Friday, March 21, 2014

The Evolution of a Dish....Freekeh Pilaf with Sautéed Cauliflower, Parsley, Capers & Golden Raisins



Last month I described a special evening out with friends at a favorite local restaurant.  As I mentioned in that post, everything we ordered was delicious.  I have continued to be inspired by the foods and flavor combinations I sampled that night.  Besides the salad I wrote about, a medley of couscous and cauliflower (served as an accompaniment to shrimp with Romesco) particularly captured my fancy.   Loaded with flavors I love—capers, parsley, lemon, almonds, golden raisins—I have made several variations on it in the weeks since.

A couple of times I prepared it cold in a salad (as at the restaurant)—with minimally blanched and chopped cauliflower.  


On another occasion I made it into a warm pilaf...with sautéed cauliflower.  


It is probably because I love warm grain pilafs that I liked it this last way the best. 

It then occurred to me that these flavors would be delicious in combination with the slightly smoky, slightly tangy flavor of freekeh...and they were.  (If you aren't familiar with freekeh, I wrote about my introduction to it last spring.)


At some point I started making it with pistachios instead of almonds.  Then, as I thought back over the different ways I had made it, I realized that I had always served it with a side of roasted carrots.  


With spice roasted carrots...and Cornish Hen
With roasted carrots and beef tenderloin
With honey glazed carrots and pork loin
With braised carrots and a pork chop

I decided I might as well include the carrots in the pilaf itself...and turn the pilaf into the main event (which is how I often eat them anyway).



It is this final version that I thought I would share. 

You can of course make it with almonds instead of pistachios, and couscous instead of freekeh.  You can include the carrots, or leave them out.  But I think they add great color while at the same time they echo the sweetness of the golden raisins. 

And although it might seem that I have randomly changed and added ingredients, I have not touched the central flavors that captured my attention in the first place:  the cauliflower, capers, golden raisin, parsley and lemon.  The dish would be flat and disappointing if any of these were left out—the interplay of these particular flavors is what this dish is all about. 

At this point, my pilaf is not really a recognizable adaptation of the dish I had at Extra Virgin.  But it is delicious.  I know I will be making it again and again. 




Freekeh Pilaf with Sautéed Cauliflower, 
Capers & Golden Raisins

1 T. olive oil
1/2 of a red onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice, Or 1/2 bunch of scallions (white and several inches of green), rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced—about 1/2 cup of onion
salt
1/2 c. cracked freekeh, rinsed and drained
2/3 c. water

1 to 2 T. olive oil
6 oz. cauliflower florets, trimmed and cut into smaller (1/2- to 3/4-inch) florets (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot (3 to 4 oz.), trimmed and peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices on the diagonal, and slices cut again into 1/4-inch strips (they will be shaped like a quill and you will have about 1 cup)—optional
1 1/2 T. capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
zest of half of a small lemon
3 to 4 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 to 4 T. toasted pistachios (or almonds), coarsely chopped
1 t. lemon juice (or to taste)
2 oz. crumbled Feta—optional


Warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid over moderate heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender and translucent—5 to 10 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained freekeh along with a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute until the grains are coated in the oil and sizzling in the hot oil. Add the water and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered until the freekeh is tender—20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

While the freekeh cooks, sauté the cauliflower and carrots.  Set a sauté pan just large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer over moderately high heat.  When the pan is hot, add a generous tablespoon of oil to the pan.  Add the cauliflower and carrots and sauté, tossing occasionally, until golden brown in spots—about 4 or 5 minutes. If the sautéing vegetables seem dry, drizzle in a bit more of the olive oil.  Season with salt and add a splash of water (3 or 4 T.). Cover the pan and reduce the heat to very low. Cook until the cauliflower and carrots are just tender to the tip of a knife....about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat and cook until any remaining water has evaporated off and the cauliflower is once again sizzling in the fat.  Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest and a tablespoon or so of the parsley.  Continue to cook until the garlic is fragrant and the capers are sizzling.  Remove from the heat and set aside.



To finish the pilaf, turn the cooked freekeh into a large bowl.  If the vegetables have cooled off too much, warm briefly.  Add to the bowl with the freekeh.  Add the remaining parsley, the raisins, the pistachios and the lemon juice.  



Toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lemon juice.  



Serve as a side for 3 or a light entrée for two.  If serving as an entrée, crumble the Feta over the finished pilaf. 

Notes:
  • The recipe may be multiplied without difficultyjust use 1 1/4 c. of water (or stock) for every cup of freekeh.
  • This pilaf is excellent hot—but it is also delicious at room temperature. It would be wonderful to take to work or school for lunch.
  • If you would like to prepare the pilaf with couscous, simply replace the freekeh with couscous: Add the water before adding the couscous and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing and combining with the vegetables. (For an even more stream-lined preparation, omit the onion. Just bring the water, along with 1/2 T. of olive oil and 1/4 t. salt, to a boil. Add the couscous, stir to combine, cover and remove from the heat.)
Printable Version

With Feta...for lunch...




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