|Alternative names||Pela, Pilav, Pallao, Pilau, Pelau, Pulao, Pulaav, Palaw, Palavu, Plov, Palov, Polov, Polo, Polu, Kurysh, Fulao, Fulaaw, Fulav, Fulab|
|Region or state||Balkans, Caribbean, South Caucasus, Central Asia, East Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and South Asia|
|Main ingredients||Rice, stock or broth, spices, meat, vegetables, dried fruits|
Pilaf (US spelling), or pilau (UK spelling) is a rice dish, or in some regions, a wheat dish, whose recipe usually involves cooking in stock or broth, adding spices, and other ingredients such as vegetables or meat,[note 1][note 2] and employing some technique for achieving cooked grains that do not adhere.[note 3][note 4]
At the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, such methods of cooking rice at first spread through a vast territory from India to Spain, and eventually to a wider world. The Spanish paella,[note 5] and the South Asian pilau or pulao,[note 6] and biryani,[note 7] evolved from such dishes.
Pilaf and similar dishes are common to Balkan, Caribbean, South Caucasian, Central Asian, East African, Eastern European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisines. It is a staple food and a popular dish in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China (notably in Xinjiang), Cyprus, Georgia, Greece (notably in Crete), India, Iraq (notably in Kurdistan), Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya , Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Tanzania (notably in Zanzibar), Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Uzbekistan.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition (2006) the English word pilaf, which is the later and North American English form of spelling the word pilau, is a borrowing from Turkish, its etymon, or linguistic ancestor, the Turkish pilav, whose etymon is the Persian pilāv; "pilaf" is found more commonly in North American dictionaries than pilau.
The British and Commonwealth English spelling, pilau, has etymon Persian pulaw (in form palāv, pilāv, or pulāv in the 16th century), whose line of descent is: Hindi pulāv (dish of rice and meat), Sanskrit pulāka (ball of rice), which in turn is probably of Dravidian descent.
Although the cultivation of rice had spread much earlier from South Asia to Central and West Asia, it was at the time of the Abbasid Caliphate that methods of cooking rice which approximate modern styles of cooking the pilaf at first spread through a vast territory from Spain to Afghanistan, and eventually to a wider world. The Spanish paella,[note 8] and the South Asian pilau or pulao,[note 9] and biryani,[note 10] evolved from such dishes.
According to author K. T. Achaya, the Indian epic Mahabharata mentions an instance of rice and meat cooked together. Also, according to Achaya, "pulao" or "pallao" is used to refer to a rice dish in ancient Sanskrit works such as the Yājñavalkya Smṛti. However, according to food writers Colleen Taylor Sen and Charles Perry, and social theorist Ashis Nandy, these references do not substantially correlate to the commonly used meaning and history implied in pilafs, which appear in Indian accounts after the medieval Central Asian conquests.
Similarly Alexander the Great and his army have been reported to be so impressed with Bactrian and Sogdian pilavs that his soldiers brought the recipes back to Macedonia when they returned. Similar stories exist of Alexander introducing pilaf to Samarkand; however, they are considered apocryphal by art historian John Boardman.
The earliest documented recipe for pilaf comes from the tenth-century Persian scholar Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā), who in his books on medical sciences dedicated a whole section to preparing various dishes, including several types of pilaf. In doing so, he described the advantages and disadvantages of every item used for preparing the dish. Accordingly, Persians consider Ibn Sina to be the "father" of modern pilaf. Thirteenth-century Arab texts describe the consistency of pilaf that the grains should be plump and somewhat firm to resemble peppercorns with no mushiness, and each grain should be separate with no clumping.
Pilau became standard fare in the Middle East and Transcaucasia over the years with variations and innovations by the Persians, Arabs, Turks, and Armenians. It was introduced to Israel by Bukharan and Persian Jews.
Some cooks prefer to use basmati because it is easier to prepare a pilaf where the grains stay "light, fluffy and separate" with this type of rice. However, other types of long-grain rice are also used. The rice is rinsed thoroughly before use to remove the starch. Pilaf can be cooked in water or stock. Common additions include fried onions and fragrant spices like cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon. Pilaf is usually made with meat or vegetables, but it can also be made plain which is called sade pilav in Turkish, chelo in Persian and ruzz mufalfal in Arabic. On special occasions saffron may be used to give the rice a yellow color. Pilaf is often made by adding the rice to hot fat and stirring briefly before adding the cooking liquid. The fat used varies from recipe to recipe. Cooking methods vary with respect to details such as pre-soaking the rice and steaming after boiling.
