This Crispy Chickpea Rice Pilaf Is My Saving-Grace Dinner

Did I mention it's budget-friendly, too?

September 23, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Olivia Mack McCool. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

I love rice. It’s not as trendy a grain as farro or bulgur or buckwheat, I know. But like a classic pair of cotton underwear, rice is simple and goes with everything, and I can always find some in a pinch.

Rice is cheap, too, of course. Though I often look longingly at the 20-pound bags at H Mart (they’re only $19.99! Who wants to split one?), I can’t quite get that much rice into my tiny pantry. Instead, I visit the bulk bins at my local health food store, where I’ve found that rice tends to be a few dollars cheaper per pound than its packaged counterparts.

When steamed with just a pinch of salt, rice is an ideal base for a meal, but I prefer to cook it pilaf-style, with alliums and oil-bloomed spices. Toasting spices in a bit of hot oil brings forward their depth, as many spices have fat-soluble flavor compounds. I like to do a blend of spices in my rice, and really, anything goes: cinnamon and cardamom, turmeric and ginger, cumin and chile powder; crushed red pepper for some heat—they’re all fair game.

Ultimately, this is the part of the meal on which I’m willing to spend a bit more money. That six-ounce jar of turmeric at your local grocery might cost just a couple bucks, but do you know whether or not it was bottled recently? Or sourced from a farmer that was paid fairly? Very likely not. Head to a speciality grocery store or buy directly from businesses that source their spices equitably from farmers.

While rice pilaf sounds very 1980s, the dish actually has a far-reaching history (as early as the 10th or even 4th century, according to some scholars). Pilav, or pilaf, is the Turkicized version of the Persian polow, though the basic concept of a seasoned rice dish has roots in Central and South Asian, Afgani, and Spanish cuisine.

I often like to borrow techniques from a few of these pilaf originators when making my own—this rice has paella’s smoked paprika, pulao and biryani’s legumes, adorned with nuts and dried fruit like javaher polow.

A note on those legumes: Here, I turn to a trusty bag of frozen peas and a can of chickpeas, the latter my saving grace when it comes to meatless dinners, particularly when a grain is the star. At $1 to $2 per can, it’s probably not even worth pointing out how much less expensive chickpeas are than a pound of meat. I like to crisp very well-dried chickpeas in a hot oven, then stir them into spice-coated rice.

The combination of textures is truly divine.

What's your saving-grace dinner? Let us know in the comments below.
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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

1 Comment

Emilye October 3, 2019
love the sound of this! will have to try it soon