Pistachio and prune pilaf

or…what my friend missed. Yesterday, having invited a friend around for lunch, I served up mince and lumpy mash. A sort of deconstructed shepherd’s pie? Not really. It was Indian, not the savoury mince Australians make. I wanted a different taste from the kheemas I usually make, so I cooked the (beef) mince with garlic, ginger, onion, Julie Sahni’s master curry powder, which I make often, chopped tomatoes, and at the end before serving, asparagus (instead of peas), chopped coriander and lemon juice. How bad could that turn out?

It was okay, but I wonder what I could have done to make it more than that? I mean, apart from serving it with a yoghurt and cucumber raita on the side, plus kasundi made by an Adelaide friend, and starring on the day, lumpy mash. I suck at mash.

Today we revisited the mysterious Indian mince dish but it was given a step up by the rice we had with it. Not that the rice was perfect, it definitely needs a little more than it got today. Nonetheless, for a start:


  • 450 ml basmati, washed and soaked for 30 minutes, then drained
  • 600 ml water
  • half a teaspoon tumeric
  • salt
  • several onions halved and finely sliced
  • half a cup of pistachios – salted because that’s what I had, shelled and chopped
  • half a dozen prunes pitted and chopped
  • grapeseed oil – I’d run out of ghee, which would have been better


  • Put the basmati in a pot with the water, tumeric and salt to taste. I was easy on the salt on account of the pistachios being salted, but I should have been less cautious. Bring to boil, stirring a few times, cover and reduce to a simmer.
  • While the rice is cooking, in a non-stick pan fry the onions to a rich brown colour. By the time that’s happened, the rice will be dry on top. Quickly put the onions onto the top of the rice and let sit, covered, whilst
  • fry the prunes and pistachios in whatever bit of oil is left in the frying pan and then add them to the top of the rice.
  • When you are sure that the rice is cooked through, gently fold the onions, prunes and pistachios through the rice, let it sit for a bit longer before serving.

My next attempt at this will be better. Obviously, more in the tradition of a pilaf, stock would be better than salt. I’d run out of ghee, with its rich taste. Grapeseed oil shares the capacity for being used at high heat, but is neutral in taste. While the rice was cooking I should have added more whole spices, along the lines of Jaffrey’s yellow rice. Whole cumin seeds at the end, sizzled in oil/ghee would also have been a good addition too.

I wonder too if adding finely chopped onion to the rice from the start, as well as the fried sliced onion might be a plan. Garlic? For the first time in my life as a person who cooks, I’ve run out of garlic. Unbelievable.


Stir-fry rice, Indian style

I often make this ‘everyday’ basmati rice and have leftovers. We did this with it tonight.


  • leftover everyday basmati rice (or similar)
  • best quality freshly seeded and chopped tomato – I used about 15 cherry tomatoes for 2 serves
  • chopped mint and flat leaf parsley
  • chopped pistachios


Gently stir-fry rice in a non-stick pan – no ghee/oil is needed as the rice was cooked in this in the first instance. Add other ingredients, continue stirring until all are heated through.

Serve with….

On the side

We had plain yoghurt to which was added coarsely grated and squeezed (to get rid of some of the liquid) cucumber, a finely chopped clover of garlic, salt, pepper and ground roasted cumin.


  • The rice dish is vegetarian, but it could happily have some chicken mixed into it.
  • And obviously variation of herbs and nuts is possible too.

Fabulous and a few minutes to make, given the rice is already done.

Pilau rice

This is a Rosemary Moon recipe I hadn’t made for yonks. In salad days I’ve been known to add marinated BBQed kebab chunks.

I made this as part of my Geneva on a severe budget cooking experiment: 4 weeks on 20CHF a day. This dish is lovely and it costs all of about 3.50CHF to make. And that’s buying the best aged basmati from my local Indian grocer. Don’t buy rice from the supermarket. The difference between it, and what you can get at an Indian shop is enormous. Just ask for the best they have: you can’t go wrong.

