Despite the chill in the air, the sun is bright and warm. As I look past the French window in our dining room, I cannot help but admire the sight of these sporadic visitors—parrots—squawking around as if they are celebrating the season. I see them everywhere in the afternoons: in our garden, under the roof tiles, or just fleeting about. Then there are these small birds—I’m no ornithologist and I’m not exactly sure, but I think they are sparrows—perched on my frangipani tree with their cheep and chirrup notes that sound like a happy melody. I could let my whole day slip away peacefully, finding inspiration just about anywhere I look, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Sometimes it is the wonder of a bright blue winter sky studded with clouds—mind you, clouds are not a regular sight in Qatar. Or, the sudden downpour of rain... fresh blooms in the garden... fallen leaves fluttering in the wind... Sights that we often take for granted, or go unnoticed when we don’t have the time. I revel in the beauty of these little, little scenes before me.
It usually takes me a fair amount of time to collect my thoughts before I start to punch something up. But times like this when the adrenaline is flowing, it banishes all the grimness and things just happen without much effort. You know what I mean?
This pilaf has been something I’ve been wanting to share ever since my friend and schoolmate Latha requested for the recipe a couple of weeks back when I shared a picture on my facebook page. At least it is not sitting on the back burner like the biryani recipe request by my dear friend and ex-colleague Hend. For some reason, there never seem to be a good enough time to share my biryani recipe though it’s one of the first recipes I had in my draft when I started blogging. If you happen to be reading this, I'm sorry Hend, but I'll get to it sooner than later!
Rice is a staple in South Asia. Whether it is steamed rice served with a curry, or rice dressed up with spices and other ingredients for a flavorful one-pot meal like the classic biryani or pulao (pilaf or pilau). There are many variations of Indian pulao. Ideally, it is prepared by frying spices in a bit of fat to awaken flavors and then the rice grains are thrown in and stir- fried for a good few minutes to break down the starch before cooking. Bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon, clove and cardamom all add fantastic taste and aroma to the pilaf. Put it all together—spices, rice, vegetables, meat and broth—in a big pot, or pressure cooker in this case, and you have a fragrant, comforting meal in a snap. Easy to cook and delicious to enjoy; even easier to freeze and reheat later!
Long grain, fragrant basmati rice is used to prepare rice-based dishes like biryani, ghee rice and pulao. Personally, I like to use these extra-long grained rice cooked to the right tenderness: chewy but not sticky. There’s nothing unappetizing like mushed up rice.
Pressure cooker is a kitchen staple in our homes back in Kerala. It makes cooking so much easier and healthier. Not to mention, it’s energy efficient and time saving too. However, if you don’t own a pressure cooker, you can adapt this recipe for closed pan cooking using a large skillet or saucepan. Just adjust the water ratio and cooking time in this case. Generally, a 2:1 ratio is followed for closed pan cooking: 2 cups water to 1 cup rice, but follow the instructions on your rice package for correct measure and cooking time. You may also want to check out my ghee rice recipe for a better understanding of cooking basmati in a closed pan, if you like.
With winter and the holiday season here, this seemed a better time than any to share my pilaf recipe. Chunks of vegetables, sausage and rice are poached in veg broth in the pressure cooker and cooked in merely 3 minutes. The rice is infused with the heady flavors of spices and all other ingredients. With raita on the side, this makes an excellent lazy weekend lunch or dinner. Or take it you your holiday potluck party and have fun!
You can make this a totally vegetarian meal by adding a delightful variety of vegetables, or a non-vegetarian meal by throwing in some meat—I used chicken sausage because it was so much easier. You can add or substitute any number of fresh, colorful veggies—carrot, peas, bean, potato, mushroom and baby corn will do particularly well. Just be careful not to use any thing that may turn mushy. For a milder dish, reduce the number of chilies. Vegans can eliminate the meat and substitute vegetable oil for butter.
Pressure-cooked Chicken Pulao or Pilaf
3 cups basmati rice (I used Indus Valley extra long grain basmati)
3 ½ cups water
1 cube vegetable stock (I used Maggi)
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
2 2” cinnamon sticks
1 cup onion, finely sliced
16 baby carrots, halved or quartered lengthwise depending on size
1/3 cup green peas, fresh shelled or frozen (I used frozen)
16 green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon green chili, stemmed and thinly sliced, or to taste
3 chicken sausage, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
4 tablespoon butter-oil mixture (2:2 ratio)
salt, to taste
fried onion, to serve
Rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear—this will also remove excess starch. Leave to soak in enough cold water for a minimum of 30 minutes, then drain in a colander.
Dissolve 1 cube vegetable stock in 3 ½ cups of water to make the vegetable broth.
Meanwhile, heat oil and butter mixture over low heat in a large pressure cooker (I used 6.5 liter cooker). Tip in star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and green cardamoms, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add onions and sauté over medium-low heat with a bit of salt, stirring often, until onions are softened but not brown, about 15 minutes. Now tip in the ginger-garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the peas, carrot, beans and sausage and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
Add the rice and stir well until all the grains are evenly coated with the spice infused fat—take care not to break up the grains. Continue cooking and stirring for a good 3 minutes until just translucent around the edges. The rice will smell pleasantly toasted at this stage. Pour in broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Taste and adjust salt as needed (I used just ½ teaspoon salt as the stock is high on salt). Stir to combine.
Close cooker and bring to full pressure on high heat (the cooker whistles when it reaches this stage). Then reduce heat and cook for another 3 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool naturally.
Once cool, open lid and let the rice sit for a 2-3 minutes to lose steam and the wet texture, then gently fluff up with a fork. Transfer to a large serving dish and garnish with fried onions, if you like. To fancy up, I cut a few star shaped carrots using a cookie cutter and threw it on top.
Serve on its own, or with raita and my radish and cucumber pickle on the side. Any leftover will stay in the refrigerator and just gets better. It freezes magnificently too; freeze for an easy meal later and reheat in the microwave.
Radish and Cucumber Pickle
This’s a quick vinegar pickle and you can make it using any firm vegetables.
5-6 small radish, finely sliced
5 firm cherry tomatoes, finely sliced
1 cucumber, finely sliced
2 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoon water
salt, to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and season to taste. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Cucumber, Onion and Tomato Raita
This is slightly different from the raita recipe I shared on my ghee rice post. Here yogurt is seasoned with dry roasted cumin and pepper.
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
5 black peppercorns
¾ cup yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 green chili, chopped
½ small onion, chopped
1 small tomato, deseeded and chopped
salt, to taste
Place yogurt in a bowl and beat in smooth with a fork. Season to taste.
Preheat a small pan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and peppercorns and stir roast for 1 minute or until the spices release their aroma. Remove pan from heat and leave to cool. Crush the dry roasted spices in a mortar and pestle and stir into the yogurt.
Thrown in the diced cucumber, onion, tomato and chili, and mix well.
My favorite way to enjoy this comfort food? Hmm, cozying up on the couch with a big mug of pilaf and a good movie—ideally a romantic comedy like Ugly Truth, Pretty Woman, The Proposal… er, it’s quite a long list and I know you have better things to do than read my favorites.
So until next time, I hope you have fun and enjoy this lovely holiday season!