Simpler-Than-Pilaf Baked Rice

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

This basic, valuable technique is used worldwide; it’s a kind of combination of pilaf and paella, but simpler than either, especially if you omit the spices and go with just salt and pepper. Use oil and the pilaf is vegan.

Absolutely use white basmati here if you have it. Nothing else is the same.

2 tablespoons butter or 1 tablespoon neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

One 3-inch cinnamon stick

2 cloves

5 white cardamom pods

1 cup long-grain rice, preferably basmati

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350В°F. Put half the butter or all of the oil in an ovenproof pan with a lid over medium heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the spices and cook for about a minute. Add the rice and some salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for about a minute.

Add 11/2 cups water, bring to a boil, put in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the rice from the oven, but do not uncover; let it rest in a warm place for another 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon and cloves (the cardamom pods are good to eat); taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, stir in the remaining butter if you’re using it, and serve immediately.

Variations

Simpler Baked Brown Rice. The main recipe and any of the variations can be made with brown rice: Increase the liquid to 2 cups, the baking time to 30 minutes, and the resting time to 15 minutes. Alternatively, start with parboiled brown rice (see Brown Rice) and treat it exactly as you would the white rice.

Simpler Baked Rice with Herbs. This is good with a tablespoon or so of minced shallot, garlic, or scallion cooked with the herb in Step 1: Omit the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. Start with about 1/4 cup shredded or roughly chopped fresh basil, shiso, parsley, or dill. Cook half the herb in the butter in Step 1. Stir in the rest at the end of the resting time.

Simpler Baked Rice with Curry. A near-pilaf and a nobrainer: Add, in Step 1, a pinch of saffron threads if you have it, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a teaspoon of curry powder or garam masala (to make your own, see Hot Curry Powder and Garam Masala). Garnish, if you like, with minced fresh cilantro.

Simpler Baked Rice with Coconut. Omit the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. In Step 1, cook 1/2 cup shredded coconut in the butter or oil until lightly browned; remove half of it and set it aside before adding the rice. Proceed with the recipe, stirring in the coconut at the end of the resting time.

Simpler Baked Rice with Tomato. Omit the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom: Start with 1 medium to large chopped tomato or about 3/4 cup drained canned tomato, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste), and, if you have it, a large pinch of saffron threads. Reduce the water to 1 cup and stir in 1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley or fresh basil at the end of the resting time.

6 Ideas for Simpler-Than-Pilaf Baked Rice

Following the pattern in the recipe, try any of these possibilities, alone or in combination:

  1. Legumes: Use 1/2 to 1 cup cooked beans, chickpeas, or lentils or raw (frozen are fine) peas, snap peas (chopped), green beans (chopped), or limas.
  2. Nuts and fruit: Use about 1/4 cup each pine nuts (or other nuts) or raisins (or currants or other dried fruit).
  3. Aromatics: Start with a couple tablespoons each of finely chopped onion, celery, and carrot (a teaspoon of garlic wouldn’t hurt) and a couple of sprigs of thyme. Increase the initial cooking time to 2 minutes before adding the rice.
  4. Mushrooms: Use 1/2 to 1 cup fresh mushrooms, like button or shiitake, or reconstituted porcini or shiitake mushrooms, removing about half of them after the initial cooking in butter (increase this time to 2 minutes) and returning them to the rice after it’s cooked.
  5. Vegetables: Use 1/2 to 1 cup cooked and chopped carrot, potato, turnip, or other root vegetable.
  6. Other spices: In the initial toasting, try mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, nigella seeds, or minced fresh or dried chiles.