There are thousands of variations of pilaf made with rice or other grains like bulgur. In Central Asia there are plov, pilau on the Indian subcontinent, and variations from Turkmenistan and Turkey. Some include different combinations of meats, fruits or vegetables, while others are simple and served plain. In the present day, Central Asian, Indian, Turkish cuisine, Iranian and Caribbean cuisine are considered the five major schools of pilaf.
In Afghan cuisine, kabuli palaw or qabili palaw (Persian : قابلی پلو ) is made by cooking basmati with mutton, lamb, beef or chicken, and oil. Kabuli palaw is cooked in large shallow and thick dishes. Fried sliced carrots and raisins are added. Chopped nuts like pistachios, walnuts, or almonds may be added as well. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish. Kabuli palaw rice with carrots and raisins is very popular in Saudi Arabia, where it is known as roz Bukhari (Arabic: رز بخاري), meaning 'Bukharan rice'.
Armenians use a lot of bulgur (cracked wheat) in their pilaf dishes. Armenian recipes may combine vermicelli or orzo with rice cooked in stock seasoned with mint, parsley and allspice. One traditional Armenian pilaf is made with the same noodle rice mixture cooked in stock with raisins, almonds and allspice.
Armenian kinds of rice are discussed by Rose Baboian in her cookbook from 1964 which includes recipes for different pilafs, most rooted in her birthplace of Antep in Turkey. Baboian recommends that the noodles be stir-fried first in chicken fat before being added to the pilaf. Another Armenian cookbook written by Vağinag Pürad recommends to render poultry fat in the oven with red pepper until the fat mixture turns a red color before using the strained fat to prepare pilaf.
Lapa is an Armenian word with several meanings one of which is a "watery boiled rice, thick rice soup, mush" and lepe which refers to various rice dishes differing by region. Antranig Azhderian describes Armenian pilaf as "dish resembling porridge".
Azerbaijani cuisine includes more than 40 different plov recipes. One of the most reputed dishes is plov from saffron-covered rice, served with various herbs and greens, a combination distinctive from Uzbek plovs. Traditional Azerbaijani plov consists of three distinct components, served simultaneously but on separate platters: rice (warm, never hot), gara (fried beef or chicken pieces with onion, chestnut and dried fruits prepared as an accompaniment to rice), and aromatic herbs. Gara is put on the rice when eating plov, but it is never mixed with rice and the other components.
In Bangladesh, Polao (পোলাও), Fulao, Holao or Fulab, is a popular dish cooked with rice and meat (chicken or mutton or beef). Polao is a rice dish, cooked in seasoned broth with rice, meat and spices. A polao is often complemented with raita. The rice is made in mutton or beef or chicken stock and an array of spices including: coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, cloves and others. The Morog Polao in the division of Dhaka is prepared with chicken. It is prepared in marriage ceremonies, condolence meetings, and other occasions. It is often complemented with borhani.
A significantly modified version of the recipe, often seen as influenced by what is called arroz pilau there, is known in Brazil as arroz de frango desfiado or risoto de frango (Portuguese: [aˈʁoʒ dʒi ˈfɾɐ̃gu dʒisfiˈadu], "shredded chicken rice", [ʁiˈzotu], "chicken risotto"). Rice lightly fried (and optionally seasoned), salted and cooked until soft (but neither soupy nor sticky) in either water or chicken stock is added to chicken stock, onions and sometimes cubed bell peppers (cooked in the stock), shredded chicken breast, green peas, tomato sauce, shoyu, and optionally vegetables (e.g. canned sweet corn, cooked carrot cubes, courgette cubes, broccolini flowers, chopped broccoli or broccolini stalks/leaves fried in garlic seasoning) and/or herbs (e.g. mint, like in canja) to form a distantly risotto-like dish – but it is generally fluffy (depending on the texture of the rice being added), as generally, once all ingredients are mixed, it is not left to cook longer than 5 minutes. In the case shredded chicken breast is not added, with the rice being instead served alongside chicken and sauce suprême, it is known as arroz suprême de frango (Portuguese: [ɐˈʁo s(ː)uˈpɾẽm(i) dʒi ˈfɾɐ̃gu], "chicken supreme rice").
In the Eastern Caribbean and other Caribbean territories there are variations of pelau which include a wide range of ingredients such as pigeon peas, green peas, string beans, corn, carrots, pumpkin, and meat such as beef or chicken, or cured pig tail. The seasoned meat is usually cooked in a stew, with the rice and other vegetables added afterwards. Coconut milk and spices are also key additions in some islands.
Trinidad is recognized for its pelau, a layered rice with meats and vegetables. It is a mix of traditional African cuisine and "New World" ingredients like ketchup. The process of browning the meat (usually chicken, but also stew beef or lamb) in sugar is an African technique.
