Begin rant: I’ve got social media fatigue. I even convinced myself at one point that it was a productive use of my time, because wasn’t I mainly reading news articles and stuff? Recently, that answer became a glaring NO. Buzzfeed compilations, vine videos, 20 ways to know you’re from this city or that farm or truly ghetto. And my feed is just filled with shares of blog posts from self declared intellectuals who think they have such pearls of wisdom. I learn more from my moments of quiet reflection, when I’m running or washing dishes, than I have after reading a dozen of said articles. The handful of books I’ve read on marriage and relationships have given me important tools – many of which I’ve seen recycled time and again in those pieces. I can probably count on one hand articles of merit I’ve found through social media: Anne-Marie Slaughter’s famous article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, NY Times’ The ‘Busy’ Trap, Nicholas Carr’s How the Internet is Making us Stupid, and The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food. So, my resolution is this: read more books. Reflect more. Check-in less. With this as an exception. End rant. On to the food. I know a lot of my (handful) of readers are on their own for the first time, either newly married, or going to med school (ok, that probably covers all of my readers). That’s why it’s important for me to cover all the bases of Bengali cuisine. And this rice pilaf (palau) is the quintessential dish for entertaining. Any time you have company, the main decision you have to make is: biryani or palau + curries? Plain rice isn’t considered special enough, even though some of the best meals I’ve had consisted of plain rice, served with a plethora of spicy/tangy bhortas, curries and daal. Actually, ask any Bengali and they will probably prefer the homey meals to these elevated, reserved-for-guests spreads.Even apart from the traditional spread, this pilaf would make a fine accompaniment to any roast poultry dish. Which is why I was eager to share it with you in advance of Thanksgiving, in hopes that you might give it a try in lieu of your usual rice or carb. Onions get caramelized and lend a sweet component. Toasted rice and browned butter give it depth. The whole thing gets hit with a wonderful concoction of aromatics: garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf, providing the warmth and flavor. And the whole thing comes together pretty quickly, as long as you let the rice soak in some water while you get the onions going. The peas are optional, and often not included in Bengali rice pilafs (more common in North Indian cuisine). But I like to add them in to convince myself I’m feeding the kids something healthy. I served this alongside another classic for-entertaining-only dish: chicken korma, a sweet and savory chicken cooked in a curry/cream sauce, and spicy shrimp bhuna. And of course, salad! You definitely need a side salad to cut the richness. Followed by ice cream sundaes with homemade hot fudge (the recipe for that coming soon!). Pretty darn good if I do say so myself.
- 4 cups long grain basmati rice
- 1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
- 1/2 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger (alternately you can use 1 heaping tsp of garlic/ginger paste)
- 3-4 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
- 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 cup peas (optional)
- Pour the rice into a bowl and rinse the rice 3 times in cold water to get rid of excess starch. I know a lot of people say not to do it, since you lose some of the nutrients, but this is the way it’s been done for ages, so just do it. Add enough water to come up to the top of the rice, and let it sit. Set aside.
- In a large pot, add the oil and butter and heat over a medium high heat. Once the bubbles subside, add the onions. Stir occasionally and let brown. This will take at least 10 minutes. Once brown, add garlic and ginger. Stir. Then, working quickly, drain the excess water from the rice and add the rice to the pot. Stir constantly, to toast the rice in the butter and to redistribute the onions and garlic throughout the rice. Once everything is nice and toasty (about 5 minutes), add 6 cups of water (rice should be submerged in the water, with the water coming up about 1 in over the rice). Add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over low heat. Cover.
- After letting it simmer for 10 minutes, check for doneness and seasoning. If the rice is just about cooked through, add the peas, if desired. Stir gently (or fluff with a fork if not using peas) and cover, turning off the heat. The rice will continue to steam off the heat.