Thursday, 3 November 2011


Pilau Rice

When the Autumn starts closing in and you have to start taking your woolies out of storage, there are two realistic options: 1. Embrace the cold and hope that your winter coat won’t have been attacked by the moths, or 2. Pack your bags and head off somewhere hot to try and put off the inevitable for as long as possible. I chose the latter and I write this having just returned from Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is a stunning island just off the coast from (but still part of) Tanzania. As promised in the guide books, it was hot, fascinating and absolutely beautiful. Being a small island with a vast amo9unt of fishing boats and access to a pretty impressive array of marine life, we ate nothing but fish for two weeks and I was in heaven. Zanzibar is known as “The Spice Island”, and the flavours in the food rarely disappointed. We even visited a spice farm to see where and how everything grows; that was a particularly interesting and smelly (in a good way) day.
I won’t bore you / show off about all of the amazing things that I ate whilst I holidayed, but I did want to share just a little recipe that was taught to me by a local lady in her own home. Ben, my holidaying partner, and I stayed in a lovely little guesthouse in Paje where they offered a “traditional Swahili cookery course” for 10,000 Tanzanian shillings, which is about £3.50. Bargain.
This was not some big tourist operation, this was just the initiative of the owner of our guesthouse to try and encourage tourists to contribute more to the local community. This made it all the more special as we walked to one of the local villages and were welcomed into a private home, complete with visiting relatives, little children everywhere and very suspect loo!
We chose to cook spiced pilau rice with chicken, a local favourite that is eaten on special occasions. This I have not yet tried to recreate at home but I will faithfully tell you what our “instructor” showed us. Please note, she cooked in quantities that would feed a small army and these are what I relate to you now:

1 bag of white rice (I’d hazard a guess she used about 2 lbs)
3 medium white potatoes
3 red onions, finely sliced
1 small bulb garlic
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
2 small handfuls of cardamom pods
1 small handful of green pepper corns
3 small handfuls of cumin seeds
600 ml good chicken stock
Some pre cooked chicken, ideally from a small roasted chicken
1 ½ litres cold water
Coarse salt
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Peel the cloves of garlic and in a pestle and mortar (or food processor) blend the garlic with a little of the onion and some salt.
2. Heat around 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a very large saucepan and add the sliced onions. When these are soft, add the garlic paste and stir.
3. In the pestle and mortar, grind the cardamom pods with the cinnamon and add to the onions and garlic. Stir, and continue to fry on a medium heat.
4. Cube the potatoes into largeish chunks, add to the pan and stir.
5. Fry the mixture for a minute or two as you stir and then add the chicken stock. Stir well and then add all of the water and bring to the boil.
6. When the water has just started to boil, wash the rice and add to the pan and allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes (or as long as it takes) until the rice is soft and the water is almost completely gone. Of course, add more water if necessary.
7. Add the cooked chicken to the rice, stir, cover the dish and place in a low oven (about 150 degrees) for 30 minutes. She used an “Indian Oven” by surrounding the pan with red hot coals which gradually cooled.
8. Remove the pan from the oven and serve with a fresh side salad. We had sliced carrot, tomato and onion.

An Indian Oven in all its glory!

A full Lucy tries to decide the best way to roll home...

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