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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Star of the Orient

istanbul pilaf chickpeas
Istanbul from the boat, north side of Golden Horn Bay, with Galata tower
Pilaf is a national dish in Afghan, Uzbek, Swahili, Tajik and Bukharan Jewish cuisines. (Thank you Wikipedia)    

    Pilaf is a dish that's popular in whole Balkans. Not only Balkans, people of Caucasus too can't live without fluffy rice, people of Middle East, Central Asia, even India. Afghanistan, occupied country known by it's poppy fields and insurgents also enjoys pilaf on daily basis. They say Europeans first saw pilaf when Alexander's Macedonian armies reached country called Bactria. Rich country, with very hospitable people, and what did they offer to the famous Macedonian ruler... Pilaf, what else?!
   On Balkans pilaf is known as the dish that came with Turks. In Serbia people prepare it with chicken, pork or lamb and it's known as a dish that always contains meat.
    Some 4 or 5 years ago I was traveling around Turkey. Spend some cool days in Istanbul, riding across the Bosporus on those city boats back and forth and haggling for stuff I'm not gonna buy just for the hell of it. One day in a kebab shop i saw they sometimes serve rice with kebabs instead of pita bread. Rice wasn't plain it had some chickpeas in it. Although back then I wasn't much into cooking, so for me chickpeas looked like hazelnuts, and i was like wtf, rice with hazelnuts, these Turks are crazy. Not a long time after that, I realized how stupid I was, pilaf with chickpeas, what a great idea!
spice bazar istanbul chickpeas pilaf
Spice bazaar in Istanbul
- rice, they usually make pilaf with round-grain rice (in Balkans we have an authentic kind called Kočanski rice from town Kočani in Macedonia), although i often use brown rice. You need one cup (250 g or 8,8 oz),
chickpeas pilaf
- water, 3 cups if you're using brown rice, 2 cups if you choose round-grain rice
- chickpeas, half of one cup (around 120 g or 4,2 oz),
- carrots, you'll need two big ones,
- onions, one big one,
- garlic, one clove ,
- cumin, tumeric (curcuma) powder, bay leaf, black peppercorns, ground pepper, cardamon clove, thyme, salt, oil, vinegar (or lemon juice)... That's about it.

1.  First leave the chickpeas to soak in water for the night, that way you'll need much less time to cook them before adding them to the rice and other ingredients.  

2.  After whole night of soaking drain the chickpeas and boil them, if you are using canned ones you skip first 2 steps, raw ones you need to boil around an hour (if you left them soaking the night before) or 2 hours if you didn't. After that drain them and save the water.  

3.  Chop an onion, crush the garlic, put it on some hot oil. 

4.  When they get brown, add cumin, bay leaf, black peppercorns, crushed cardamom clove, some thyme and turmeric. Mix it all up.  

5.  Cut the carrots thin and add them to the pot. Add the chickpeas as well. , Add water use water you cooked chickpeas in, if there's not enough of that water add some from the tap, then add salt. Leave it to the boil.  

6.  Wash your rice in the drainer, then add it to the pot. When it boils again, cover it and lower the temperature to the lowest level on the scale. If you used brown rice it will take around one hour, if you used white rice it will take less. Anyway check your pilaf from time to time. 

7.  When all water disappears, add more thyme, some ground pepper, some vinegar or lemon juice and few spoons of oil more (pilaf is very fatty dish). Turn off the heat and leave it covered for about 20 minutes.

    When you serve pilaf drop some chili paprika flakes on top. If you are just vegetarian you can eat it with one spoon of sour cream on the side. Pilaf goes well with some sour salads like vitamin salad, cabbage salad, lettuce salad etc. It can be a main dish, or side dish.
chickpeas pilaf
Pilaf sprinkled with chili pepper flakes, served with lettuce salad

     If you fallow macrobiotic diet, pilaf is a great dish for you. You can easily synchronize the ingredients to be in-line with everything you learned from George_Osawa and Michio Kushi books. You just put same amount of brown rice, 200 grams of carrots (7 oz),  of onions and only 50 grams of chickpeas (2 oz). If you don't want your pilaf to be so oily you put onions on some water instead of hot oil, and just add some oil in the end. 

     When preparing this fantastic dish I always remember first time I went to Istanbul, it's great riverboats, spices stoles on crowded markets and row of fisherman on Galata Bridge. This city saw so much history and different cuisine influence and is as Balkan as it can be, although only one half of the city is geographically on the peninsula.


  1. Nice one. Might want to soak chickpeas over night (12 hours) and throw away the water, to remove the enzyme inhibitors. Plus it takes only 30 minutes to cook them afterwards. Soaking is desirable for all nuts and seeds :)

  2. Actually usually do that when preparing chickpeas, beans etc. Just forgot to mention it in the recipe. Thanks for the advice. I'll add it in the text. :)