Pilaf as a Main

August 30, 2011

Randy and I have sort of a don’t ask/don’t tell approach to my cookbook collection.  As in, don’t ask me if I have bought any new ones lately and I don’t tell you.  Sometimes eyebrows are raised.  Sometimes mental measurements are taken on the diminishing space on the “overflow” shelf.  Sometimes heads shake.  As in, no, no, no, not another one.

But here is the thing.  I am kind of a girly girl.  I like to dress up and I like nice things.  I could very easily be collecting shoes or purses or expensive perfumes.  Instead I collect cookbooks.  Relatively inexpensive and something I use every day.  Whenever he starts to comment I remind him, oh so gently, that his life is greatly enriched by the fact that we are surrounded by so many wonderful books with so many wonderful recipes and so much of the wonderful food I make comes from these wonderful books.

Tonight our dinner came from one of my newest acquisitions – Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume.  The book was written by the chef of an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.  In bookstores, I pick up Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookbooks all the time – those are the cuisines I miss most from our year in London and is difficult to find decent restaurants in Seattle.  Most of the books I peruse have too many meat dishes for me to buy them.  Although this book has a meat and poultry chapter, as well as one for fish, there are still so many tempting recipes for me to try in those pages.  And not just mezze.

I tell you this because the book happened to be sitting near us as we ate and Randy put down his fork (put down his fork!), picked up the book (picked up a cookbook!), and started reading through the recipes, voicing aloud the ones that sounded good to him (!!!).  In other words, this dish was that good.  If you know Randy, and if you read here often enough you probably feel like you do, unsolicited praise means a dish is out of sight.  Actually picking up a book and requesting dishes to be made out of it it is unheard of.

This pilaf is the third thing I have made out of the book (the soup I made last night is next up on the blog), and all have been incredible.  And in need of serious tweaking.  I’m not sure if this is the result of a restaurant chef writing a home cookbook or if something happened when the British measurements got transcribed into American ones, but if I didn’t know a thing or two about cooking, I probably would have thrown the book across the kitchen in frustration.  Of course, I am far from an expert about this kind of cuisine, but I do know that 1½ cups of rice and 3 ounces of pasta will need much more than 2 cups of liquid to turn out all right.

So, I’ve tweaked.  And I’m giving you the tweaked recipe.  I changed the proportions, I used spaghetti instead of vermicelli (angel hair is what I normally use but my little market up the street didn’t have it and what’s more, we both liked the thicker strands of pasta in there).  I added spice where there was none and some additional shallots.  This dish is probably meant to be a side dish along side some lamb or chicken.  We ate it as a main course alongside the previously mentioned soup and some perfect steamed green beans.  The author says it is street food, Turkish-style.  Both Randy and I say it is food we could eat everyday and be completely happy.

One Year Ago:  Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Cream Frosting
Two Years Ago:  Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Pilaf with Vermicelli, Chickpeas, Apricots, and Pistachios
Adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume
Serves 4-6

I have a large spice cabinet and I actually have something called Turkish spice mix, bought at a farmers’ market.  This dish needs something so, assuming you do not have Turkish spice, you can add pinches of cumin, coriander, even a bit of curry.  Fennel would be fine too.  And lots of black pepper. 

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 shallots, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron
2 tsp. Turkish spice mix
3 ounces vermicelli pasta (or angel hair or spaghetti), broken into 1-inch lengths
1½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup cooked chickpeas (I used canned)
½ cup chopped dried apricots
4 cups vegetable stock or water
½ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Melt the butter, then add the shallots and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes.  Stir in saffron and the spices.  Add the vermicelli and stir continuously until the pasta starts to turn golden.  It burns easily so be careful.  Add the rice, chickpeas, and apricots and stir to coat the rice with the fat and the spices.  Pour in stock (or water) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid.  Cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Check for water a couple of times as you might need to add more.

When the rice is tender, add the pistachios and turn off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with a clean kitchen towel and replace the lid.  Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes – this will allow the the rice to cook further and become more fluffy.

One more thought:  My dish was not particularly fluffy.  I didn’t mind, it was stick to your ribs hearty which is nice for a main course.  Arborio rice, the one that was called for in this recipe and which is also used to make risotto, is starchy and heavier than a basmati.  I imagine that if you use basmati or jasmine, you will end up with a fluffier pilaf.  Let me know if you try?


  1. Thank you for sharing your version of the recipe! I’ve been having a bit of a love affair with rice lately and I love the idea of some fruits like apricots in a pilaf!

    Comment by Faith @ For the Health of It — August 30, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  2. Rice-a-Roni it is not, but it always reminds me of the commercial whenever I see vermicelli added in. This cookbook sounds as though it is worthy of a place on your shelves.

    Comment by bellini — August 30, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  3. I, too, am a cookbook collector. I don’t know why it gets such reactions as disapproving looks and shaking heads from people. I could be collecting something far more expensive and completely useless (barring the item being worth something in the distant future, of course). My husband collects figurines from games and other nerdy pursuits and I’m fine with that – but honestly, they sit on a shelf or in their packages and do nothing. So why are we persecuted (for that’s sometimes what it feels like) for collecting cookbooks? Other people buy books, read them once, and place them on a shelf to collect dust. At least our collection is something we will come back to over and over again.

