from: Eastern Africa | cooking method: boiling-simmering
The word pilau comes from the Persian word pilav or pilaw, which is also the origin of pilaf, as in "rice pilaf". The pilav rice cooking technique is found throughout the Middle East and West Asia (i.e., Turkey, India, Pakistan). It has been spread across Africa by the Arabs, and was brought by enslaved Africans to the Americas. It is especially common in the Caribbean and Southern United States. In West Africa and the Americas the name has become pearlu, perloo, perlau, plaw, et cetera. Whatever the name, it is rice, vegetables, and meat cooked in a seasoned broth. Here is the Swahili way to make this omnipresent rice dish. See also: Biriani.
What you need
- one-half teaspoon cumin seeds
- one-half teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- several whole cloves ("cloves" not "cloves of garlic")
- one cinnamon stick (or a few pinches ground cinnamon)
- a few cardamom pods (or a few pinches ground cardamom)
- oil for frying
- several cloves of garlic
- two teaspoons fresh ginger
- three cups of rice (uncooked)
- two to four onions, chopped
- one to two pounds of meat (beef, chicken, mutton, fish, shrimp, or prawns), cut into bite-sized pieces
- two to four tomatoes, chopped (or canned tomatoes)
- two to four potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
- one apple, peeled and cut into slices (optional)
- one cup raisins or sultanas (optional)
What you do
- Combine cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom in a teacup, cover with warm water, stir, and set aside. (Cooking tip: The spices can be tied up in a small sack, like a tea bag, or can be put into a tea infuser before being placed in the warm water. This avoids having whole spices in the dish when it is served.)
- Pound the garlic and ginger together and set aside. Wash the rice, drain, and set aside.
- Heat oil in deep pot. Fry onions until clear. Stir. Add garlic and ginger. Continue stirring and frying until the flavors have mixed -- it should develop a nice aroma.
- Add the meat, stir and cook over high heat until meat is browned on the outside. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the meat and most of the onions, and set them aside. Add the rice and stir it thoroughly to coat each grain of rice with the oil. Add the spices and water. Stir. Wait five minutes. Add the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for a few minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Check every few minutes to see if more water is needed and add water (or broth) as necessary. Stir as liquid is added. After ten minutes add the potatoes (and/or the optional apples or raisins) and the meat and onions. Keep covered, keep checking, add water if bottom of pot is dry. Continue cooking over low heat for ten more minutes.
- Remove pot from stove, keep covered. Place entire pot in warm oven for an additional ten to twenty minutes. All moisture should be absorbed by rice and potatoes should be tender. Serve hot.
The plat de résistance was, as usual, the pillaw
In the late 1850's Richard Francis Burton traveled from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika and back, and then wrote The Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Picture of Exploration (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860; reprinted by Dover Publications, and by Scholarly Press). He ate pilau at a meal with "Arabs" (the Swahili Arabs from Zanzibar) at one of their trading posts in the interior:
It was hard eating this time. The shorwa, or mutton broth, thickened with melted butter, attracted admiration; the guests, however, could only hint at its excellences, because in the East if you praise a man's meat you intend to slight his society. The plat de résistance was, as usual, the pillaw, or, as it is here called, pulao--not the conventional mess of rice and fowl, almonds and raisins, onion-shreds, cardamoms, and other abominations, which goes by that name among Anglo-Indians, but a solid heap of rice, boiled after being greased with a handful of ghee-- --and dotted over with morsels of fowl, so boiled that they shredded like yarn under the teeth. This repast again concluded with a bowl of sweetened milk...
(Chapter XI -- We Conclude the Transit of Unyamwezi)
Other African gastronomical excerpts
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