Let me introduce one of the most popular, and versatile Turkish dishes, whether as a side or main course, eaten in a restaurant or from a street vendor; you can’t miss Turkish rice, or pilav as you say in Turkish. Before I came to Turkey, I never had rice as a main dish and therefore I was very surprised at how satisfying and comforting it was. The secret behind its success is a rich, creamy and buttery flavour that results from a generous amount of butter used while cooking or to finish it off. Moreover, it is common that the rice is interspersed with small noodles, bulgur or chickpeas. This variation gives an extra twist to the rice, which differentiates the Turkish rice to the one we eat in northern Europe. The noodles or bulgur are stir-fried in butter before adding the rice and cooking both together. The noodles might be arpa şehriye, which are shaped like rice grains, or tel şehriye, a thinner and shorter version of spaghetti. The şehriyeli pirinç pilavı or bulgurlu pirinç pilavı is what you often find as a side dish to the huge variety of Turkish meat and vegetable dishes. To me, the most mouth-watering version of Turkish rice is the nohutlu pilav, the basic rice interspersed with chickpeas. This simple but even tastier dish made its way to become one of Istanbul’s most popular street foods. At night, many street vendors pop up with their glassed handcart loaded with rice, chickpeas and pulled chicken. Their hungry customers stand or sit around the sokak pilavcısı, eat their rice from paper plates and enjoy their late night snack with a cup of ayran – a cold, salted yoghurt drink. To pimp up the rice the street vendors keep pickled chili peppers, ketchup, mayonnaise, cumin, salt and pepper available. When having the rice at home, it is common and highly recommended to add a spoon of plain yoghurt, which gives an extra freshness to the meal.
In case you are craving Turkish rice, so much you want to do it at your home, just follow the recipe below. There are some secrets behind getting the perfect Turkish rice, which I learned, in a long process of cooking rice many times. With my first try, I probably did all the mistakes one can make and ended up with clumpy, mushy rice which was not delicious at all. So check out these dos and don’ts, and make sure you do not end up with the same result as I did.
DO’s: Wash wash wash wash the rice before cooking! The longer, the better. Get rid of as much starch as possible.
DON’Ts: Do not stir the rice while cooking, because moving the rice will set the leftover starch free. Another important do not – never change the 1:1 ratio of water to rice. Even when you panic and fear the rice will never turn out tender enough; just give it a few more minutes rest with the lid on.
2 glasses rice
2 glasses water or chicken stock
1 glass pre-cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons butter
Which rice to buy? At Turkish supermarkets, you can find baldo pirinç or tosya pirinç. In case you are living outside of turkey and there is no Turkish supermarket near you, any kind of short-grain rice also work very well for this, you could for example go for; pudding rice, risotto rice or Spanish paella rice.
Either you can cook the rice in a vegetarian style in salted water or you can go for chicken stock. The chicken stock works particularly well, and helps conjure the authentic taste of the rice, which is often served along with chicken.
When it comes to the chickpeas, a real Turkish housewife would go the long way and cook them from scratch by letting the chickpeas soak in water over night and then cook it the next day for about 1-2 hours in unsalted water. The more convenient and time saving way is to buy a can of pre-cooked chickpeas and the only preparation you need to do is to rinse them thoroughly.
To get fluffy and non-sticky rice, it is important to wash out the rice starch. Place the rice in a bowl with generously salted hot water. Let it soak for at least 10 minutes. Wash again thoroughly in cold water until the water run clear and drain it well.
Melt the butter in a saucepan or pot until it just starts to sizzle. Add the rice washed and drained rice and sauté for 1-2 minutes while stirring continuously. Add 2 glasses of salted water or chicken stock into the pan. Add the pre-cooked chickpeas and cover it up.
Bring it to boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for about 5 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the water. Do not stir the rice while cooking! Turn off the heat and let the rice rest with the lid closed for about 15 minutes. Stir with a spoon or fork to loosen up the rice a little before serving.