Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rice and Cauliflower Pilaf

This post is an example of how to do it wrong but get it right. Sometimes there's an advantage to reading all the directions first and understanding how the dish is supposed to flow. But you know how it is when you're used to cooking things in a particular order - like, starting the rice first and having it cook while you prepare the rest of the meal? Not so with this dish. In the end, though, it came out tasting terrific. Let's just say I got away with it this time.

This is my first time joining in Meeta's Monthly Mingle, over at What's For Lunch Honey? This month, the mingle is called Earth Food. She was inspired by the Live Earth event earlier this month, and is asking us to post a recipe that speaks to our desire to help our earth. How can rice and cauliflower pilaf help heal the earth, you ask? Simple. It's a dish prepared from things lower down on the food chain. I won't get into the whole political argument in favor of being a vegetarian - I'm not, and I doubt if I will switch to an entirely vegetarian diet. But I have been eating more and more vegetarian food ever since I came back from India. And it's the one thing we can all do to help heal our earth. Because when you make the conscious choice to eat a vegetarian meal, you are asking less of our agricultural production. When you eat the grains, instead of eating the chicken or cow or pig that ate the grain, you are cutting out one step in the chain from plant to human. The fewer the steps, the fewer the resources needed to feed people. So yes, you as an individual can do something to help heal our earth. You needn't do it every day, but if we choose to eat a vegetarian meal twice a week, for instance, we could make a significant impact on our lovely planet. This is one of the conscious choices I make to lessen my personal impact on the environment.
OK.....Off the soapbox and onto the recipe. This one's from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi. Last time I went to the Farmer's Market, I picked up a gorgeous cauliflower. Now, I know that most Americans aren't too keen on cauliflower. It's one of those vegetables that used to be served boiled to death back when we were kids, or it's the last one on the tray of veggies and dip, after all the carrots and broccoli are gone. So we're used to only 2 choices - tasteless and dead from boiling or raw with dip.
But if you're looking for a more interesting way to serve this incredibly healthy vegetable, turn to India, my friends. Cauliflower shows up in many recipes in Indian cuisine, and it often takes the starring role, rather than a bit part. I've never yet been disappointed by it's performance in India's fabulous culinary tradition. In her introduction to this dish, Ms. Devi states "You will be amazed at this cauliflower-rice combination, and you will find it a superb dish for entertaining." I agree. The only change I made (other than not measuring everything exactly) was to add peas at the end. I felt that the dish needed a visual "pop". Out came the frozen peas, and in they went at the last step, just before I fluffed it with a fork. Oh - and I didn't add any extra oil at the end.

For the cauliflower:

1/4C (25gm) fresh or dried grated coconut, lightly packed.
1 TBS (15ml) minced, seeded hot green chilies (or as desired)
1TBS scraped, finely shredded or minced fresh ginger root
3TBS (45ml) minced fresh parsley or coarsely chopped coriander
1/2C (120ml) plain yogurt
1/2 tsp (2ml) turmeric
1tsp (5ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1ml) freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS ghee or vegetable oil
1 small cauliflower (about 3/4 pound/340gm), washed, trimmed and cut into flowerets.

For the rice

1 C (95gm) basmati or other long-grain white rice
3TBS (45ml) ghee or a mixture of vegetable oil and unsalted butter
1 small cassia or bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp (7ml) cumin seeds
1/2 tsp (2ml) black mustard seeds
2 large black or 4 large green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 3/4 C (420-480ml) water
1 tsp (5ml) raw sugar
lemon or lime wedges or twists for garnishing

To cook the cauliflower

1. Combine the coconut, green chilies, ginger, parsley or corander and yogurt in a blender. (A food processor is much better!) Cover and blend until smooth. Scraper into a small bowl, add the turmeric, salt and pepper and mix.
2. Heat 3 TBS of ghee or oil in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Drop in the cauliflower and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the cauliflower has light brown edges. Pour in the yogurt mixture and stir well. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until the vegetable is dry and half-cooked.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a bowl.

To cook the rice

1. Clean the rice by placing it in a bowl and covering with water. Stir until the water becomes milky. Drain through a sieve, return the rice to the bowl and repeat until the water is clear.
2. Heat 1 1/2 TBS (22ml) of ghee or oil-butter mixture in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderate heat. Fry the cassia or bay leaf, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and cardamom pods until the mustard seeds turn gray and sputter and pop. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.3. Add the water and sweetener, raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a full boil. Stir in the seasoned cauliflower, immediately reduce the heat to very low and cover tightly. Seimmer gently, without stirring, for 20-25 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes to allow the grains to firm up. Just before serving, remove the cover, add the remaining 1 1/2TBD of ghee or butter-oil combination and fluff with a fork. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge or twist.A couple of notes: If you're not used to working with mustard seeds, I will tell you that when they heat up, they definitely sputter and pop. It's best to use one of those screens to cover the pan, so your mustard seeds don't leave the scene. Also, I didn't use whole cardamom pods, as I had some black cardamom seeds, which I ground in a mortar and pestle. Next time, I would just add some ground cardamom instead. I also highly recommend adding the peas at the very end. They not only add visual pop, but they're fresh, green crunch gave the dish an added texture which was delightful.

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Stella said...

My my Toni, this sounds utterly delicious!!!!
With all those herbs & spices, there's no doubt your pilaf won the hearts of many people;)

Katie Zeller said...

We have always loved cauliflower - though we don't eat much of it in summer, due to obvious reasons otherwise known as zucchini.
Always looking for new ways, 1 head usually feeds us for 2 - 3 meals,and paired with my other favorite, Basmati rice, this looks terrific!

Susan said...

I don't think the average American knows what to do w/ cauliflower except cover it over w/ cheese sauce.I agree with you, Toni - there are so many great Indian options for it. Your pilaf looks very inviting.

Thistlemoon said...

This looks amazing! I do love califlower. One of my favorite things to do with it is bake it in the oven and then serve it with a lemon tahini sauce! It really is good!

Chris said...

Looks totally yummy! I have come to like Cauliflower much more as I get older. mmmm....I love this recipe!

Unknown said...

Valentina - The taste was truly amazing, if I do say so myself!

Katiez - You actually like cauliflower? Increable!! (sorry - can't stick the accent in there!) Yes, I understand the zuccini issue. I hope we get lots of good recipes for zuccini this summer!!

Susan - Yes - It's a vehicle for cheese sauce. And bread crumbs, as I recall. Thanks for stopping by!

Jenn - Lemon tahini sauce? Sounds terrific! Will you post your recipe for that one so that the rest of us can enjoy it? I think it sounds like it would be perfect with Katiez's zuccini!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

You know, if I have 5 recipes for cauliflower, I think 4 of them are Indian. Cauliflower and Indian spices just make the perfect marriage. And your recipe is like the honeymoon! Delicious!

Toni said...

Susan - What a wonderfully kind thing to say -- "Like the honeymoon"....Thank you!

Anonymous said...

you know who would love this? My boyfriend! oh how he loves cauliflower & rice. I'll have to tuck this away and surprise him with it sometime in the fall. I bet it would be so pretty with orange or purple caulis. And the addition of peas is wonderful. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Ann - Orange or purple cauliflowers? Wow! Fabulous idea!!

Cynthia said...

Hi Toni, thanks for stopping by my blog and assisting in the discovery of yours. I missed Meeta's Monthly Mingle this time round... your entry is perfect. I'll definitely try that recipe sometime.

See you around.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Lovely and utterly delicious. I love this post and the recipe is outstanding!!"