Monday, 14 April 2008

Indulging in India 2: Surprising pilau

Rice is interesting stuff. It's the daily "bread" of far more people around the world than any mere loaf, but we have such a dearth of rice words for the stuff in English.

I mean, here in Japan, you have o-kome (uncooked rice), gohan (plain steamed rice), takikomi-gohan (rice steamed with other tasty tidbits), chahan (fried rice, from the Chinese chaofan), doria (a Japanese rice-gratin) and even raisu (rice), for when you eat it not from a ricebowl but from a plate with a "foreign" meal! The Chinese have a similarly large repertoire of rice words, mostly based on the character fan, for rice/meal (han in Japanese). Then the Iranians have berenj (uncooked rice/rice in general), chelo (steamed rice, either plain or with spices) and polo (rice dishes with meat and vegetable fillings). The Turks have pilav, the Italians risotto, and on and on.

Yet in English, we are only have the one paltry word: Rice.

And so to this pilau, a relative of both polo and pilav, and like which is usually made with basmati or other long-grain rice. But with rice so expensive in Japan--the cheap stuff will set you back around US$18 for a 5 kg bag--we (meaning I) don't go in for keeping different rices for different dishes. Sure, it might produce more authentic results, but the cost-benefit ratio is not right for me. Anyway, I actually think I might prefer the standard short-grain Japonica rice.

Either way, this easy pilau certainly pulls its weight when it comes to the effort-flavour ratio. It is from the interesting title, India's Best 500 Recipes. Interesting because it contains not just obviously Indian recipes, but dishes from Thailand, and even recipes reprinted from a Caribbean cookbook that I own! Not that I'm complaining. I've had lots of luck with the recipes I've tried so far. And this is another winner.

So, what's the surprise, then? Well, when I put the lid on my pot it was definitely a mustard-yellow rice dish I was making, but when I opened it up again, it had morphed into the lovely grass-green you see above. I had to do a double-take as there is nothing remotely green in the ingredients. My best guess is that the black sesame seeds that I substituted for regular ones leached some color that, when mixed with the turmeric, turned the pilau green. Actually I rather like it, and will keep this up my sleeve in case I am ever invited to a St Patrick's party (g).

Indian Pilau Rice

Serves 4

225 g basmati rice
15 ml oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds [black, if you want a pilau to make and Irishman happy]
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
salt [S: you may not need extra salt if using stock cubes or powder]
2 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
5 black peppercorns
450 ml chicken stock
fresh coriander (cilantro), to garnish

1 Wash the rice well and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a heavy pan, add the onion and garlic and fry gently for 5-6 minutes until softened.

2 Stir in the fennel and sesame seeds, the turmeric, cumin, salt, cloves, cardamom pods and peppercorns and fry for about a minute. Drain the rice well, add to the pan and stir-fry for a further 3 minutes.

3 Pour on the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then cover. Reduce the neat to very low and simmer gently for 20 minutes, without removing the lid, until all the liquid has been absorbed.

4 Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 2-3 minutes. Fluff up the rice with a fork, garnish with coriander and transfer to a warmed dish to serve.


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