Pilau is a rice-based dish of Indian origin that has been adopted by Kenyans as their own. Many people serve Pilau at their weddings or prepare it when they have special guests coming to visit. It is commonly eaten with kachumbari, but you can substitute salad or other vegetable sides for kachumbari.
3 Tablespoons Pilau Masala (a blend of spices obtainable in Kenya) or make your own by mixing the following spices:
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tablespoon whole cloves (not to be confused with garlic)
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
1/2 tsp cardamom pods (or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom)
3 cups basmati or jasmine rice
1.5lb beef, chopped in bite-sized pieces
2 medium onions, chopped (red onions are best)
3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tsp fresh ginger
6 cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 tsp salt
6 cups water*
Combine the spice ingredients in a small bowl, cover with warm water, stir, and set aside.**
Press or pound the garlic and ginger together and set aside. Wash the rice, drain, and soak for an hour.
Heat oil in a dutch oven or deep pot. Add onions and sauté until glazed, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and ginger and sauté for a minute. If using the Pilau Masala blend, stir in the masala and sauté for another couple of minutes. If using the soaked spices, wait to add them a little later.
Add the beef, cooking on high heat until browned. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and add the rice to the meat, stirring thoroughly to coat each grain of rice with the oil. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for a minute. If using soaked spices, mix them with water to make a total of 6 cups of water and add them now. If you added the spices earlier, just add 6 cups of water. Stir, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce to low-medium heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from stove and serve hot with a side of kachumbari, salad or seasonal vegetables.
*You may substitute coconut milk for 3 cups of water, for added richness.
**If you don’t want the whole spices in your food, tie them in a sack or tea infuser before soaking them in warm water.
Image: Marilyn Barbone