At its most basic, pilaf (the spelling varies depending on the region) is rice cooked in seasoned broth. It is found in many cultures including Middle Eastern, South Asian and Caribbean. In English speaking cultures, it is often referred to as “rice pilaf” which is redundant because pilaf can refer to nothing but rice. The ultimate root of the word is the Sanskrit pul?ka which means “lump of boiled rice.” For practical purposes, however, calling the dish rice pilaf rather than mere pilaf makes it less strange and, therefore, less scary.
Pilaf can be plain rice boiled in broth. Chicken broth is the most popular choice; vegetarians and vegans can substitute vegetable broth. While plain pilaf is delicious, it gets more exciting when spices and vegetables are added. One reason, I suspect, is that it acquires the look of the more familiar and universally loved Chinese-style fried rice. The difference, of course, is that fried rice is a stir fry while pilaf is, essentially, a boiled dish.
For my pilaf, I added leeks, red bell pepper, asparagus and mushrooms.
Leeks, pepper, asparagus and mushroom pilaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup leeks (white and light green portions only), thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup bell pepper chopped
- 1/3 cup asparagus diced
- 1/2 cup mushrooms (any variety is good), sliced
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic minced
- 1/2 cup long-grain rice rinsed and drained (spin in a salad spinner for best results)
- 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups well-seasoned vegetable broth (different rice varieties have different liquid absorption qualities)
Heat the olive oil in a thick-bottomed pot. Add the leeks, bell pepper, asparagus and mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about a half a minute. Add the garlic, stir and cook for another half a minute.
Stir in the rice.
Pour in the broth.
Cover the pot, turn down the heat to low and cook until the rice is done, about 20 minutes.
As soon as the rice is done, fluff the pilaf with a fork. Serve at once.