What do you think when I say rice? I know chinese food. Some more adventurous my think indian food. But in every case it will be thought as the companion to a very hearty, saucy meal. But Rice is way more than that. Rice can be yummy and delicious on its own. All it takes is some simple techniques, some basic know-how, and will to get creative… Yes with rice. But rice is a lot more than Chinese and Indian food. Don ‘t get me wrong, I love both of Chinese (and more generally speaking oriental) and Indian food.

Rice has been the food of choice for million of people all over the world. The notarizing value of rice is unmatchable since it is a great source of crabs (energy) and fiber (that accounts for the brown rice). It is the principal food crop for about half of the world’s population. It is native to many regions of Asia, but it is cultivated in many regions of the world after Alexander the Great introduced it to Europe and from there it immigrated to America. Currently there are so many different kinds of rice cultivated in the world. The major difference is those types is the shape. A long and thin grain will yield rice where the grains are separated. It is good for applications requiring fluffy rice such is pilaf. Short grain rice will yield sticky grains that keep together in a agglomerate. It is good for sushi and in general applications where rice has to stay together. It is very hard to eat basmati rice, a traditional indian long grain rice, with chop-sticks The middle of the line rice, the average size rise and it is good for soups and in general applications where you want some thickening power and some still keep most of the grains separate or small clusters.

Pilaf is an alternative more delicious way to cook rice. It is originated in the middle east, but on one way or the other it is used the eastern part of Mediterranean. The method is straight forword and it can involve only one ingredient in addition to the water and rice, or it can be a great meal on its own. The basic principle here is that a source of fat is used to coat the rice grains and transfer more effective heat to the rice. The heat will crisp a bit the rice which will make it to hold it’s starch better. So all good pilaf recipes will start with a fat. It can be simple as olive oil, more flavorfully complex as butter or even pure animal fat. I will give here to recipes one vegan and one more filling. Let ‘s start with the vegan. You will need.

  • 3 tlsp butter
  • 1/2 cup of long grain rice
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground all spice
  • cup of water, or preferably vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat. Let some of the solids to burn and get nutty. When is melted add the pine nuts, the cinnamon stick 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper and the all spice. Stir and let nuts get some color but don ‘t burn them. Add the rice and stir until the rice is nicely coated with the butter. If you think that the butter is not enough add some more. It is crucial at this point the rice to be coated with butter so do not hesitate to add more if you need. Every single grain has to be nicely and uniformly coated. Add the raisins. At this point you can add the broth or the water and cook it over medium heat in the pot. However, although fast this technique will, have the drawback of uneven heating of the rice grains. Those at the bottom will cook faster than those on the top. The final result will have grains all puffed up and mushy and grains under-cooked and crunchy. Alternative to that you can put the rice in a ceramic dish add the broth cover and finish in the oven at 350 F for 45 mins. This uniform heating will result in a very very uniform heating and guarantee that every grain will have the same doneness. You can add and take out spices and ingredients to your liking. Just make sure that what you add will not release or absorb liquid, in a degree that will effect the final texture. Nice addition can be dry mushrooms, some onion, nuts and  you can change the cooking liquid to anything you want, from water to jasmine tea.

The other recipe is not really different in any way. It is more complex and it is a great alternative stuffing (that you cook on the side) for thanksgiving turkey. The differences here are the ingredients, although the main theme remains the same. So for this pilaf we will need.

  • 1 lb of gound beef use one that is on the fatty side. Burger meat would be perfect and inexpensive. You can also use a mix of pork, beef and lamp. But make sure you have enough fat.
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 cup of skinned almonds
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • 1/2 of raisins
  • 2 cups of whole chestunuts
  • tbsp of pepper
  • 1 tsp o cumin
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 3 sticks of cinnamon
  • salt

Before you start working on the actual pilaf, take some time to prepare the chestnuts. Score them deeply with a sharp knife and boil them in hot water for 5-10 mins. You are not trying to cook them here, just to make the skin peal off. Cool them and peal and skin them. The skin should be coming right off. Continue by heating 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in the pan. When it is hot add the ground meat and let the fat melt. It is the fat that will be used as the base of the pilaf. So you need a fatty meat. Resist the temptation of using turkey. After most of the fat is melted, with a spoon remover the meat and leave as much of the fat as you can behind. If you don ‘t have sufficient add some olive oil. Add the onion finely chopped and cook over medium heat till they become caramelized. Add the almonds, the pinenuts and the coarsely chopped chestnuts. Heat them well till start taking color. Add all the spices and the salt. Finally add the rice and cook for 2-3 mins while string till everything becomes coated with the fat. Empty everything in a ceramic pan as before and cover with 4 cups of chicken broth. Cook for about 45 mins at 350 F or till the rice is cooked. Remove and gently, i use the back of a wooden spoon, fluff it up.

The picture above is not very clear but that ‘s what is shown. It was made for the thanksgiving meal on 2005 and it was a great hit!


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