Friday, September 7, 2012

Pilaf with cauliflower and egg

This is an unpretentious simple dish I often make for myself - a pilaf with Indian spices, cauliflower and eggs. My Indian friend Aayush was quick to point out that in India pilaf has either vegetables or meat/eggs and not both, but I like one-dish meals - protein, veggies and carbohydrates in one. 

The dish evolved over the years, fueled chiefly by my belief that cauliflower goes uncommonly well with cumin seed and turmeric, and that eggs goes well with curry. My most recent change to the recipe was cooking the cauliflower separately from the rice - I always found that the cauliflower cooked much quicker than the rice did, and ended up with watery soggy cauliflower. Roasting the florets in an oven gave it just the crunch it needed. 

Here's what I use:
2 cups rice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small onions or 1 medium onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon madras curry powder or Indian spice mix of your choice
1 laurel leaf (not pictured)
2.5 cups water

1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon madras curry powder or Indian spice mix of your choice
1/4 teaspoon salt

4 boiled and peeled eggs

Cut up a whole cauliflower into florets. I don't try to make the florets of uniform size - some are smaller, some are bigger - but I leave them that way; it adds variety to crunch and texture. Wash under running water, drain, and put in a bowl. Toss with some olive oil, cumin seeds and salt.

Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with aluminum foil and spread the cauliflower florets so that they don't crowd too much. Sprinkle with your choice of Indian spices. Roast in an oven at 400F for 15 minutes or until the largest pieces are still slightly crunchy. Shake them up a bit every five minutes so that one side or another doesn't burn. 

Timing-wise, it is best to start this right after you put the water on the rice (you will see later) but if the cauliflowers are done early, they can wait a few minutes. 

For the rice, you will need a (cast iron) skillet or heavy pot with a snug lid. You can't have too much moisture escaping while the rice cooks; you want it to steam nicely. 

Measure out your rice and wash the rice throughly in a large bowl. Just pour water on it, massage around with your hands and drain. Repeat 10 times or more until the water runs clear. Drain well. 

Chop up the garlic finely and dice the onions. Let them sizzle in the skillet over medium heat until translucent, and add the washed and drained rice. Stir around so that the rice is evenly coated with the oil and cook until the rice becomes a little translucent.

Add the water, salt, a laurel leaf and your favorite Indian spice mix. I used madras curry powder. Give it a good stir, put the (tight fitting) lid on and lower heat to a simmer. 


Start checking the rice after 10 minutes - and also, add the boiled eggs so that they are mostly submerged. You want them to pick up that nice yellow color. 

Cook until the water is all absorbed and the rice fluffy and tender. Do not stir too much, or you will break up the grains and make it mushy. The amount of water you need depends on your climate (if you live in a humid country, the rice will be more damp than if you lived in a dry area) and how tight-fitting your lid is. If, after 10 or 15 minutes, your rice seems still crunchy but there is no water left, sprinkle on a few tablespoons of water. If your rice seems wet and mushy, leave the lid off for a minute and let some of it evaporate. 

When the rice is cooked (no crunch left in the grains but the grains should still be "standing" as we say in Japanese - independent and distinguishable, not a mass of mushiness) add the roasted cauliflower and  stir gently so that the florets are partly covered, but not so much that the rice gets squished. Put the lid back on, turn off the heat and let stand for three minutes. 

Add a sprinkle of salt if necessary, and serve.

Serves four as a dinner. Recommended drink - a chilled masala chai with milk.

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