Monday, March 28, 2011

persian pilaf

How many of you out there have I fooled, I wonder?

I didn't mean to, I swear. It just happened. I can see how you might have thought that I'm a vegetarian, and flattered that you think I have the discipline to wean myself off of bacon.

Hello, my name is Cristin, and I am, in fact, an omnivore.

The truth is, I just think that plants are so much more... interesting. And more fun to work with. And less expensive. And a chance for endless variety. Like one of my food role models, I've come to see meat as more of a side dish, or a flavoring within a larger concept. I'm not sure how I feel about the semi-pretentious-sounding label flexitarian, but I've certainly stopped craving meat, and we rarely eat a big ol' hunk of it in our home these days.

So this amazing, pastured, local ground beef sat in our freezer for two seasons before I remembered it. And then it took me another month or so to figure out what to do with it. Too early for burgers, too late for bolognese. Poor forgotten beef.

I found inspiration from the duchess of Middle-Eastern cooking, Faye Levy. This recipe originally called for lamb shoulder and three hours of your day. Now it calls for ground beef, and a paltry one hour, tops. Get the best quality ground beef you can find (even the good stuff is still cheap) and serve this with a cucumber and tomato side salad, or some sautéed garlicky greens.

Persian Pilaf
Adapted from Faye Levy
Serves 4

For the pilaf:
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, divided (or water)
⅓ cup raisins or currants
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter, divided (or equal parts vegetable oil and butter)
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound high-quality ground beef
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup slivered almonds or pine nuts, or ¼ cup of each
4 portion-size pieces of lavash, or pita, or other thin bread like a tortilla
Fresh mint leaves

For the sauce:
1 cup whole milk greek yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup beef, chicken, or vegetable broth (or water)
2 teaspoons butter or vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Hot sauce, to taste

Make the sauce:
1. In a medium bowl, mix yogurt with cornstarch until blended. Slowly stir in broth.

2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove saucepan from heat, stir in the yogurt mixture, and mix well.

3. Return to medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes, until slightly thickened.

4. Let the sauce sit on the burner, uncovered, while you prepare the pilaf. Do not let the sauce come to a simmer. The sauce should thicken slightly to coat the back of a spoon, but should still be thin enough to pour easily. Cover the sauce and lower the heat if the sauce begins to get too thick.

5. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Make the pilaf:
1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Rinse the rice thoroughly in a mesh strainer, then add the rice to the saucepan. Cook, stirring, until grains turn milky white, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups broth, a dash of salt, and a generous grind of black pepper. Cover and cook without stirring for about 18 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in raisins and cover.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy stew pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until just golden. Add beef and spices and sauté, breaking meat up into little pieces with a wooden spoon, until beef is browned and cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Add 1 cup broth, cover, and keep warm.

3. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a small pan, and add nuts. Toast, stirring frequently, until browned. Be vigilant, as the nuts can burn in an instant.

4. To serve, fluff rice gently with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spread a layer of lavash on plates or a large platter; if using pita, split each into 2 rounds and place crust-side down. Spoon a little yogurt sauce on top to moisten the bread. Mound half the rice on top and moisten the rice with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Top with half of the ground beef and sprinkle with half of the nuts. Garnish with mint leaves.

Spoon the remaining rice into a separate bowl and sprinkle with the remaining nuts. Serve the remaining beef and sauce separately.

Eat with your fingers if you wish, tearing off pieces of the lavash to scoop the pilaf.


  1. Hi Cristin,

    Thank you for the compliment! I am glad my work inspired your beautiful recipe.

    I share your preference for plant foods and the opinions you expressed in your paragraph about meat as a side dish.

    I'm pleased to have found your interesting blog and will check back to see what you're cooking.

  2. Hi Faye,

    I have to admit that I'm a bit starstruck! I would never have expected you to find my humble little piece of the internet. Thank you for your interest and for your kind words.