Pilaf, pilaff, pilau, or pillau is a grain-based dish usually made with rice or bulgur, though other grains such as pearl barley makes a very nice pilaf as well. The name, according to The Joy of Cooking, is Persian in origin - though atesh informs me that pilaf or pilav is Turkish for rice - but the basic recipe is widespread throughout the Middle East, the Caucasus, and India.

The preparation of pilaf generally begins by sauteing the grain with butter or oil and then cooking it in stock. The dish may also contain chopped vegetables or meat, seafood, or poultry, and Indian pilafs often contain curry spices as well as cashews. If the pilaf contains a variety of vegetables and meats it may be a main dish, while the recipe that follows makes a lovely side dish to complement a spicy main.

Caramelized Onion Pilaf

First, you'll need to set aside up to an hour to properly prepare caramelized onions. One medium onion and a little oil will do. Make the mushy, not the crispy, ones. It takes time and patience to make good caramelized onions: for complete instructions, go here. To save on washing up, cook the onion in the pot you're going to use for making the pilaf; it should have a heavy bottom and a tight-fitting lid: your basic rice pot.

Use about 1-1/2 cups (180 ml) jasmine or basmati rice for 4 people. If basmati, soak for 15 minutes first and then drain well. If jasmine, just rinse.

Once the onion is properly caramelized, add the rice and sauté, stirring, for about 3 minutes. The rice grains should be completely covered with oil.

Add 2 cups (240 ml)1 chicken stock (homemade is best, and sneff has the goods on that here) or roasted vegetable stock and a little salt if you wish. Bring to the boil, then cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook for 15 minutes without peeking or stirring. Remove from the heat and let sit 5 minutes, still no peeking, before you lift the lid, inhale the lovely aroma, gently stir, and serve. Yum.

Note: these proportions are for white rice. If using brown rice, use twice as much liquid as rice.

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