Thursday 16 October 2008

Recipe: Pilau Rice

This is one of the first things that my mum taught me to cook. Rice is not as central to the Punjabi diet as it is to the Bengali or South Indian one, being as it is, largely based around wheat (in the form of chapatti’s with each meal), this is mainly because Punjab is farmland and focuses on grains. This being the case, rice tends to be reserved more for guests and celebrations. In our house no Eid is complete without a plateful of rice and if we have invited guests over the humungous rice pot comes out.

As a teenager, my mum used to direct me to the kitchen every Saturday afternoon, instructing me step by step as she sat at her sewing machine doing piece-work. When I married it was one of the few things I could cook (my husband insists he taught me the rest).

This method of cooking the rice in the oven is a little different from the usual way, but I find it fairly fool-proof. The quality of cooked rice is judged by its texture, and I have found that in this way the rice is less likely to stick and more likely to come out of the pot as long, separate grains.

Ingredients (serves 6):
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or vegetable oil will do)
2 medium onions diced
2-3 medium tomatoes pureed
6 cups of rice
9 cups of water (use the same measure as for the rice – 1-½ of water for each cup of rice)
1 large tablespoon of salt
½ teaspoon of chilli powder
1 heaped teaspoon of garam masala powder

Optional (to add flavour and aroma):
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (zeera)
1-2 sticks of cassia bark
1-2 bay leaves
Most of the above items can be bought in a packet of mixed whole spices which will also include cloves, zeera, coriander seeds and peppercorns. (If I have a pack, I forego the above and just throw a small handful of the mixture in)

Before beginning rinse rice and leave to soak in water.
You will need a pot that is entirely metal i.e. no plastic handles or lid-knobs
Saute the onions in the oil until golden. Then add pureed tomatoes, spices and salt and cook a little longer (10 minutes approx), add some of the water if necessary (to avoid the masala sticking to bottom).

Add water to pot and drain rice and also add. Turn heat full and put lid on pot leaving a small gap.

Turn oven on to pre-heat at gas mark 8. When water begins to oil in pot (it will be quite reduced), cover the pot completely and place in oven. Cook for a further 30 minutes approx. After this time check if the rice is done, if it’s not completely cooked through leave a further 10 minutes and check again.

If you don’t have a pot that is entirely metal, and therefore cannot use the oven, there is another away to cook this. When the water begins to boil, take an old tea-towel and soak it completely under the tap. Wrap this around the lid of your pot and tie the corners above the handle (make sure it is sopping wet or it will get roasted - I managed to turn one black in the past because I tied it on dry). Put the lid on the pot, and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Check after 15-20 minutes. If not cooked through replace lid and check after another 10 minutes. This is known as the “desi” way.

Picture courtesy of A Mad Teaparty.


  1. nice... u know, since I came to Canada I cant cook rice to save my life!! scary, seeing as it was a staple part of my diet at uni in Bradford ;)

  2. Subhan allah i was discussing its stapleness in the Bangladeshi diet just the other noght with a neighbour thay said the same , rice daily and chappati's are a special occacison thing, oppise for us i guess!

    I do the desi rice wet tea towel too lol but stopped for many years now might go back to try it, i invested in a rice cooker about 4yrs ago fab results every time esp for parties and larger quanities, now i miss my rice cooker as its in Algeria :(
    Ameena i am sure you will get cooking again once you move back to UK which is sooner than we think!

  3. Assalam-alaikam Sis Ammena,
    It can't be you, it must be the rice...or Canada...

    Assalam-alaikam Sis Rainbow,
    My mum was saying I should get a rice cooker, but I haven't got a clue, should look around at some, I always thought they did small amounts of rice rather than larger quantities. I suppose if they make life easier they're worth a look.

  4. ohh yes muslim mama i am totally adapted to the rice cooker now best thing is non stick rice everytime and as they take 20mins or less you can produce large amounts in half the time mashaallah. I got a TEFAL for £40 about 5yrs ago duno whats out there now?