Monday, March 27, 2006

Banaras-style Pilaf

Now that it's spring break, my SO and I finally have time to cook again. Last night we made our yogurt braised chicken and served it with a pilaf and some spinach raita. The pilaf went extremely well with the chicken dish; the rice was very light and fluffy, and was flavored with cloves, cinnamon, and black cardamon (which has a smokier flavor than green cardamom). This pilaf was relatively easy to make and well worth the effort; if you're going to serve an Indian dish with rice, I'd highly recommend serving it with a pilaf (such as this one) instead of plain rice. This pilaf is this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

If all you've ever eaten are American-style pilafs ("I cooked my rice with chicken stock; now it's a pilaf"), you're in for a pleasantly flavorful surprise.

2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
24 whole peppercorns
10 whole cloves (or 1/3 teaspoon ground cloves; add ground cloves with the ginger)
4 black cardamom pods (or 8 green cardamom pods)
1 bay leaf
1 3" cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

1. Rinse the basmati rice repeatedly with water in a large bowl until the water draining off is mostly clear.
2. Drain as much of the rinsing water from the rice as you can, and then add 4 cups of fresh water. Let soak for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the rice, reserving the soaking water (it will be used to cook the rice later).
4. Heat the oil in a nonstick pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add all the whole spices (peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick) and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown (~1-2 minutes)
5. Add the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice turns translucent (~5 minutes; Sahni states the rice should begin to brown, but it never does for us).
6. Add the water, salt, ground cloves (if using), and ginger. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. At the end of this time the water should be mostly absorbed.
7. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible, raise the pot above the burner (we set it on a wire roasting rack placed over the burner), and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
8. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
9. Fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.


You can leave the whole spices in the dish when you serve it, but should probably avoid eating them. This recipe is from Sahni (1980).

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 368-369.

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