When you come to Turkey, you’ll find a whole new range of delicious foods waiting to delight your taste buds. One of the mainstays of Turkish cuisine is pirinç pilavı – rice pilaf.
Easy to prepare and suitable for serving at a banquet, or a simple supper, this simple yet tasty dish is often an eye opener for newcomers to Turkish food.
So many people have asked us how to cook rice pilaf, this article is about how to make (what we think is) the perfect rice pilaf…
How to make Turkish rice pilaf
Before getting down to the nitty gritty of how to cook a rice pilaf, it would be a good idea to mention that there is probably a different method for every grain – and every Turkish cook thinks that theirs is the only proper pirinç pilavı.
Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea… We would certainly be happy to hear from anyone who has a different way of cooking pilaf from the way we describe. The more methods the better, as far as we are concerned.
What is baldo rice?
If you live in Turkey you will find baldo rice in your local shops and markets. However, if you live outside Turkey and away from the towns and cities where there are Turkish communities and shops, you may be able to use a short grain variety, such as arborio, as a replacement but it wont be quite the same.
This is because baldo is hybrid of arborio and another rice named Stirpe 136, Turkish baldo rice is a plump, milled, short-grain rice grown in Turkey and Italy. The Turkish variety is particularly starchy and can absorb lots of moisture, which makes it very creamy and tender when cooked.
The other factor we should mention here is whether or not to wash the rice. We use both methods (depending on who is cooking). Washing it definitely changes the texture – and removes some of the starch, which result in the grains remaining more separate when cooked. Wash it, or don’t wash it. It’s up to you.
People sometimes ask, “What are those brown bits?”
When you are making rice pilav you will also need arpa şehriye or erişte – the first a kind of pasta akin to Orzo and the latter like pieces of vermicelli broken into 5 cm lengths. As you can see neither are golden brown. Not to begin with.
Butter, oil or margarine?
We use either butter or butter with a little olive oil for our pilaf. Some people use margarine, or sunflower/vegetable oil.
Apart from a little salt, water or stock and perhaps a few twists of freshly ground black pepper, that’s all you need for a plain pilaf.
If you plan to use salted butter then cut back on the salt.
Water or stock?
In our household we use cold water or vegetable stock but as with all recipes that have been passed down through the generations some people will insist on using hot (or boiling) water/stock. Chicken stock is also totally acceptable.
Turkish rice with all things nice
Why not ring the changes? A popular alternative in Turkey is to add a tablespoonful or two of domates salaçası tomato paste; a few fresh ones peeled and chopped;
or perhaps a finely chopped bunch of dereotu (dill). Some cooked chickpeas creates a different texture and pul biber (Turkish chilli flakes) or a spoonful of biber salçası gives the rice some heat.
Add meat or vegetables and a side dish turns into a main course.
Pirinç pilavı – rice pilaf
This amount can serve four people with modest appetites, three people with healthy appetites or two gluttons. As you get used to cooking rice pilaf you’ll find it easier to judge the amount.
1 250 cc (8 fl oz) mug of baldo rice
¼ mug of arpa şehriye or erişte
Two walnut sized pieces of butter, one with an equivalent splash of olive oil
A pinch of salt (to taste)
Two cups (as above) of water
A saucepan with a close fitting lid and a (clean) tea towel
Place the sauce on the heat and add the butter/oil. Once melted to sizzling point add the arpa şehriye (or erişte). Fry, stirring fairly constantly with a wooden spoon until golden brown.
At this point add the rice (washed or not washed) and stir until the grains are well coated with the butter/oil. Continue for a minute or so. If you haven’t washed the rice this helps to prevent it from becoming sticky.
Add two cups (the same cup as before) of water or chicken/vegetable stock and if using, a pinch of salt.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat if it looks like boiling over… the liquid should be more than simmering but less than a rolling boil.
The cooking time will vary (the time will be a bit shorter if the rice is pre-washed) but it is usually about 15 minutes (approximately). Taste a grain of two just to be sure… and certainly check to see what’s happening with the water. Once you have got the hang of this, the pilaf will be ready for the next stage at the same time as the water has all been absorbed. If the rice is not cooked and is beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan add a bit more water, cautiously…
Once the rice is as good as cooked, turn off the heat, whip off the lid and cover with the clean tea towel, before replacing the lid. Leave to rest for about 10 minutes. This removes any remaining moisture.
Your pilaf is now ready to serve. Whether you pile it directly onto your plate, onto a serving dish or press into a small cup or dariole mould, before carefully inverting it onto the plate.
If there is any left over put it in the fridge and eat late at night with a spoon.
There are some excellent recipes for rice pilaf in a variety of Turkish food blogs… so why not check these out too? One of our favourites is from Özlem’s Turkish Table: chickpea pilaf with chicken and vegetables.