Monday, May 15, 2006

رز أفغني Pilau Recipe

My idea for this dish came when reading Jason Elliott’s excellent book, ‘An Unexpected Light’, an account of his time and travel in Afghanistan. At various times during the book, after a difficult day in Kabul or a particularly hard spell of travelling, he talks about eating a ‘typical’ pilau, served by local people; steaming mounds of rice with almond, and pistachio piled over pieces of lamb. Each time I encountered these passages I was left with a mouth-watering desire to taste these pilaus. However, seeing as the book is concerned with more complex issues than satisfying one’s gastronomic desires he passes over details and says nothing other than to declare how satisfying and invigorating these meals were.

I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in Afghanistan and its tragic but never less than interesting history. In fact anyone who enjoys good travel writing would appreciate and take something from this book. It is a detailed and sympathetic account of the region. Written during the initial period of Soviet Occupation and then on a return trip ten years later. The author travels and fights with the Mujaheddin, describes the ravages of the Soviet period and the civil strife that followed withdrawal as well as the beginnings of Taliban rule. Published in 1999, it is sad to say that to that ravage and strife, we in the west, particularly the US and the UK have added our share of death and destruction. And all to apprehend the son of a wealthy Saudi sheik who has a penchant for fifteenth century theology. (In my darker moments of humour I imagine said ‘fugitive’ is residing in a Manhattan hotel suite, sitting on his prayer mat, smoking a Cuban cigar and telling his jihadis, ‘they will never think of looking for us here brothers’. However that is another story.)

The book is; An Unexpected Light – Travels in Afghanistan. Jason Elliot. Published in paperback by Picador. 1999. ISBN 0 330 37162 2

Here is my recipe.
(As I am a vegetarian I have substituted tofu for lamb. You can also use Quorn. For lamb I would follow the instructions below, except I would add it earlier - with the ginger, coriander, thyme and garlic.))
What you will need.
1 good size cup of basmati rice.
I large carrot
150 grams pistachio nuts – shelled.
100 grams whole or flaked almonds.
100 grams of golden raisins.
A generous pinch of thyme
Approx 200 grams white unflavoured tofu.
Half a teaspoon of Harissa sauce.
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
3 garlic cloves
1 quarter of a small red cabbage.
Half a cube of vegetable stock.
Olive oil.

To prepare: Cut the red cabbage into fine, thin slices.
Peel and grate approximately two ‘fingers’ of raw ginger.
Chop the cloves of garlic into fine pieces.
Cut the tofu into generous sized cubes.
Wash well and roughly grate the carrot.

o Pour the olive oil liberally into a good sized pan, thinly covering about two/thirds of the bottom of the pan. A deep or sauté pan is best.
o Place the red cabbage in the oil and sauté for about 3 – 4 minutes over a medium heat. Do not over cook. Cabbage should be slightly browned and softened.
o Add the ginger, the coriander, the thyme and the chopped garlic.
o Further sauté for a minute or two. Just enough to ‘release’ the flavours of the ginger, garlic and herbs.
o Mix in the flaked almond, the pistachios and the raisins. Add the tofu, browning and mixing well with the cabbage, garlic, coriander, ginger and nuts.
o Remove the pan from the heat, crumble the half cube of vegetable stock over and mix well.
o Wash a full cup of white basmati rice and add to the pan. Stir through.
o Return the pan to the heat, mixing all the time, for about one minute. The rice should be coated with the seasoning and lightly heated.
o Add the Harissa sauce and about I litre of boiling water.
If unsure about the water I prefer to err on the safe side and add less. Sometimes as little as ½ a litre. My idea of a pilau is that the rice and ingredients should be soft and infused with flavour but that it should not be sticky. I find it needs constant attention – to be checked every five minutes or so. Water can then be added as needed. It is easier to add and much trickier to remove.
o Cover the pan and let cook, checking frequently. This should take between 15 – 25 minutes.
o When the pilau is cooked, remove from the heat and mix the raw, grated carrot through. Let stand for a couple of minutes then serve.

o Can be eaten with pitta bread, rough wholemeal bread , fresh juice or red wine. Serves two generous portions. For more, double or treble the ingredients as required.


Copyright (C) Peter Millington 2006

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