Certain dishes instantaneously bring you back to your youth, to a loved one's kitchen, to a place that makes you feel safe, supported, and loved. Comfort food can be wonderfully simple, or it can tell the incredibly rich story of a place and its community—and be a link back home for those who cook it. For Hawa Hassan, the latter is true about her traditional Somali rice pilaf dish, called Bariis Iskukaris. The chef, cookbook author, and Basbaas Foods™️ founder is one of five makers and creatives we are partnering with for our new Sense of Home campaign, which examines experiencing our spaces through each of our five senses: smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch. When we arrive on the day of our shoot, she has her ingredients gathered to cook us Bariis and welcome us into her downtown Brooklyn home.
"A pot of Bariis Iskukaris helps me feel at home and connected to my Somali family and roots even when I am far away from both."
While watching Hawa cook the dish, she explains that foods of home to her "evoke feelings such as sweet, warm, earthy, and lots of aromatics." In making us Bariis, she's not only inviting us to a seat at her table here in her airy, light-filled Brooklyn home, but on the diasporic journey, this dish has taken as well. It's comfort food that is meant to give us her visitors "a sense of belonging and to feel welcomed and cared for."
Bariis Iskukaris Recipe
Makes 4 servings
1 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of ground cardamom
1 small tomato, finely chopped
Kosher salt (to taste)
3 tablespoons golden raisins or regular raisins
1 tablespoon Xawaash Spice Mix
1 cup boiling waterPlace the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold tap water, stirring the rice gently with your hands until the water runs clear. Place the rinsed rice in a bowl, cover with cold water, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. Rinsing and soaking the rice ahead of time helps the grains let go of their dusty coating and cook more quickly and evenly.
Warm the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring until it softens, usually after about 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon and cloves and cook, stirring until the mixture smells very fragrant, so for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cardamom and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds until they're also quite fragrant. Add the tomato and a large pinch of salt, then increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring until the juice from the tomato has evaporated, and the mixture is like a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Drain the rice and add it to the pot, along with another large pinch of salt. In general, cook rice dishes in a sturdy pot with a heavy bottom to maintain low, even heat, and prevent scorching. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring until the mixture is quite dry and the rice smells nutty and is opaque, about 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins, spice mix, and boiling water. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for at least 10 minutes before fluffing with a spoon or fork. If you can find the cinnamon stick and cloves, fish them out and discard them (otherwise, just warn your guests to avoid eating these). Make sure to serve while it's still hot. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and rewarmed in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven or in a skillet over low heat.