Pilau rice with chana masala
Pilau rice with chana masala


basmati rice to 450ml line in a measuring cup
a couple of tablespoons of ghee
1 large onion cut in half from top to bottom and sliced finely
4 garlic cloves peeled and finely diced
8 whole cloves
8 green cardamom pods, tops slit open
2-4 inches cinnamon stick in pieces
8 peppercorns
1 teasp turmeric
600ml water
chicken stock cube or salt to taste, perhaps 1 teasp
butter for frying
30g dried sultanas
30g slivered or flaked almonds


Wash rice and soak for 30 minutes, then drain for 30 minutes.

Melt ghee in saucepan and gently fry onion over medium heat, stirring, until it softens and then starts to brown. Add the garlic and whole spices and fry, stirring until onions are golden brown. Add rice and turmeric and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes. Turn heat down and keep cooking and stirring for another couple of minutes – don’t burn! Add stock or water and salt, bring to boil while stirring now and again. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit another 10 minutes or so. In a small pan heat the butter and fry the sultanas and then the almonds. Stir gently into the rice with a fork.

This adds 20 minutes cooking time to the rice because it takes so long to cook the onions, but it’s worth it.

Serves 2 for 3 meals. Reheat in non-stick pan.

Pilau rice, a variation.

Hands down, Indians do the best things to rice. If the rice is good, I’d happily stand at the pot eating it and not bother with the rest of the meal at all.

You can serve this on the side of meat/vegetarian dishes, or you can toss meat through it. Occasionally I’ve added marinated BBQed kebab chunks left over from another meal.

Pilau rice


Basmati rice measured to 450 ml
600 ml chicken stock or salted water
60g ghee
1 large onion, finely sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
8 whole cloves
8 cardamoms, the top of each split open
2 cinnamon sticks, each c. 2” long, broken nup
8 whole pepper corns
1 teasp turmeric
15g butter
30g dried sultanas
30g flaked almonds


Wash the rice under running water until it runs clear, then soak in water for 30 minutes and then drain for 30 minutes.

Melt the ghee in a saucepan over a medium heat and fry the onion until soft, but not yet browning. Add the garlic and spices less the turmeric, and stir until onions are golden brown. Add the rice and turmeric. The idea now is to make sure the rice grains are coated in the ghee, this takes a couple of minutes, stirring vigilantly. Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer on as low heat as possible for about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes or so. This is such a nice thing to be able to do to the rice as it frees up hotplates to do other things with while it happily sits. It will stay warm and happy off the heat for half an hour if you need that much time.

Melt the butter over a low heat and fry the sultanas until they change colour and swell. Put on a plate and then fry the almonds until a little browned. Remove. Mix the sultanas and almonds into the rice. For looks you pile all this onto a warmed serving plate, leaving a few of the almonds and sultanas to sprinkle on top as a garnish. I quite like to leave it all in the saucepan, serve the rice from there and then I can put the lid back on and keep it warm until people ask for more…which will be very, very soon.

Rice with peas

This is a very gentle rice dish, common in India. It goes with everything. I use MJ’s instructions.

To cook the rice:

1) measure rice up to 450ml in a measuring jug

2) put it in a sieve and thoroughly run water through it until the water runs clear. It will be cloudy at first.

3) put it in a bowl and cover it with water to soak for 30 minutes

4) drain in the sieve and let sit to drain more for 30 minutes

Now you can do all sorts of things to it. Today we had rice with peas.


The prepared rice
One onion finely chopped
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups of peas fresh or frozen
600ml water or stock (I use chicken if not cooking for vegetarians)
1 teasp of salt or a stock cube if using water rather than stock
3 tblsp ghee or oil


In a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, heat the ghee.

When hot put in the cumin seeds and stir for a few seconds while they sizzle. Quickly add the onion and fry until it starts to become a little brown – flecked brown.
Add the rice and peas and stir for a couple of minutes to make sure the rice is well coated with the ghee. You can turn down the heat if the rice is sticking to the pan.
Now add the stock, or water and salt or stock cube. Turn heat to high and stir gently until the water is boiling.

Turn heat to very low and cover pan with lid.

In about 13-15 minutes check that the rice is nicely cooked, it should be dry and soft, no liquid. You may wish to let it sit for ten minutes off the heat at this point. It will stay piping hot. Gently stir as the grains of rice are very fragile so that the rice becomes separate and not stuck together.

