Wash the rice in several changes of warm water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, in cold water to cover, with 1 tablespoon of the salt. (Alternatively, to save time, soak the rice in lukewarm water with the salt for 30 to 45 minutes.)
Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onion. Cook until the onion becomes translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the lentils, garlic, pepper, and paprika. Continue cooking 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, cover, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Season with the 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Stir in the basil.
In a large saucepan, over medium high heat, bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil with the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt.
Drain the rice from the soaking liquid and add it to the boiling water. Return to a boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Test a grain of rice for doneness; it should be cooked entirely except for a small part in the center.
Strain the rice in a colander and rinse with warm water. Drain well.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, well-seasoned or nonstick stock pot with a tight-fitting lid, over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons water and sprinkle the cooked rice evenly onto the bottom of the pot a spoonful at a time until two-thirds of the rice has been distributed. Spread the lentil mixture evenly over the rice. Cover the lentils with the remaining rice, mounding it slightly in the center.
Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke about 5 deep holes in the rice from the surface of rice to the bottom of the pot to allow steam to escape. Cover the pot with a thick cotton dish towel and place the lid on tightly.
Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the pot occasionally.
Fill the sink with cold water 1 or 2 inches deep.
Remove the cover from the rice and have a large, round platter ready.
Place the pot in the sink for 1 minute, watching so that no water enters the pot. Remove the pot and dry off the bottom, then invert the rice cake onto the platter. It should unmold itself in one piece and be golden brown.
Bring the platter to the table and serve family style. Cut individual wedges from the rice cake, similar to cutting a pie.
c.1997, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, all rights reserved
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