Pilau with Cardamom and Ginger



The many faces of Pilaf.

A pilaf is usually made with rice that is cooked in a savory broth then a variety of vegetables, spices, dried fruits and sometimes meat added to the savory grain.  The ingredients range depending on regions and availability, and the name of the dish adapts as well: Pilav, pallao, pilau, pulao, pulaav, palaw, palavu, plov, palov, polov, polo, polu, kurysh, fulao, fulab, and fulav.

The grain is cooked in broth, herb seasoned water, or fruit juices to add flavor. The combinations are almost endless depending what you have around and what might go well with the rest of the meal. For me parsley is a staple—it adds depth with a bright greeniness and it can complement nearly any other flavor profile.

This pilau is close to the Afghani pilau, has a ginger and cardamom twist and was served with a smoked curried lamb for a large dinner at Seed Savers Exchange. It’s based on traditional ingredients but I added in a few of my own—sunflower seeds in particular, they are a handy protein I can use in catering without having to worry about nut allergies.



My rice-cooking method is different than many traditional styles, mainly because I was making this on a large scale and didn’t feel confident trying a new way of cooking rice when I was needing to feed hundreds of people. This is my fool-proof method that I always use but there are many websites with more traditional cooking versions if you want to explore. I don’t always use vinegar in the water but I think it helps with the full range of flavor for this dish.



My favorite part of that Pilau Week happened when I brought the leftovers from Seed Savers to use for a meeting luncheon. The meeting was at an alternative high school (Scattergood Friends School), and their student from Afghanistan was helping to reheat the meal for our meeting. When he opened the pan of pilau he exclaimed, “Is that Pilau???”.  He then tasted the rice, and I think exuberant would be the accurate word to describe him having a taste of his homeland. Whoa! That made my month. I asked if he will send me his mother’s recipe, what a gift that would be.



Oh just a few more images from the Ottawa part of the excursion…

The sidewalk at the Parc de la Gatineau in Quebec just across the river from Ottawa.





A delivery bike with front and rear rack from the Cafe Deluxe in downtown Ottawa, someone put a lot of time and thought into that frame.




Pilau with Cardamom and Ginger

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes for the rice to rest


Heat over high heat in a heavy sauce or stock pan:

Olive Oil

1 Onion, diced

Saute for a few minutes then add and heat:

1 1/2 cups of Seasoned Liquid: Water with a Bouillon cube with 2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar; Water with 1 Tablespoon Masala Spice Mix; Vegetable or Chicken Stock

1 teaspoon Turmeric

1 teaspoon Coriander Seed

1 teaspoon Cumin Seed

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

When water comes to a boil add:

1 cup Basmati Rice

Cover. When the water begins to boil again turn the heat to low. 

Cook for 15-20 minutes (covered) on low then turn off the heat and let sit (still covered) for 15 minutes. 

Remove the cover and fluff the rice with a fork or spoon. 


Optional: While rice is cooking, sauté lightly:

2 teaspoons Olive Oil

1 Carrot, julienned (I didn’t add carrots when making it for Seed Savers, but it is an Afghani twist to the dish)


Stir into the cooked and fluffed rice:

1/4 cup Parsley, chopped

1/4 cup Pistachios, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, or Chopped Almonds

1/4 Raisins, Currants, or Sultanas (if you sauté carrots these can be lightly sautéd with them.

2 Green Onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon Ginger, ground

1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground

1/4 teaspoon Cardamom, ground

1/4 teaspoon Cumin, ground

1/16 teaspoon Clove, ground

Top with the Sautéed Carrots if you went that route.  

Serve with Curried Lamb and Chickpea Masala, or whatever you’re having for dinner tonight. 





Does anyone have a clue what company prints (“OM”) on the back of their transport trucks? We saw this on the highway in northern New York headed towards the border and there was no other signage on the truck.


Travel is like knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen.”


– Mark Hertsgaard




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