Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pimp My Pilaf: How to Turn Whatever You Have on Hand into a Fancy Side Dish

My mother made a wonderful pilaf for our family every Sunday night when I was growing up. She called it perlo (it was chicken perlo, and she used a whole stick of butter--no wonder it was delicious), but perlo is just a variant on the word pilaf (also sometimes called pillau, pilau, palau, or pulau). Pilaf is a rice or other grain dish made using soup stock or broth and butter, olive oil, or ghee as well as add-on ingredients to jazz it up.

Other than the grain/stock/oil combo,  variations on the pilaf are infinite.  You can add almost anything in terms of vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, and/or meat substitutes (tofu, mushrooms). But the  rule of thumb for  add-ons is that they need to be dryish and chopped into small pieces or diced. If you add very moist add-ons, like tomatoes or zucchini, you may need to decrease the liquid proportionately. Also, if your pieces are too large and/or raw, they might not cook fully by the time the grain is finished cooking. The goal is bite-sized, tender add-ons.

Many famous world dishes are actually pilafs. Risotto is a pilaf. So is jambalaya. And paella, and Spanish rice, the tomato-rice pilaf served so often with Mexican entrees. So is arroz con pollo and Indian biryani. In cooking the grain WITH the stock and the oil, the grain absorbs the wonderful salty savoriness as it cooks. Those flavors--and any others you use--permeate each grain. So easy. So good and nothing to it once you get the hang of it.

Tonight I made my family quinoa-almond-raisin pilaf with turmeric [photo, above]. I was making a Mediterranean themed supper (broiled hoki with kalamata/tomato/oregano salsa, and a chopped salad heavy on the sweet peppers and feta cheese), so wanted to round out the salty flavors with a bit of sweet. It was a big hit and simply a matter of throwing the items in the rice cooker, although any sturdy pot will do.

The chart below will provide some ideas for what might be fun, but feel free to pimp your own pilaf.

Choose at least one from each Grain/Stock/Oil:

Grain Stock Oil

Rice, jasmine Chicken Olive

Rice, short grain Beef Butter

Rice, arborio Clam Ghee

Rice, brown Dashi (fish and kombu seaweed) Sesame

Rice, wild Vegetable Peanut

Quinoa Ham

Barley Coconut milk (will not need Oil if using)


Cous-cous, Israeli

Add-ons (Use as many as you like, and ad-lib your own ideas):

Meat/Meat-like Group Veggie
Herb Group Cheese Group
Chicken Celery Raisins Pistachios Chives Gorgonzola
Sausage/wurst Carrots Currants Cashews Oregano Parmesan
Lamb Peas Other dried fruit, diced Almonds Basil Feta
Pork Squash Pineapple Coconut Perilla leaves
Ham Corn Mango Peanuts Garlic
Beef Tomatoes (may need to reduce liquid proportionately) Apples Pumpkin seeds Curry spices
Pork Green beans Pears Pine nuts Ginger
Fish or shellfish, chopped Other beans, pre-cooked

Beef Ripe or green olives

Mushrooms Onions

Fish or shellfish,

Tofu, raw or fried