Ways I have with arsenic. Rice, that is.

I know I’m supposed to be feeling bad, I love rice and I’ve been poisoning my loved ones and myself with it. But actually, I’m feeling pretty smug. Apparently the worst offender is brown rice, which has always struck me as some sort of punishment from God. I’ve known people who flagellate themselves and they eat brown rice too. Enough said. If you haven’t followed the story, you can see the FDA’s analysis here and a blog discussion of it here.

I’ve been meaning to put down some ways of cooking basmati. You start off with the best rice there is, but that’s not to say one can’t make it even better. If your plan is to bump off the rich rellie and inherit the dosh, I wouldn’t necessarily pick doing it with rice, but if you are choosing rice as your murder weapon, these recipes aren’t for you. Basmati is the lowest scoring on the arsenic measurement. Go brown rice. Trouble is, the rich rellie will probably disown you for daring to dish up the dreadful tasting stuff long before you’ve managed to bump them off.

Yellow rice

This is off the top of my head, from Jaffrey.


450 ml Basmati rice
half a teaspoon of turmeric
half a dozen cloves
half a dozen cardamom pods, slightly opened (this is my addition)
half a dozen peppercorns
a bay leaf
a stick of cinammon
600 ml chicken stock or salted water.


Rinse the rice thoroughly, and then soak in water for half an hour. Drain.

Put rice in saucepan with everything but the butter and bring to the boil, stirring. Cover and turn heat as low as possible. Cook for 12-15 minutes. Turn off and let sit for a bit. Take out whole spices and add maybe a couple of tablespoons or so of butter, mix gently.

That’s it!

Freezes well.

And this is a Charmaine Solomon recipe, again from the top of my head. Love this.

Rice with sesame seeds


Basmati rice to 450ml mark, washed, soaked for 30 minutes and then drained for the same amount of time.
A medium sized carrot (or thereabouts) peeled and grated.
Sesame seeds, a heaped teaspoon (I put in more, love sesame seeds). Toast them first.
Dried sultanas, maybe a handful or so.
600 ml Chicken stock


Fry the rice gently in a little ghee until nicely covered with fat, add all the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, and then simmer very low for 12 minutes or so. Turn off, you can let it sit before you fluff it up with a fork – gently done – and then serve.

A once off recipe. Almost vegetarian.

It’s interesting to consider that two things which are no good on their own can combine to make something worthy of recording.

In this case I had some tomatoes sitting on the bench for a long time, decidedly unwanted as it’s been a lousy season, but despite that I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. Eventually I gently fried some onion and garlic, added the tomatoes roughly chopped and let that stew away until I gave up on the process improving them. They were still no good.

Earlier in the week I’d made a complete hash of a roast lamb. My idea had been to slow roast it with garlic, rosemary, olive oil and lots of white wine, adding potatoes at some point which were going to soak up all the lovely liquids I envisaged their sitting in. In practice, I had the heat up way too high and I guess I also should have done all this with a cover over the pan, as the liquids kept evaporating at a devilish rate, the quicker I threw in more wine, the quicker it seemed to disappear. Nonetheless, at the end of proceedings there was a combination of fat and cooking liquids which I popped in the fridge.

Neither of these two things was worthy of being kept, but realising the fridge had to be cleared as we were going to Singapore the next day, I made our guests Thomas and Genia the subjects of an experiment.

While frying some risotto rice – about a coffee cup full – in olive oil, in a separate saucepan the tomatoes and lamb sauce were heating up; then the rice went into the pot. Stirring this on a low heat from time to time, I prepared baby leaf spinach – lots of it. When the rice was close to cooked (I winged this, and I didn’t need to add more stock/water, but was prepared to if necessary), the spinach went in, once it collapsed I put the lid on the pan and let it all sit for five minutes. Grated parmesan was stirred in just before serving. We had a rocket and parmesan salad on the side.

I loved it, but as you can see, it is a dish that will never be cooked again!

While not being vegetarian, I eat a lot less meat than I used to and dishes like this which have no more than a hint of meat in them are perfect for me.