Rice from risotto to rice pudding, 156pp.
edited by Raffaela Pugliese
Murdoch Books, Australia, 2003
Cooking on page 32
I have plenty of cookbooks with rice recipes, but I couldn’t resist the flashy cover on this one. Couldn’t resist the price either.
This was one of many books I stuffed into a shopping bag at the Lifeline Book Fair. Lifeline is a nationwide telephone counseling service, and the Canberra branch has ginormous book sales three weekends a year.
Sunday afternoon (an hour or so before wrap-up) is a great time to go because you can buy a whole bag of books for $20. I checked page 32 for every book I bought. This one’s got a Central Asia/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean influence.
1 large eggplant (aubergine), cut into 1 cm (1/2 in) cubes
125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
300 g (1 1/2 cups) long-grain rice
500 ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) minced (ground) lamb
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil, extra
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
3 tablespoons toasted pistachios
2 tablespoon currants
2 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish.
Put the eggplant in a colander, sprinkle generously with salt and leave for 1 hour. Rinse well and squeeze dry in a clean tea towel. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep frying pan with a lid, add the eggplant and cook over medium heat for 8–10 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
Heat the remaining oil, add the onion and cook for 4–5 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Stir in half each of the cinnamon, cumin and coriander. Add the rice and stir to coat, then add the stock, season and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, adding more water if the pilaff starts to dry out.
Put the lamb in a bowl with the allspice and the remaining cumin, cinnamon and coriander. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Roll into balls the size of macadamia nuts. Heat the extra oil in the frying pan and cook the meatballs in batches over medium heat for 5 minutes each batch, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
Add the tomato to the pan and cook, turning, for 3–5 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the pan.
Stir the cooked eggplant, pistachios, currants and meatballs through the rice (this should be quite dry by now). Serve the pilaff surrounded by the cooked tomato and garnished with the coriander.
How it played out
Made this recipe over two days. Not that it takes two days, but my lamb mince was at its use-by date, so I made the meatballs (26 in all) and popped them in the fridge overnight.
Next morning, I started with the eggplant. I don’t usually salt and drain eggplant, but decided I’d be true to the recipe on this occasion. Followed everything else too—even toasted the pistachios. In case you are wondering, a tablespoon of pistachios equals about 12 shelled kernels.
A friend gave me some beautiful small tomatoes from her garden, so I used three for this dish.
My only problem was the rice—and this is a rice cookbook! I thought 6 tablespoons of oil was a lot to start with, but knew the rice would probably need that much moisture (along with the water) to keep from sticking. It stuck anyway—big time—even though I added more water. But a good soak with vinegar helped me to get all the gunk off the pan.
Over the years I’ve avoided making meatballs because I think they’re too fiddly, but this recipe has changed all that. These were so easy to make and cooked so quickly that I’ve been converted. All hail the meatball!
As for taste and appearance—this pilaff (which I think should be spelt pilaf) has it all. At the core are those distinct Central Asian/Middle Eastern flavours as well as a beautifully colourful presentation. On top of that, I took leftovers to a daughter and managed to make her colleagues jealous.
I expect to be eating a lot of pilaf in the coming months. We’re travelling overland from Tehran to Beijing through four of the Stans—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Plov (yet another spelling for pilaf) is a national dish in most of these countries.