Pilaffing Out Loud
Growing up, we would regularly buy Near East brand lentil pilaf mix to have with dinner. It was easy to prepare, perfectly seasoned, and it went on sale frequently (since the Near East Company was local). Then, Near East was bought out by a large food producer. Immediately, the quality tanked. We stopped buying it. I went decades (yes, I am old) in a state of pilaf deprivation.
I recently, I got the notion to try to DIY some lentil pilaf. Many of the recipes I found are quite a production- onions (sometimes other vegetables, too) sautéed or caramelized, rice and lentils cooked separately, a bazar of spices- it just seems like a lot of work. What I have discovered is that simple is better when it comes to this classic dish. All it takes to make lentil pilaf is:
- 3/4 cup dry lentils I recommend using the brown ones. I found that red lentils cook much more quickly than the rice; they turn to an orange mush.
- 3/4 cup rice A long grain variety is traditional, but use whatever you already have.
- 3 cups liquid Water, broth, tomato juice, or a mixture of these are all acceptable.
- additional seasonings to taste, or not Seriously, any herb, spice, or blend thereof can be added. Use what your family likes.
Let me show you how easy it is to put it all together.
First, rinse the lentils. I always rinse my dry beans. They can be a little dusty. Also, sort through and make sure there are no sticks or tiny stones. Some people rinse their rice, I usually do not; it is your choice.
Put a pan over medium-high heat. I always use a pan that looks a little too big. You will nee the extra space.
Here is where that extra space comes in. Put the rice and lentils into the dry pan and stir until they start to smell toasty. This is the actual ”pilaffing” step, so do not skip it. It takes about 3-5 minutes.
Once the rice looks golden, add your liquid. I went with broth. Lid your pan, let the liquid come to a boil, turn the burner down to low, and let it cook for about 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.
While that is cooking, let’s talk about why dishes like lentil pilaf are good for you. Dishes made with a bean and a grain contain a complete protein; they have all 9 essential amino acids. There is a good deal of evidence that getting more protein from plants and less from animal sources is beneficial. Take a look at these articles:
- Mayo Clinic has this article on the benefits of making some meals meatless.
- The American Heart association has something to say about eating a plant-forward diet.
- I like the term “flexitarian”. The International Food Safety Council does a good job of explaining what that word means.
The main point is that replacing some of the meat, eggs, and dairy in your diet with plants is a healthy choice.
Take a little nibble after the liquid is absorbed, some times it takes a few extra tablespoons of water to get the rice fully cooked. Let the perfectly cooked pilaf sit for a few minutes and then give it a stir. It is ready to serve.
Here is a complete, healthy, and might I add inexpensive meal: rice pilaf and some heated-up-from-frozen broccoli florets. I am so glad I put the time into learning to make a good rice pilaf. I think my DIY version is better than any boxed product. Rice and lentils are always affordable where I live. I can change up the seasonings, so it will never be boring. There is no down side.
What plant-forward dishes do you like to DIY? Share in the comments!