups of rice pilaf - Total cooking time 25-minutes.
I've tried to replicate their seasoning mix for the long grain and wild rice mix. The recipe that seems to approximate it is to saute a finely chopped onion in butter, then add the wild rice and chicken stock mixed with water, and cook for about 40 minutes. Add regular long grain white or basmati rice, dried parsley, dried dill, a little onion powder and garlic powder at the end of that time and, once it comes up to a boil, cook for about 7 minutes covered, turn off the heat, and let it cook the rest of the way in the residual heat. It's pretty close.
Another thing I used to do to up the nutritional content of the packets is to cook about 3/4 cup of long grain brown rice and a handful of wild rice for about 30 minutes in 2 cups of water, then add the rice mix and seasoning packet and whatever amount of water and fat the package says to add,and let everything finish cooking together for about 18 minutes. At the end I'd stir in a couple of tablespoons of crumbled feta and freshly cracked black pepper. It really tasted good and was removed enough from the package preparation to pass for homemade.