Grains Of Life: Rice


Despite taking a long time to spread across the globe, rice is now used in cuisines all over the world. On the Asian continent in particular, it is more vitally important than wheat. The seed of a paddy plant grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions and climates, it has the distinction of being the only grain that lives in water. Nourishing as well as filling, rice is at the same time one of the rare foodstuffs that does not contain gluten. A people of Central Asian origin, the Turks have been familiar with rice and rice dishes for thousands of years. Consumed in place of bread in its homeland of China, India and the neighboring geographies, rice dishes acquired cachet as banquet fare among the Turks and Iranians, and the technique of making Turkish-style pilaffs is observed in cultures from Istanbul right across Anatolia, including Iraq, Syria and Egypt, all regions once under Ottoman rule.

The earliest Ottoman recipes for pilaff (Turkish pilav) are found in a book composed by Muhammed Bin Mahmud Şirvanî. The first recipe in the book is for muzafferiye pilavı made with chicken, almonds, saffron and sugar, and the second for dane-i kabuni pilav, which is made with meat and chickpeas. Pilav containing a golden chickpea was served at the famous feasts given by Mehmed the Conqueror’s grand vizier, Mahmud Pasha, in the belief that whoever got the golden chickpea would have good fortune. Colorful rice pilaffs were served meanwhile at lavish 16th and 17th century banquets. Named for their color of yellow, green or red, these pilaffs were colored with saffron, spinach water or pomegranate juice. When served together with white pilaff they made a visual feast. At dinner the pilaff was served at the end of the meal, either with or followed by stewed fruit. According to the oldest recipes, the rice is cooked together with the other ingredients, but in some 18th century recipes the rice is first cooked in water or meat broth and melted butter poured over it afterwards. In one very old method described in Arabic-language recipes from the 13th century, a cloth is placed over the rice after it is cooked, and the pot covered tightly with a lid to let it steep.  We know from a 17th century source that the same method was used in Ottoman cuisine. Cooked chicken, lamb or eggs either boiled or in the form of omelette were sometimes added on top of cooked rice. Pilaffs served in sweet sauces were, again, offered at the end of the meal. Pilaff was eaten with a wooden spoon.


500 g lamb (lean, boned and cubed), 1 onion finely chopped, 2 tsp butter, 1 tbsp red pepper paste, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper.

Melt the 2 tsp butter in a skillet, add the onion and saute until it begins to color. Add the cubed lamb and continue sauteing. When the juices have been absorbed, add the pepper paste and stir. Add two cups of water and let simmer. When the meat is tender, add salt and pepper and turn off the heat. Melt 100 g of butter in a skillet, add the soaked, rinsed and drained rice and saute, stirring, until all the grains are well coated. Then add salt. Remove the tas kebab to a round bowl.  Reverse it into the center of a larger Pyrex baking dish, arrange the sauteed rice around it and add three cups of boiling liquid (preferably chicken stock). Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in an 180C oven for 15 minutes. Then turn off the oven and let the dish stand in the closed oven for 15-20 minutes longer. Serve piping hot.


1 kg rice (Baldo), 150 g butter, 1/4 cup olive oil,
1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup each fresh mint, green onion, flat leaf parsley and dill weed, all finely chopped, 4 cups water or chicken stock.

Soak the rice for 20 minutes in lukewarm water, rinse and drain.

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the rice, stirring well. When all the grains are well coated, add the salt, mint, parsley, dill and green onion and then the water. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the water is absorbed. Lower the heat and let stand for 20 minutes. Mix from the side and let stand another 10 minutes. Serve piping hot.



1/2 kg lamb stew meat, 2 onions, 4 tbsp butter, 2 large carrots, 1 tbsp pistachios, 1 tbsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 4 cloves, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp black pepper, 2 cups rice, 2 cups meat stock, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp water (to moisten the rice).

Rinse the meat and drain. Place in a pot with the salt and brown. In a separate pot saute the onions in the butter. Cut the carrots in Julienne strips and add to the onion, stirring briefly. Then add the pistachios, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt and pepper, and add this mixture to the meat.

To the meat in the pot add the rice, which has been soaked in salted water, cooled, rinsed and drained. Place a flat tray or lid on top (to keep the rice in place). Add boiling water from around the edge and cover tightly. Simmer over low heat until all the water is absorbed. Then cover with waxed paper, replace the lid and let steep for 15 minutes.