Aromatic pilaf rice flavored with toasted almonds, fresh lemon and handfuls of chopped parsley. The perfect side dish with grilled meat and fish.
When I first started cooking, I got the hang of main dishes quite quickly. Roast chicken, pork chops, beef roast and other recipes similar to those were relatively easy to get the hang of and I added them to my weekly repertoire pretty quickly. What took me a while to master, was the art of the side dish. I always went back to roast potatoes/Green salad/simple steamed rice/steamed greens, etc. etc. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things (and in fact, they feature on our weekly menus pretty heavily), I always wanted more. And I am of the belief that the side dishes actually make the main shine more. Slow braised lamb shanks falling off the bone are only as good as the creamy polenta or buttery mashed potato they are served on top of. Amirite?
I first ate pilaf (or pilau as it is also known) at a Middle-Eastern restaurant more than 10 years ago and even though I now know it is one of the easiest recipes to make, back then my mind was blown. Rice was always a very bland, basic thing to me. Used as a vessel for piping hot gravy. That was what I used it as. But now I was introduced to light, fluffy, long grain rice kernels flavoured with herbs, nuts and dried fruit and it was most definitely not basic. It was a thing of beauty. I very quickly decided to master a good pilaf and once I did, I never looked back. Pilafs in all shapes and forms are cooked in my kitchen more often than I’d like to admit because you guys, I’m not lying when I say this is ridiculously easy.
A few days ago I made this pilaf and flavoured it with all ingredients I had in my pantry and fridge. A few nibbed almonds were toasted until a beautiful golden brown before being folded into the steamed rice with fresh lemon juice and handfuls of chopped parsley. The key to really great flavour here is to cook the rice with a few pieces of lemon peel, a bay leaf, onion and garlic. And that is pretty much how I start all of my pilafs. You can also add a cinnamon stick, a few cardamom pods, cloves, chilli flakes or coriander seeds at the beginning of cooking to infuse flavour. Once the rice is cooked, you can add any fresh herb, citrus juice and dried or fresh fruit depending on what you are serving it with. Pomegranate rubies and parsley work beautifully with roast lamb while pine nuts and chopped dried apricots will perfectly accompany a slow-cooked tagine. It’s simply one of those dishes you must have in in your cooking repertoire but be warned. Simple steamed rice might never be good enough again.
Almond, lemon and parsley pilaf rice
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 1½ cups Jasmine/Basmati rice
- 1 bay leaf
- 1½ cups stock
- 3 pieces fresh lemon peel
- generous pinch of salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- 100 g toasted almond nibs
- large handful fresh parsley finely chopped
- salt to taste
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan then add the onion and garlic and cook, covered, until soft and translucent over medium heat (approximately 7-10 minutes).
- Add the rice and stir to coat in the butter then add the bay leaf, stock and lemon peel.
- Allow the rice to a come to a boil then cover and lower the heat. Allow to cook gently until the stock has been absorbed (approximately 10-15 minutes) then remove from the heat and allow to steam for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice, almonds and chopped parsley, season to taste and serve.