What I found in the hinterlands the other night:
- Young garlic from the farmers' market (the cloves are starting to form but are not yet bulbous in that familiar way and are "wet" as opposed to papery and dry)
- Red rice (from when I made this dish)
- Aleppo pepper that I purchased because I had never tried it, then continued not to try it by placing the jar, unopened, in my pantry for several months
- Leftover vegetable stock that needed to be used lest it expire
Husband and I had already decided to make chana masala for dinner, which I always serve with a random rice dish -- random meaning I mix whatever is handy in with the rice and hope it tastes nice with the chana masala. I considered the items in the aforementioned list: random rice ingredients if I've ever seen them. Plus, I was pretty stoked to let the farmers' market garlic shine like that.
Usually the random rice I make is serviceable, but not a star. It sometimes lacks assertive flavor of its own, but it nevertheless works as a starchy bed for the chana masala. Which is fine. But this rice. Well, this rice is good enough to hog the spotlight. And though it isn't much of a looker, it is so good I did make it two nights in a row.
The star of the dish is the young garlic. It imparts the rice with a mild but unmistakable garlic flavor and, well, it just looks so darned pretty when sliced thinly on the bias. The ratio of oil and stock to rice makes this dish a little creamier and less fluffy than traditional pilafs, which is OK with me as it complements the chana masala both in terms of bold flavor and thick, hearty texture.
More than anything else, though, this rice was satisfying because I made it with ingredients I already had on hand. No shopping list, no trips to the store, no wasting of uneaten food languishing in the fridge and pantry. I was inspired, for a fleeting moment, to join the Eating Down the Fridge challenge, at least in spirit. But then the next day I was making a quick strawberry jam and realized I had no lemons to juice. And to the store I went.
It was good while it lasted.
RED RICE AND YOUNG GARLIC PILAF
If you can't find red rice, basmati or jasmine rice works nicely. The point, after all, is to use what you have on hand.
3 T. olive oil
3 heads young garlic, including 3-4 inches of the green stem, thinly sliced
Pinch kosher salt
2 t. cumin
2 t. coriander
1 t. Aleppo pepper, or to taste (can substitute red pepper flakes)
1 c. red rice
2 c. vegetable stock
Place the olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the kosher salt and cook another 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic is translucent and begins to crisp on the edges.
Add the cumin, coriander and pepper. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the rice. "Toast" the rice in the garlic-spice mixture, stirring frequently, for about 3-5 minutes.
Pour the vegetable stock over the rice mixture then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 20-25 minutes. Stir the rice occasionally to prevent excessive sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Serve with your favorite chana masala (mine is Orangette's, which just hits the spot). You could also, of course, serve this rice alongside chicken or grilled salmon or anything, really. Or you could eat it by itself. I just happen to like its spice along with the complex flavor of chana masala.
Serves 2 as a side dish.