An Exuberant Take on Onions and Rice, for Passover and Beyond

In 2015, the Rabbinical Assembly, an international organization of Conservative Jewish rabbis, revoked the longstanding prohibition of eating kitniyot (or legumes) during Passover. For many Ashkenazi Jews, this meant a rabbinical green light for serving the likes of rice, lentils, chickpeas, corn, beans and spices like mustard and cardamom at the Seder table — the first significant menu change in approximately 800 years.

For Sephardic Jews, however, it was business as usual. Having never banned these ingredients, they could always include dishes like hummus, spiced lentils, braised fava beans and rice-stuffed vegetables on their Passover menus. Now, Ashkenazi families can consider including some of them, too.

A mix of red and yellow onions and shallots flavor this rice bake.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

An excellent option comes from the Israeli chef Shimi Aaron. Mr. Aaron, a former jeweler who is the chef of the bakery and cafe EllaMia, is widely known for his opulent, gold-dusted babkas, which he would not suggest serving for Passover. But his dish of candied onions, loaded with rice, dill and pine nuts, is just as stunning and would make a lively addition to any kitniyot-embracing Passover table.

Mr. Aaron likes to use complex flavor combinations to transform simple ingredients into something exquisite and unexpected. Roasting onions in a bath of pomegranate juice laced with honey, dill and olive oil makes them glisten like gems, then melt in your mouth. Short-grain rice, cooked in the same casserole dish, becomes tender, plump and pleasingly sticky, suffused with tangy sweetness and a blend of spices.

Short-grain rice becomes tender, plump and pleasingly sticky in this recipe.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

“People are skeptical that it’s just rice and onions, but that’s deceiving,” Mr. Aaron said. “I love it when food seems simple, but then surprises you with the flavor.”

In his original recipe, Mr. Aaron boiled the whole, peeled onions, separated the layers into petals, then carefully reassembled the bulbs around pine nut-speckled rice. This streamlined version retains the flavors but simplifies the form. The rice is spooned into the bottom of a baking dish, then sliced raw purple and yellow onions are shingled on top. It’s just as colorful and pretty, but much easier to put together, which is a boon for an otherwise labor-intensive holiday meal.

When he’s not making this dish for Passover, Mr. Aaron likes to offer it as a meatless first course or light main course, or as a side dish with roasted chicken or fish. Any way you serve it, it’s bound to be the most striking thing on the table. And it tastes as good as it looks.

Recipe: Pomegranate Baked Rice and Onions With Dill

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