New year! New president! Same old worries from 2020, though. I’m worried about our democracy, our future, and the fact that half of this country doesn’t understand and/or can’t tolerate the other half.
Change starts when we can talk to each other in a way that includes and informs and doesn’t incite. And it’s never been harder. Finding a way forward will take all of us, from folks on Capitol Hill to you at the kitchen table.
The table was where we once learned basic human courtesy— being able to eat and talk together, to operate within the politics of a family or other social groups, to be tolerant of others. You know, plain old table manners.
The table may be the one place we can at least get along for as long as it takes to eat. Nothing brings us together like food, and there’s nothing more global and unifying than grain. It’s sustained humankind since we learned to cultivate it. In many parts of Asia, the word rice means to eat. Rice is the basis of qabuli pulaw, one of the oldest recipes in recorded history. It’s the national dish of Afghanistan, and serving it is a sign of hospitality. Of welcome.
Pulaw has traveled around the world, morphing in Iran, India, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean, each place reflecting its own tastes and local ingredients. It’s known as pilou, perloo, polo, pilau or as we call it here, pilaf. It can mean a simple bowl of cooked rice or an elaborate array of vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, raisins and spices from allspice to saffron.
You call it pilaf; I call it pulaw; it still seems like something we can all agree on. But maybe not. Rice itself can be controversial. Some environmentalists oppose rice on the grounds that it requires too much water to grow, using up valuable natural resources. Let’s talk it out. How else are we going to resolve our differences?
And while you’re at it, bring on the rice, too — white, brown, red, black, rare Carolina gold, wild, cultivated, glutinous, there’s rice for all of us. And for those who take issue with rice, pilafs can be made with all kinds of grains, chewy, wheat berries, nutty bulgur, tiny calcium-rich amaranth and protein-packed pearls of quinoa. In all its guises, pulaw is designed to be a dish to feed everyone.
Food can convince where rhetoric can’t. The fact is, whatever you eat or believe, we’re all on this planet together. Reaching across the aisle — or across the table — may be the boldest act you can do. So be bold. Let’s talk. And let’s eat.
A Seat At the Table Pilaf
- 3 cups water or vegetable broth divided use
- 1 cup rice of your choosing -- I used a blend of brown basmati and wild rice
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 cups green beans chopped
- 1 cup broccoli or cauliflower chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 large tomato chopped or 1 cup grape tomatoes
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Bring 2 cups water or broth to boil in a large pot. Pour in rice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let rice cook for 25 minutes or until the grains become plump and tender and absorb all the liquid.
- Remove lid from pot and let the rice cool May be done a day ahead before proceeding.
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add turmeric, cinnamon and allspice and stir for a minute or until spices darken and turn fragrant.
- Add chopped onion and cook for another 4 minutes, until onion mellows and softens.
- Add green beans and broccoli or caulifower and continue cooking, stirring to give the vegetables a luster of the spiced oil.
- Add tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and water. Stir to combine. Squeeze in lime juice.
- Add raisins, season with sea salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Lightly oil a large casserole.
- Lay down half the rice. Top with half of the tomato mixture, repeat with the rice and end by covering with the tomatoes and vegetables.
- Bake, tightly covered, for 30 minutes.
Other Rice Dishes You May Enjoy: