Right before Passover, Sari Kamin of Honey + Shmaltz reached out to me for a lesson on Bukharian cookery. Sari is a vegan who originally started out her career as a struggling actress looking to make ends meat by waitressing. She was in restaurants so often that she fell in love with food. Subsequently entered the Food Studies program at NYU where she culminated her program with writing a thesis on foods across the globe. Sari found me and wanted to interview me on Central Asian cuisine to include into her thesis project.
With camera in one hand and a recording device in another, she took photos of me and the dish I prepared and recorded me on her website here. I spoke about my family history along the storied route of the Silk Road and my family travels all along the Spice Routes, and how it has influenced they way I cook. Her website is a recipe index of both celebrated and home cooks that she interviewed as an ongoing memoir of Jewish food.
Sari, then invited me to join her as a guest interview on her show, The Morning After (sounds like a pill, but not) which is part of Heritage Radio. You can hear the podcast here.
Back to this dish, and less PR. This Pilaf is the national dish of Bukhara, Afghanistan and Iran. With its variant spellings in all these countries, it also varies in ingredients as well. It can be made with chicken, beef or lamb. Mine is vegan and made with red kidney beans and in Bukharian fashion, with a big hunk of garlic head, and a dash of seasoning: salt and pepper. The caramelized onions and the slivered carrots form the undertone to the dish, while everything else just creates a perfect melange of flavors. Even the head of garlic, is not so garlicky, but rather like butter with a hint of garlic. The tastes do not seem forced, but just gentle on your tongue. Below you will find step by step photos on how to cut carrots for Pilau. While you can employ the food processor, the traditional way is by hand. This recipe is featured in my new cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian. Hope you enjoy.
Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 12 hours for soaking the beans and 1 hour for soaking the rice
Cook Time: 2 hours plus 1 hour 30 minutes for the beans
1 cup (200 g) dried red kidney beans
2 cups (450 g) basmati rice
3 cups (750 ml) boiling water
2½ teaspoons sea salt
½ cup (75 g) raisins
3 large onions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 large carrots, cut into thin matchsticks
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 head garlic
2/3 cup (160 ml) oil
6 cardamom pods
3 cups (750 ml) water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and pour the rice into a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and pour boiling water over it. Mix well and let it soak for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
- In a small bowl, plump the raisins in warm water.
- In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil. Sauté the onion, stirring, for 7 minutes, or until softened. Then add the kidney beans, season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pat down the mixture with the bottom of your spoon to form a fairly even layer.
- Make another layer with the carrots and season with remaining salt and cardamom. Make sure not to combine the carrots with the onions.
- Spoon the rice over the carrots, distributing it evenly all over the top.
- Bruise the cardamom pods: Place the pods on a flat surface, place the flat blade of a large chef’s knife on top of them and press down on it with the heel of your hand to crush them lightly until the outer husk cracks. Poke some holes into the rice and place the bruised cardamom pods into the holes. Pour 3 cups (750 ml) water and remaining oil over the rice in a circular motion.
- Drain the water from the raisins and season with cinnamon.
- With a spoon, form a pocket in the rice around the side of the saucepan, and place the raisins into the pocket. In the center of the saucepan, firmly push into the rice, the whole head of garlic.
- Place a paper towel large enough to cover the pan on the surface of the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Cover tightly with a lid. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours (f using brown rice) and 1 hour if using white rice, or until the rice is fully cooked. (The towel will absorb the steam, preventing the rice from getting too sticky.) Check the rice periodically to make sure that the rice did not dry up. If the water has dried up during the cooking process and the rice is still not done, add ½ cup (125 ml) water.
- When the rice is done, use a skimmer to gently transfer each layer onto a serving dish. First, remove the garlic and set to the side of the platter. Then transfer the rice, then the carrots, and finally the beans. Scatter the raisins over the top for a sweet accent.