It’s back to school season, and as much as we know how important it is to prepare a healthy home cooked meal, sometimes all of the planning and prepping starts to feel like homework…
When we’re pressed for time (and patience), it’s easy to turn to a box of flavored grains or pasta for a quick meal. But, we’d like to remind you that rice pilaf is an easy homemade dish you can make from scratch in 15 minutes!
Many boxed rice mixes have added salt, fat and preservatives. Cooking traditional rice pilaf from scratch is not only quick and nutritious, but you can really taste the ingredients. By sauteing rice with onion, garlic or herbs, you can boost the natural flavor while controlling the amount of fat and sodium that you serve your family!
Probably first cooked by Persians in the Middle East as far back as the 10th Century, pilaf is a deliciously humble dish. Once you master the basic techniques, there’s no end to they ways in which you can cook up rice pilaf to go with any meal. Take advantage of seasonal produce and ditch the processed mixes.
Rice pilaf can really knock out two side dishes in one: a grain and a vegetable. It can even shine as the main dish if you add meat, poultry or seafood. With rice pilaf, home chefs can deliver a meal that looks – and tastes – like you’ve been cooking for hours.
Pilaf is simply rice cooked with staple ingredients you have laying around the kitchen, whether that be nuts, vegetables, fruits, or even meat. The texture of the grains should be separate, never sticky or gummy. This is why pilaf dishes call for plain or fragrant long grains that are rinsed to remove starch that is left behind during milling. If you are up for experimenting, pilafs can take on many unique ingredients and flavors from far away lands.
Here are some tips to keep in mind whether you are sticking to a recipe or following a creative whim of our own:
- To get a fluffy texture, always use long-grain rice (traditional white long grain, basmati or jasmine)
- Many chefs prefer basmati because it is the longest of rice grains and holds up well under longer cook times
- Rinsing the rice before cooking removes residual bran so grains absorb flavors and liquid evenly
- Sauteing rice in oil or butter before you steam it sets the flavor and helps the grains maintain texture
- Adding garlic, onion or spices while you saute rice infuses the flavors into the grains
- For a Cajun twist, start by sauteing rice with the holy trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery)
- Combine a batch of masala spices (cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and cumin) to use with Eastern and African pilafs
- Steam rice in chicken broth rather than water to enhance flavor of plain pilafs without extra spices or fruits
- Finally, you can’t go wrong if you stick with spices and vegetables that are local to your region and in-season
ALL AMERICAN PILAF
To get you started, here is a traditional American-style side dish using simple ingredients you’re likely to have in your pantry. With angel hair pasta and chicken broth, this is as close as you will get to boxed rice with all the real ingredients. However, if you are ready to try something new, keep reading for some authentic recipes for pilafs from other corners of the world.
PILAFS AROUND THE WORLD
Most cultures have been preparing their version of rice pilaf for hundreds of years. Although each uses a unique cooking method and ingredients, we all call pilafs by very similar names: pilav (Turkey), palaw (Afghanistan and Pakistan), plov (Uzbekistan an Kazakhstan), polov (Russia), pulao (South Asia), polo (Iran), pilau (India and East Africa), or perlau (West Africa and Southern U.S.). Here are some authentic pilafs that have been handed down over centuries from the East, Iran, Turkey, India and Africa.
HINODE BASMATI PULAO
Try this fast and simple version of Indian pulao from Hinode rice to put pilaf on your family’s table in under 20 minutes. It combines authentic Eastern seasonings with some American staples that are easy to find in any grocery store.
- 1 cup Hinode basmati rice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 5 cloves
- 1 thin sliver of cinnamon
- Salt (to taste)
- 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped carrot
- 1/4 cup frozen peas
- 1/4 cup canned, drained sweet corn
- 2 tablespoons shredded red cabbage
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- Place the rice in a bowl and run water over it. Wash the rice under running water until the water runs clear. Discard the water. Fill the bowl with more water to cover the rice and let the rice soak.
- Heat a medium saucepan and add the butter or oil. When the oil/butter is hot, add the cumin seeds, cloves and cinnamon. Let them sizzle on medium heat for 30 seconds.
- Drain the water from the rice and add it to the pot. Stir gently. Pour in 1 3/4 cup water and salt and stir. Bring to a boil, and continue to boil the rice, without stirring until most the water has evaporated and craters form on the top of the rice, about 3 minutes.
- Now cover the rice, reduce heat to low and simmer for 8 minutes.
- Lift the lid (don’t stir), toss in the red pepper, carrot, peas and corn on top of the rice (don’t stir), and cover the pot. Continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and gently mix and fluff the pulao. Garnish the pulao with shredded cabbage and cilantro. Serve warm with a curry.
Pilaf from Southern Asia and the Middle East (generally, countries ending in “-istan,” except Pakistan) follow the oldest, simplest method of frying onions, then meat and carrots, mixing in any other ingredients you want, and covering with water to simmer all together. After the meat is stewed, you add rice over the stew, water to the depth of one finger joint, and boil everything together until the only liquid left is the stew under the rice.
Iranian pilaf, on the other hand, soaks and parboils the rice before steaming it, making for an exceptionally light and fluffy texture. On the bottom of the pot is a golden rice crust called “tahdig,” which is considered a delicacy. Often, other ingredients are layered with the rice and steamed together for a full and hearty dish.
TURKISH INSPIRED PILAV
Turkish cuisine sees pilaf more as a side dish than a complete main meal. Most pilafs from this region are flavored with just one simple ingredient, like eggplant. This recipe uses cauliflower and spices traditionally used in Turkey for authentic flavor you can’t find in a box!
Pulao is a traditional pilaf dish enjoyed throughout India as an every day staple. They also are known for dressing pulao up for special occasions. Elaborate pilafs might include curried lamb and yogurt with apricots, oranges, grapes, pistachios, and cashews. Others will use whatever vegetables are affordable and available to cook with traditional masala seasonings.
This pilaf inspired by African pilau recipes starts with traditional masala seasoning but increases the spicy flavor with garlic, ginger and saffron. Typically, it is baked together with stewed beef or chicken.
We hope you are ready to experiment with some homemade pilaf this weekend. For more recipes, look for @HinodeRice on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear how these tips and recipes work for you!
http://articles.latimes.com/1993-12-09/food/fo-217_1_rice-pilaf 09, December. “Pilaf : The 5 Schools of Pilaf : Foodways: From India to the West Indies, Cooks Have Spent Centuries Refining This Non-mushy Approach to Rice.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 09 Dec. 1993. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
http://www.smartkitchen.com/resources/history-of-pilaf “History of Pilaf – Resource – Smart Kitchen | Online Cooking School.” History of Pilaf – Resource – Smart Kitchen | Online Cooking School. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/sep/27/how-to-cook-perfect-pilaf Cloake, Felicity. “How to Cook Perfect Pilaf.” The Guardian. N.p., 26 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-pilaf.htm Ellis-Christensen, Tricia, and O. Wallace. “What Is Pilaf?” WiseGeek. Conjecture, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
http://eurasian-sensation.blogspot.com/2009/06/pilaf-how-rice-dish-conquered-world.html “Pilaf, Paella and Pulao – How a Rice Dish Conquered the World.” Eurasian Sensation. N.p., 23 June 2009. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.