    My husband cites that I rarely cook from them, but I can’t use 100+ cookbooks every day. I do have my favorites I use regularly, mostly baking books. I have some I purchased purely because they were aesthetically pleasing and haven’t made a thing from them because once I got them, I realized the recipes really didn’t sound very good to me or were too fussy. Others I have because they are highly praised and I might make one or two items from them, but on the shelf they sit after that. Still, I think the thing for people to realize is their potential – even sitting on the shelf, they have far more future potential than most other collections.

    So take comfort in the fact that you, like many of us, have the same “addiction”, as some have called it, as many of the rest of us. Never feel guilty about your cookbook collection! Besides, you can always argue that it’s directly related to your job (at least as a food blogger goes).

    Comment by Lissa Brooks from Tacoma — August 30, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

  4. Whoa…picked up the cookbook and starting looking at recipes?! I can’t imagine my husband doing that. Thi pilaf must have been good! You certainly have me convinced!

    Comment by Rachel — August 30, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  5. I am with you with the cookbooks. They are everywhere in my house and I always buy new ones. Would love to have has many purses and shoes as cookbooks :) I can’t picture myself without cookbooks. They are part of who I am.

    Comment by Helene — August 30, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

  6. I am not much of a cookbook purchaser. I used to be, but we live in a tiny apartment with even tinier shelf space. However, I do make much use of the library and always have a couple cookbooks out. If one is really really worth it then I’ll make an exception and purchase it. As for this meal, it looks like a total favorite – I love all the ingredients, especially the dried apricots. Bookmarking!

    Comment by kickpleat — August 30, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  7. Love apricots and pistachios together! Great pilaf recipe!

    Comment by Maria — August 31, 2011 @ 12:47 am

  8. I actually counted my cookbooks this weekend out of sheer boredom while waiting for the hurricane-that-never-hit to hit. It was a scary period in my life that I’d rather not revisit.

    I’m so glad I have you to tweak these recipes for us! The pilaf sounds fabulous. I can see why Randy liked it so much!

    Comment by Joanne — August 31, 2011 @ 1:30 am

  9. This looks lovely and I’m with you on the collecting cookbooks. Somehow it is easier to justify a purchase of something that I could use making yummy food when compared to something that is just for moi (clothes, shoes, etc). My husband too is not one to pick up a cookbook and request a recipe…funny since he loves to eat my food.

    Comment by Charlotte — August 31, 2011 @ 5:47 am

  10. Wow- totally didn’t expect the apricots, but the flavor combination looks spot on. Once again, you’ve provided a stellar vegan entree. Thank you, Dana!

    Comment by Clara — August 31, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  11. Ok, have you joined Eat Your Books yet? Sounds like you’re overdue.

    And an eating trip around London is seeming like more and more of a necessity. It must be lovely there in fall, no? Randy can stay home and guard the cookbook collection and I can be your date. All I’m saying is THINK about it.

    Comment by cheryl — August 31, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  12. I love the mix of vermicelli, or spaghetti, and rice in a pilaf, and this sounds great as a main course. Funny you should mention don’t ask/don’t tell regarding cookbook collections. We have a similar policy, although I occasionally point out that I could use more shelf space!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — August 31, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  13. I collect cookbook AND shoes (what? we have to choose?) and there is plenty of puzzled-huband-head-shaking going on at our house too. I do not have this particular cookbook, though, and I am immediately off to investigate further… Will be directing my husband to your site next time he starts rolling his eyes at my “little” collection!

    Comment by Nik — September 1, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  14. Don’t ask, don’t tell… indeed, it works here too…

    I have to say, though, I get a rush of happy adrenaline when I managed to sneak one or two pass him, by arriving home and getting the mail while he is still in the garage, or maybe stayed a little longer in the lab ;-)

    shoes are much more expensive, and they don’t help me put a wonderful meal at our table. HA!

    Comment by SallyBR — September 1, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  15. Ha! We have the same conversation. I point out that compared to MANY of the women he knows, I’m a cheap date. I don’t collect expensive shoes, or expensive purses, or expensive cars, or even expensive makeup. I even color my own hair. Leave me my cookbooks.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — September 2, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  16. 1 1/2 [cups?] Arborio rice?

    The conversations and raised eyebrows you described are frequent occurrences in my home too. Cookbooks are so precious though!

    Comment by Edith-Nicole — September 2, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  17. After posting on this and reading the other comments, I’m kind of appalled at the fact that so many husbands question our collections. Do they have any idea how much some women spend on clothes, shoes, purses, makeup, perfume, etc.? At least cookbooks are useful (to us at least). I know many a husband who spends quite a bit on their own hobbies, so why can’t they consider cooking and collecting cookbooks a hobby for us? We need to start a group of women (and men, I suppose) who have this problem. Cookbook Collectors Unite! We could always just opt to put Hamburger Helper on the table instead, if they would prefer.

    Comment by Lissa Brooks from Tacoma — September 6, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

  18. I tried this last night, Husbeast said it was okay, the kids were meh because I didn’t get the spices spicy enough (I agree), but over all I love this dish! I will definitely make it again.

    Comment by marti — September 9, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  19. I spent a week on a small Turkish wooden boat in the Mediterranean this spring, and this dish is VERY typical of the wonderful food we were served each day. I’m going to try this dish later this week.

    Comment by Amy — September 11, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

  20. What a wonderful sounding dish. I love the sound of the pistachios and apricots.

    Comment by Ashley — September 22, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

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