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The perfect pilav

Whether plain or exotic, pilav is deceptively simple to prepare yet the ultimate test of the accomplished cook

‘They never stir while boiling rice; if you stir rice while it is cooking, as the French do, you destroy it.’ – Pierre Belon du Mans, 16th century.

Mehmed the Conqueror’s famous grand vizier Mahmud Pasha was descended from a distinguished Byzantine family; his grandfather was the last bearer of the title of Caesar in Byzantium. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, he became a close friend of the young conquering sultan and converted to Islam. He earned the title of pasha, twice became grand vizier and proved a capable general and administrator, serving his sovereign faithfully and sharing with him a deep interest in art and literature… Each Friday Mahmud Pasha invited his ministers to lunch. Towards the end of the meal was served a rice and chickpea pilav domed on a large tray. This was the climax of the meal, not only because the steaming pilav looked inviting but because the chickpeas int it were mixed with gold chickpeas moulded by his goldsmiths into the shape and size of real ones…

The Turkish word pilav is related to the Sanskrit word pellao, the Persian pilau, the Uzbeki palov and probably the Spanish Paella. In Turkish, pilav simply implies a dish prepared with grains. It could be rise, wheat, bulgur (cracked wheat) or couscous…

Pilavs made with meat, fish or game are a wonderful main course. Serve fresh salad or some pickled vegetables to sharpen the appetite. Other pilavs, cooked with vegetable or nuts, or simply plain, can be served at the end of the meal with a fruit compot (or hoşab) to freshen the palate. Rice or bulgur pilav, as well as being nourishing, is wonderfully easy to digest, and therefore far less fattening than pasta.

Recipes in this issue: Sade Pilav (Plain White Rice); Noğutlu Pilav (Pilav with Chickpeas); Bulgur Pilav; Ahtapotlu Pilav (Octopus Pilav); Şehriyeli Pilav (Vermicelli Pilav); Kurbe Pilavı (Aubergine Pilav); Bezeliyeli Pilav (Pilav with Green Peas); Kuskus Pilavı (Couscous); İç Pilav (Pilav with Nuts); Tarak Pilav (Scallop Pilav)

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 7
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  • The Jewel Box

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  • Slaves to Fantasy

    Chris Farrard questions the motives behind William Allan’s famous Slave Market

  • A bird in hand

    During the Turkish quail-hunting season, man’s best friend is the sparrowhawk. Roger Upton describes how these redoubtable birds help to bring home the bacon

  • East with the Night

    The fascination of Istanbul is enough to keep visitors and even the city’s more Westernised residents, from exploring the Asian interior of Central Anatolia, whose local capital, Konya, boasts a million residents and a daunting commitment to Muslim fundamentalism. But a night’s journey by train from Haydarpaşa brings one back to the very dawn of civilisation, and the experience is well worth the not inconsiderable effort of exploring.

Buy the issue
Issue 7, 1994/95 The Great Walls of Istanbul
£250.00 / $353.24 / 1,388.11 TL
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