I’ve been gorging myself on asparagus.
When the first spears came to market, I was first in line for a bushel. After such a long winter, it was such a treat to have something fresh and green. I’ve been eating asparagus with every meal – grilled, sauteed, steamed, boiled, roasted, with garlic, with horseradish, with onions, and more!
Now that I’ve had my fill and am down to the last stalks, it’s time for asparagus to take on a supporting role. And why not with my favourite grain, rice!
I substituted the broad beans for some of last year’s peas that were hanging out in the freezer. I also added some caramelized shallots to the dish, and instead of the suggest mint-yoghurt accompaniment, I sprinkled the mint right on top for a fresh finish.
Slater’s original instructions are to soak the rice for an hour, then cook it on low for a time. The first time I did this, it resulted in a still-wet texture rather than a dry fluffiness – pilaf requires a method of cooking that leaves every grain separate, almost dry – no mush, no stickiness. As such, I’ve used my friend Mojgan’s technique for Iranian-style rice here. It’s produces amazing results.
Yield: 2 big servings
2 handfuls of broad beans, podded (I used spring peas)
12 thin asparagus spears, cut into short lengths
120 grams white basmati rice
50 grams of butter or oil
3 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
6 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves (no more)
pinch, cumin seeds
generous pinch, salt
2 sprigs of thyme or savoury
2 spring onions, finely sliced
4 teaspoons of chopped parsley
2 teaspoons of chopped mint
- Wash the rice very well. While it’s tedious work to have to continuously run water over rice, it’s important to take the time. Take a deep breath, and listen to the calming sounds of water running. I give myself plenty of time and start by soaking the rice for 15 minutes, then straining it through a fine-mesh sieve and running it under the tap a few turns. The trick is to do so until a lot of the starch is gone and the water runs near-clear.
- Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil (don’t worry, you don’t have to measure). Add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Tip the washed rice in, and allow it to come to boil again. Moj noted this process is much like cooking pasta. After approximately 6 minutes, try a grain – it should be al dente (soft but with bite). Strain the rice back through the fine-mesh sieve, run under cold water for 10 seconds, and leave it off to the side for all the water to drip off.
- Place the medium-sized pot back on medium-heat. Add the butter/oil to heat. Once it bubbles, add the bay leaves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, salt and thyme/savoury. Stir everything round in the oil for a minute or two, until the fragrance wafts up.
- Tip the rice into pan. Now here’s where Moj’s second technique comes in. Before you cover the pot, add a thick(ish) tea towel underneath, being sure to tuck the edges in (photo below). The reason you do this is to allow the tea towel to absorb all the extra liquid, leaving you with perfect granules.
- Once the funny lid is on, turn the heat down to low (2-3 on an electric stove), and allow the rice to cook for approximately 30 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, bring out a small sautee pan, bring it to high heat and add a drizzle of oil. Sautee the asparagus and broad beans/peas until tender. Season with a little bit of salt. Set the vegetables aside.
- After 30 minutes, open up the lid and try a bit of rice. It should be cooked through but no longer wet. If it’s still soppy, turn up the heat a little bit and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Once the rice is cooked, add the cooked asparagus and broad beans/peas plus the spring onions, parsley and mint.
- Serve as a side dish, or eat it straight out of the pot with your lover.
I topped the dish with caramelized shallots. What a treat!
Want to read more about pilaf? Check out this article in the Guardian.