Pilaf is a wonderful accompaniment to just about any entree, and it can be changed up a bazillion different ways. I must say though that the only thing I ever change is the flavor of broth I cook it in ... and maybe sometimes to add onion. Lots of other traditional versions include almonds, chick peas, apricot pieces, currants, pistachios, etc.
This whole blogging thing is definitely turning into a learning experience for me. This post was another example. We have always referred to the pasta in Pilaf as Shehrieh ("shy rah"). I just assumed that was the Armenian word for noodles or something along those lines, but it turns out to be a Syrian word.
To cook Pilaf the old way, you would brown the Shehrieh in butter, add the rice, then your broth, put the cover on (most people put a paper towel over it first to absorb the steam), turn it to low and leave it alone until it's done. Supposedly, it's taboo to stir your rice or it will turn out mushy.
Because we ate Pilaf so often growing up - with roasted chicken, steaks, shish kebab, you name it - my Mom started browning a small batch of Shehrieh ahead of time and keeping it in the fridge. My sister went one better! First of all, if you can find it, buy the bird nest version of vermicelli. If you can't find that, any vermicelli or angel hair will work just fine. Break up the whole package on a baking sheet, toss it in the oven at 350 and bake until dark brown. I stress the "dark" because when you cook it with the rice, the liquid will suck out a lot of the color. The big plus for doing it this way is that you can just store it in your pantry in a covered container and don't have to worry about how long it stays there. Nothing will happen to it since there was no grease involved. It won't go rancid, and you don't have to refrigerate it! A big thumbs up to that!
A friend of my sister gave me another shortcut that I love. Rather than covering it right away and leaving it alone, left to wonder how close to done it is and afraid to stir it, she cooks her rice until the water level is below the rice and the bubbles start to form little holes in the surface. THEN lower the heat, cover it and let it finish. That definitely shaves off some cooking time.
1 c rice (I only use Uncle Ben's)
2 c chicken broth
good handful of Shehrieh
salt and pepper
Start with your butter and broth in the pan, then add the rice and sherieh. The order may not matter, but in my mind, the butter and broth going in first increase the odds of the rice not sticking to the pan. I have had that problem with some rice, but never with the Uncle Ben's. Bring the whole thing to a boil and add a little salt and pepper. If you want an extra boost of flavor, you can add half of a bouillon cube (another trick of my sister's). If you do decide to use the bouillion, just make sure you don't add as much salt.
If you're serving beef, feel free to use beef broth. Same goes for turkey. I was at a friend's house once and heard her Dad cussing in the kitchen. When we went in to make sure everything was OK, he said he had goofed and used half chicken broth and half beef. That worked just fine too!
Give it a stir with a fork every few minutes until the holes form like I mentioned above. Cover the pan (I never bother with the paper towel), turn heat to lowest setting and leave it alone for 10-15" until done. Fluff with a fork before serving.
If you want to find out what I served the Pilaf with tonight,and what I learned about that ... you know you do ... you'll have to check back in tomorrow. ;-)