Pilaf: The Culturally Diverse Rice Dish

Pilaf is also known as pilau, pulao, polo, polow, and many other related words in different parts of the world. The multitude of names for this dish speaks to the geographical and cultural diversity of this winsome rice dish. Read on to unfold the impressive historical and culinary aspects of pilaf.

What is Pilaf?

Pilaf, a staple from all over Asia, has been a popular rice dish in various world cuisines since 900 AD. There isn’t an exclusive recipe for pilaf as different regions adopted their own styles for cooking this culinary masterpiece as it gradually circulated around the world. However, any rice dish in which the rice grains are cooked in a seasoned broth accompanying vegetables and/or meat, and yielding firm, fluffy, and most importantly, separated grains that don’t stick together, is more or less called a pilaf. 

What Does Pilaf Mean?

The word “pilaf” is likely to have a Persian origin as the ancient Persian word “pilav” refers to “a dish of grains that have been cooked in stock”. Similarly, in the Indo-Aryan language, the word “pula” means “a dish with meat and rice”, indicating the geographical roots of pilaf as having a diverse nature encompassing several regions of the world. To confuse things further, some historians attribute the origin of “pilaf” to “pulaka” a Sanskrit word meaning “cake of boiled rice”.

Image Credit: Seb Powen from Pixabay 

Pilaf vs Risotto

Pilaf is a rich buttery rice dish, often prepared with basmati rice in most Asian cuisines that deeply absorbs the flavors of meat stock, meat pieces, aromatic spices, herbs, butter, or desi ghee into which it’s cooked. The texture of pilaf is light, soft, and fluffy such that each rice grain is firm yet elegantly separated from the other ones, unlike risotto in which rice grains are closely stuck together, giving a softer and more slippery texture. On top of that, pilaf is comparatively dry in texture, while a risotto offers a velvety creamy consistency.

How to Make Rice Pilaf?

In Latin America and the majority of European regions, a rice pilaf refers more to the method of cooking rice such that the grains do not adhere together. To prepare a Brazilian rice pilaf, first rice or orzo and/or vermicelli are sauteed in a mixture of butter, onions, and spices until light brown. Later, rice is slow-cooked in stock and additional seasonings until tender which is followed by the addition of peas, parsley, and lime juice. 

Rice pilaf is almost always served alongside accompaniments like lemon wedges, toasted dry fruits, cilantro, or other herbs. You can give pilaf a try following this recipe.

Pilaf Pairings

Asian and Middleeastern pilaf is considered a meal in itself, owing to the addition of meat, chicken, or fish coupled with vegetables, fried nuts, raisins, and sometimes saffron. To name a few, lamb pilaf, chicken pilaf, and Uzbek plov come at the top. 

However, pilaf is more of a side dish in other parts of the world where it can be made from grains ranging from wild rice to brown rice, and bulgur to quinoa. Rice pilaf is best enjoyed alongside roasted or grilled meat pieces, veggies of your choice, and sometimes sauces. However, we find celery, leeks, Brussels sprouts, carrots, eggplants, and olives among the best veggies to pair with your pilaf. 

To enjoy a complete meal with a buttery bowl of pilaf, you can try out these wholesomely flavorful recipes:

      Pork Chops with Orzo Pilaf and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

      Thai Basil Beef

●      White Fish with Herb Butter over Spinach

Feature Image: Flickr user Arthur Chapman ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

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