Saturday, 13 October 2012

downton suppers: keema and channa pilau

keema and channa pilau
pilau is one of my favourite one-pot recipes. it’s the pakistani equivalent of a casserole and summons comfort and nourishment. i do believe that pilau is a genre of rice dishes given its many versions. my curiosity about its origins prompted a consultation with alan davidson’s oxford companion to food. apparently pilaf or pilau is a method of cooking ‘so that every grain remains separate, and the name of the resulting dish’. pilau can be plain but its popular renditions include flavouring from meat or vegetables.

the first description of the pilaf technique appears in the thirteenth century in two arab books written in baghdad and syria. it includes instructions on how to steam the rice with a cloth beneath the lid which is the way mama taught me how to steam pilau. interestingly one of the oldest recipes for pilaf is for qabuli pulaw. i had always associated this with afghan cuisine but was surprised to find that it actually means ‘hospitality pilaf’ and encompasses variations from central asia including my favourite kabuli pulao which features red meat with a garnish of sweetened fried carrots and raisins. in the sub-continent pilau is associated with the mughal court. the mughals were known to cultivate elaborate foods that brought together south asian spices with persian techniques. 

i have been cooking pilau for a little over two years now and having become more confident in my ability to cook has led me to experiment with the ingredients. the classic chicken, channa or peas pilau are staple favourites. more creative combinations include a broad-bean, dill and petite pois pilaf, a saffron and haddock one and a pea and beetroot one that left a lovely pink stain on the rice. this weekend i decided to conquer keema pulao. this version appeared in mama’s kitchen in recent years and sometimes includes kidney beans or chick peas. a cucumber or spinach laced raita lends it coolness. i added a chopped preserved lemon to the raita to give it a little sharpness. i would recommend using a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. this allows for a longer steam without the risk of burning the rice. 

{keema and channa pilau} 

one tablespoon oil 
one onion sliced into thin half moons 
half inch piece of ginger 
three cloves garlic 
a teaspoon of salt 
a piece of cinnamon 
a large bayleaf 
six to eight peppercorns 
five cloves 
half a teaspoon red chilli flakes 
five hundred grams twenty per cent fat beef mince 
three tablespoons tomato paste 
one cup water 
one can chickpeas, drained 
one cup basmati rice, rinsed until the water is clear 
two cups water 

start by browning the onions in the oil. do this over low to medium heat. as mentioned in other pakistani recipes on the blog this process is essential to the depth of flavour so do not try to rush it along. while this is happening make a paste out of the ginger, garlic and salt using a pestle and mortar. 

once the onions are golden brown add the ginger garlic paste and all the spices. let these broil for half a minute or so. the spices will release their aromas. now turn the heat to high and add the mince beef. fry it on high heat until it looses its rawness and is a uniform light brown. reduce the heat to medium and add the tomato paste and the cup of water. simmer the mince until the water evaporates. 

well bhuno-ed mince
now it is time to bhuno the mince (around ten to fifteen minutes). this involves frying the mince until its colour deepens and it sweats the spiced oil in which it is fried. it also removes all traces of rawness, both in terms of smell and flavour. when the mince is a deep brown add the drained chickpeas followed by the rice and two cups of water. bring the contents of the pan to a rolling boil before reducing the heat to very low. cover with a tight fitting lid lined with a clean kitchen cloth. after forty minutes turn the heat off and let the rice rest for a further ten minutes. before serving fluff the grains with a fork.

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