بسم الله الرحن الرحيم
السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
Ok, I’ll begin. I really love recipes with a story behind it no matter how simple.
Part of my great experiences for that year in the Sudan was learning how to cook some unique dishes. One such dish was rigla. The English word for it is “purslane”. We enjoy it on special occasions. I have heard that a reasonable substitute for it is spinach, but for me, there is no replacement of the real thing.
Hawa’s Rigla (Purslane)
Two things first before the actual recipe: the story (clip) and the vegetable.
Hawa was my neighbor for the year that we lived in the Sudan. She had two children, Nada (who was the same age my daughter Falaqi aged 5) and Nuha, an infant of several months. Hawa was a school teacher in a high school in Omdurman. She taught home economics and she was an excellent cook. Her husband worked in Abu Dhabi and when I found out that she was locking her daughters in her apartment when she went to work, I ended up volunteering to take care of her children. She never repaid me in money, nor did I ever ask her for that, but from time to time she would bring me precious fruit (it was terribly expensive at that time) and occasionally she would make THE RIGLA.
Now, I had learned how to make it, but was making the major mistake of adding water to it so she decided to take me under her wing and teach me. Since I was quite new to Arabic, she insisted that I come to her kitchen to watch and learn and what better method as I have never forgotten it. If I had been given a written recipe, I would have always had to go back and read it in order to cook the dish properly.
Hawa used to just show up at the door, clap her hands a few times (to see if anyone was home) and then just walk in (this was the way they were). I’d come rushing out to find her with a steaming hot pot of THE RIGLA, which by now we all loved so much. Most people there made it with lamb stew meat, but Howa, being financially better off than most, made hers with Lamb Chops. She was an excellent cook and a very generous person. I have since lost touch with her and her daughters who are no doubt grown women with families of their own. Make dua for them please; they were very kind to us throughout our adjustments to living overseas.
I was fond of cooking with garlic salt in those days and was telling Hawa how I missed not having my familiar spices. She took some cloves of garlic and put them in a pestle along with salt and crushed it with the mortar - presto, garlic salt to rub on hard-to-get fresh chicken.
Next, I guess you must know what rigla is or you won’t be able to make the recipe. I have seen it in the States at some supermarkets but it is not native to there. Actually, before we went to Sudan, I had never seen or heard of it before.
It is common in Sudan, Egypt and Saudi. It may be a Middle Eastern only vegetable but I don’t know why it couldn’t be cultivated in the West. The whole plant is harvested. It is long, green with tiny leaves all down to the stem. It resembles a long-stem clover, only the leaves cover the length of the stem which is about 5-6 inches long.
In preparation, you must cut off the roots. The people grab a hand full, cut off the roots and slice downward across the top in order to make little sections before slicing cross-wise so that you have little tiny round pieces of the plant. This is done all the way down the stems until you reach the ends and then you start another bunch. It would be typical to use about 3-4 bunches. It seems like a lot but it cooks down like spinach.
Here is a single strand of clean rigla.
Since the entire plant is pulled out of the ground, it is very sandy, so once it is all cut,you must wash it several times until the water runs clear of any sand and dirt particles.
2 pounds of lamb chops or lamb stew meat
2-3 onions, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
8 oz. tomato paste
4 bunches of rigla
2 handfuls of red lentils (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
(or you can use rice as they used to make it with either one. I prefer the lentils)
additional onions for sauteing at the end
In a large pot saute the onions in the cooking vessel of your choice until they appear yellow and transparent. I like to use my cast iron dutch oven.
Add the lamb chops or stew meat along with salt and pepper to taste. Turn fire to medium. Add the chopped tomatoes , cover and continue to cook.
While the meat and onions are cooking, dice the rigla into small pieces and wash well using several waters as is done when washing spinach or other greens. When the vegetable is clean, drain off all water and then add to the pot of meat. DO NOT ADD WATER. This is the fatal mistake I made and it came out tasting like nothing. The bits of stems and leaves will retain enough water for cooking. Keep the pot covered.
When the stems and leaves have cooked down a bit, add the tomato paste and turn flame down a bit and cover the pot.
After a while, say, 20 minutes or so, stir the vegetable around and add a couple of handfuls of red lentils (about 1 cup). Remain cooking for about another 20 minutes.
Slice an onion or two into long slivers and sauté in olive oil. Let the onions get brown and a little crispy. Take a spoonful or two of the rigla mixture and stir it in with the onions. Then pour that mixture of rigla, onions and olive oil on top of the rigla dish and serve.
The finished dish:
It is soooooooooooooo good. I’ve never had it raw (there are several salad recipes for it), but now that I’m now back in rigla country that may be a new thing for us to try, insha Allah.
[Interesting note: In the U.S. purslane is considered a pervasive weed. Greeks call it "blood cleansing" and in Mexico, it is considered a good food for diabetics. Recent research shows that it is one of the best vegetable sources for omega-3 fatty acids, as well as carotenes and vitamin C. It's always nice to know that good nutrition is found in your food choices .]