When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock — and goodness knows what else — all set to prepare with water on the stovetop. The results were salty, addictive and aromatically flavored. My brothers and I would fight over who got to finish the bowl on the dinner table; one box was never enough.
These days, I make pilaf from scratch — and you probably do, too, without realizing it. The principle behind pilaf is that rice, or another grain such as bulgur or farro, is sauteed to lightly toast the grains, and then steamed in a flavorful broth, along with a few aromatics such as onion, garlic and spices. When ready to serve, the rice is fluffed to separate the grains and prevent stickiness, and handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped almonds or chilies are added for extra flavor, crunch and color.
You can choose to keep the rice simple or add the garnishes selectively to your taste. I tend to pile them all on, because they add sensational taste. So, before you reach for a box of pilaf in the supermarket with a long list of multisyllabic ingredients, remember that it’s really easy — and cheaper — to make your own from scratch.