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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basic curry powder

This is a frugal tip, but it’s also just good practice in the kitchen.  If you like to cook, and you buy spice mixes, you’re missing out on a lot of fun.  Making your own spice mixes is easy, fun, and the results are much better than the storebought kind.  As far as frugality goes:  it’s cheaper even if the mixes seem cheap enough.  Here’s why:  if you buy whole spices and toast, combine, and grind them yourself in small batches, they’ll always be fresh when you use them.  As a result, you’ll use less.  There aren’t that many spices out there, but spice mixes are endless.  Instead of having to buy fifty spice mixes, or feeling defeated when a recipe calls for one you don’t have, if you have the ingredients and can make your own, the sky’s the limit, but you don’t have to buy that many things, and if you don’t like something, you just don’t have to make it again.  So save some money, have some fun, and get better tasting food!

We’ll start with the most basic spice mix of all:  Curry powder.  Some people run the other way when a recipe calls for it.  But if you make your own, there’s no reason to turn up your nose at a simple recipe with curry powder on the ingredient list.  But there are 90 different kinds of curry, you say?  Not a problem – use your favorite.

I am using Alton Brown’s recipe with minor alterations.  He wisely suggests that you make up a big batch of the stuff but don’t grind it until the day you want to use it; then only grind the amount you need.  I take a middle-of-the-road approach with this.  Many curries are meant to be quick and easy.  If I have to grind my spices every time, that might not work so well.  So instead of making a big batch and grinding every time, we’ll make a small batch and grind the whole thing.  It’s a compromise between very fresh and very convenient that I think we can all live with.

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients:

There are three kinds of whole seeds in this:  cumin seeds (top), coriander seeds (bottom), and cardamom (right).

There are three kinds of pre-ground spices:  dry mustard (top), turmeric (bottom), and hot paprika (right).  Alton Brown uses cayenne, which I don’t buy; I use hot paprika instead of cayenne in everything and while I can tell the difference, it’s too difficult to get quality cayenne here.

Gently toast the whole spices in a dry non-stick pan.  I move them around pretty regularly so they don’t burn.  When they start to smell really good, transfer them to your spice grinder, along with the ground spices, mixing everything up really well.

Grind in your spice grinder.  You can use an actual spice grinder, a coffee grinder that you’ve designated as a spice grinder, a grain grinder (as I do), or some other grinding apparatus of your choice.  I wouldn’t recommend a mortar and pestle because we want a very fine powder.

Keep it in a glass jar in your spice cabinet (the recipe makes more than what you see there – I used a bunch of it for dinner).  Try to use it within about two months.

A note on measurements:  if your measuring spoon collection doesn’t include the rare 1/2 tbsp spoon, remember that 1/2 tbsp = 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp.

Basic Curry Powder
original recipe

1/2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp hot paprika or cayenne pepper

1.  Measure out the whole spices.  Toast in a dry, non-stick pan on medium heat, moving around the pan frequently, until fragrant.

2.  Measure out the ground spices.  Combine with toasted spices.  Transfer to grinder.  Grind on a very fine grind.  Store in a glass jar.

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