Afghani orange pilaf

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks:  Oranges & Lemons: Recipes from the Mediterranean by Sarah Woodward (2001).  I made very few changes to the recipe, for example, I include the flesh of the orange rather than discarding it (I can’t bear to throw anything away!) and I reduce the almonds by two thirds, for frugality reasons.  We ate this pilaf as a main dish, but you could certainly serve it with meat:  perhaps lamb or goat.

Soak the Basmati rice in potable water for a while.  I soaked mine for about two hours.  Rinse it really, really well until the water runs clear.

Zest the orange.  Boil a bit of water and blanch the orange zest for a few minutes.  Drain through a very fine strainer and set aside.

Slice the onions thinly, and cook in butter until golden.  You want to use a pretty big pot for this.

While the onions are cooking, gather your spices together:  a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorns, turmeric, salt, and sugar.  The original recipe calls for black peppercorns but I used a mix.  Start an electric tea kettle (hot pot) going with a few cups of water in it.

Add the rice to the pot and stir everything together very well.  Stir in all the spices, and the orange-flower water.  If you haven’t seen orange-flower water (anthonero / ανθόνερο here in Greece) in your supermarket, Middle Eastern markets always have it.  It’s a wonderful thing to have on hand, especially for sweets.

Note:  the original recipe calls for saffron instead of turmeric; saffron is one of the most expensive foods in the world and I don’t buy it.  On the island where we lived, it grew wild, and I would pick it to my heart’s content.  But for those who aren’t surrounded by it, it’s crazy expensive.  Turmeric is a very inexpensive replacement, at least for the beautiful yellow-orange color.

Squeeze in the orange juice from the zested orange.

Add the water from the tea kettle to the rice, stirring really well.  Cook on low heat for about 6-10 minutes, stirring in more water as necessary (risotto-style) to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot, and periodically tasting it to see if the rice is soft enough to eat.  Remove the flesh from the squeezed zested orange, chop, and throw it in the pot as well.  When the rice reaches the right tenderness, allow any remaining water to cook off, then remove from heat and cover with a dish towel to absorb the extra steam.

While the pilaf is resting, melt the rest of the butter in a pan and add in the almonds.  The original recipe calls for a full cup of almonds.  I used a third of a cup and I think this is adequate and in fact I think more than that might be too much for my taste.  Toast the almonds in the butter briefly until they turn golden (they will burn easily if you ignore them, so keep an eye on them the whole time), and then pour the almonds, with the butter, over the pilaf; stir it all together, and serve.

Afghani Orange Pilaf
original recipe by Sarah Woodward; slightly modified
serves 4

2.5 cups Basmati rice
1 whole large orange
4-5 small onions or 2 large onions, sliced into very thin half moons
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon
3 whole cloves
12 whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp orange-flower water
1/3 cup slivered almonds

1.  Soak rice in potable water for 1-3 hours.  Drain and rinse several times until water is clear.

2.   Melt 2 tbsp butter in the bottom of a large heavy pot over medium heat, and cook the onions in the butter for about 10 minutes or until onions are golden.  Meanwhile, zest the orange; blanch the zest in a small amount of boiling water.  Strain through a very fine strainer.  Bring to a boil 4 cups water in a tea kettle.

3.  Reduce heat to low; add the rice and stir very well.  Add in all the spices (turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, sugar, and salt) with the orange zest.  Juice the oranges into the rice.  Stir all this together and add 2.5 cups of water to the rice, along with the orange-flower water.

4.  Remove the flesh from the juiced orange and chop; add to the rice.  Continue stirring the rice regularly to avoid sticking.  Add more water if necessary to avoid sticking.  Cook until the rice is tender; then remove from heat and cover with a towel.

5.  Melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter in a pan and toast the almonds in the butter for a few minutes until golden.  Pour the almonds and the butter into the pot with the pilaf.  Stir everything together and serve.

Note:  to make this vegan, just use olive oil instead of butter.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e. 1/4 of the recipe

643 calories
18g fat (8g saturated, 10g unsaturated)
109g carbohydrate
11g protein
7g dietary fiber
31mg (10% DV) cholesterol
710mg (30% DV) sodium
378mg (11% DV) potassium
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, manganese, and copper.

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Baked spanakoryzo 
Lentils & rice
Pillowy pita bread


9 thoughts on “Afghani orange pilaf

  1. I do like reading about your adventurous cooking on a frugal budget. (And your frugal lifestyle, in general) I was at Trader Joe’s the other day and saw their saffron. It was a tiny bit, a few tiny strands, for six dollars! I can’t believe you picked it for free. We are beginning a gluten-free diet here (Hubby’s allergies), and I think many of your recipes are just the ticket.

    • I think the per kilo price is over $400! Good luck with gluten free! Gluten free commercial products have just started appearing on the market in Greece but there are definitely frugal ways to do it (not involving the commercial products of course…).

  2. Another mouthwatering new idea. I love all Mediterranean food (I know Afghanistan is not on the Med, but think this fits in well with Turkish & North African foods) so I guess this would go well with a Moroccan tagine meat dish.

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