My late cousin Leonidas Harvalias, who lived on Kéa long before we decided to move here, got the recipe from one of the first Albanian immigrants who worked on the island. It has become part of our family’s permanent repertoire and is one of our favorite casseroles. The name briani or briami, probably comes from the Persian biryan. Maria Kaneva in her book The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery, describes a rice, potato and tomato briani, and writes that there are many versions, which can be traced to the Balkans in the Middle Ages.
Makes 6 servings
1/4 cup olive oil or unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
3 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and diced
2–3 hot chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
1 pound feta cheese, coarsely crumbled or diced
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh dill
4 1/2 cups whole milk
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200 C). In a large skillet, heat the oil or butter and sauté the onions, bell peppers and chiles until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for 1 minute more.
Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then stir in the feta and dill.
Transfer to a round or oval 2 1/2-quart baking dish and stir in the milk.
Bake, stirring once, for 45 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the milk and is tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.