Central Asian, e.g. Tajik and Uzbek (Tajik: палав, Uzbek: palov) or osh differs from other preparations in that rice is not steamed, but instead simmered in a rich stew of meat and vegetables called zirvak, until all the liquid is absorbed into the rice. A limited degree of steaming is commonly achieved by covering the pot. It is usually cooked in a kazon (or deghi) over an open fire. The cooking tradition includes many regional and occasional variations. Commonly, it is prepared with lamb, browned in lamb fat or oil, and then stewed with fried onions, garlic and carrots. Chicken palov is rare but found in traditional recipes originating in Bukhara. Palov is usually spiced with whole black cumin, coriander, barberries, red pepper, marigold, and pepper. Heads of garlic and garbanzo beans are buried into the rice during cooking. Sweet variations with dried apricots, cranberries and raisins are prepared on special occasions.
Although often prepared at home, palov is made on special occasions by an oshpaz (osh master chef), who cooks it over an open flame, sometimes serving up to 1,000 people from a single cauldron on holidays or occasions such as weddings. Oshi nahor, or "morning palov", is served in the early morning (between 6 and 9 am) to large gatherings of guests, typically as part of an ongoing wedding celebration.
Uzbek-style palov is found in the post-Soviet countries and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. In Xinjiang, where the dish is known as polu, it is often served with pickled vegetables, including carrots, onion and tomato.
In the Greek cuisine, piláfi (πιλάφι) is the fluffy and soft, but neither soupy nor sticky, rice that has been boiled in a meat stock or bouillon broth. In Northern Greece, it is considered poor form to prepare piláfi on a stovetop; the pot is properly placed in the oven. Gamopílafo ("wedding pilaf") is the prized pilaf served traditionally at weddings and major celebrations in Crete: rice is boiled in lamb or goat broth, then finished with lemon juice. Gamopílafo though it bears the name is not a pilaf but rather a kind of risotto, with creamy and not fluffy texture.
Pulao is usually a mixture of either lentils or vegetables, mainly including peas, potatoes, french beans, carrots or meat, mainly chicken, fish, lamb, pork or prawn. A typical Bengali pulao consists of rice, cashewnut, raisin, saffron, ghee and various spices like nutmeg, bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, clove and mace. There are also few very elaborate pulaos with Persianized names like hazar pasand ("a thousand delights"). It is usually served on special occasions and weddings, though it is not uncommon to eat it for a regular lunch or dinner meal. It is considered very high in food energy and fat. A pulao is often complemented with either spiced yogurt or raita.
Persian culinary terms referring to rice preparation are numerous and have found their way into the neighbouring languages: polow (rice cooked in broth while the grains remain separate, straining the half cooked rice before adding the broth and then "brewing"), chelow (white rice with separate grains), kateh (sticky rice) and tahchin (slow cooked rice, vegetables, and meat cooked in a specially designed dish). There are also varieties of different rice dishes with vegetables and herbs which are very popular among Iranians.
There are four primary methods of cooking rice in Iran:
In Pakistan, Pulao (پلاؤ) is a popular dish cooked with Basmati rice and meat, usually either mutton or beef. In home cooking mutton and beef are sometimes substituted with chicken, due to higher prices of mutton. Pulao is a rice dish, cooked in seasoned broth with rice, meat, and an array of spices including: coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, cloves and others. As with Afghan cuisine, Kabuli palaw is a staple dish in the western part of the Pakistan, and this style of Pulao is often embellished with sliced carrots, almonds and raisins, fried in a sweet syrup. Pulao is famous in all parts of Pakistan, but the cooking style can vary slightly in other parts of the country. It is prepared by Sindhi people of Pakistan in their marriage ceremonies, condolence meetings, and other occasions.
Traditional Levantine cooking includes a variety of Pilaf known as "Maqlubeh", known across the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. The rice pilaf which is traditionally cooked with meats, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and cauliflower also has a fish variety known as "Sayyadiyeh", or the Fishermen's Dish.
Historically, mutton stock was the most common cooking liquid for Turkish pilafs, which according to 19th century American sources was called pirinç.
Turkish cuisine contains many different pilaf types. Some of these variations are pirinc (rice) pilaf, bulgur pilaf, and arpa şehriye (orzo) pilaf. Using mainly these three types, Turkish people make many dishes such as perdeli pilav, and etli pilav (rice cooked with cubed beef). Unlike Chinese rice, if Turkish rice is sticky, it is considered unsuccessful. To make the best rice according to Turkish people, one must rinse the rice, cook in butter, then add the water and let it sit until it soaks all the water. This results in a pilaf that is not sticky and every single rice grain falls off of the spoon separately.
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