With the exception of ooey-gooey potato concoctions, side dishes rarely get any respect. Here, however, is a pilaf fully capable of stealing the limelight.
It’s basmati rice that makes Greek Style Rice Pilaf so special. An especially aromatic grain used for centuries in India and Pakistan, basmati doesn’t usually show up in a Greek-styled pilaf. But I prefer its naturally nutty taste to the blandness of the usual varieties of long-grain rice. The seasonings, of course, are also key: sauteed spinach spiked with red pepper flakes, feta cheese, olives and dill.
Cooking the rice requires some care. It needs to be tightly sealed and cooked at a bare simmer to achieve the right texture. Place a wet paper towel under the lid to ensure that no liquid can escape. And of course, wait 10 minutes after it’s cooked before opening the lid.
If you’re no fan of feta, swap in ricotta salata, a kind of aged ricotta. You’re also welcome to lose the dill in favor of oregano, basil or mint. And if you don’t like olives, leave them out.
Born as a side dish, Greek Style Rice Pilaf easily converts to main-dish status. Just top it off with a little sauteed shrimp or chicken and call it a meal.
GREEK-STYLE RICE PILAF
In a medium pan over medium heat, cook onion in 2 tablespoons oil, stirring occasionally until golden, about 8 minutes. Add rice and garlic; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add lemon zest and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to medium-low, adjusting temperature to make sure broth maintains a bare simmer. Cover top of pot with wet paper towel and tight-fitting lid and cook, without stirring, for 17 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.
While the rice is simmering, cook spinach. In large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high, add half the spinach and cook, stirring until wilted, then add half the pepper flakes. Stir and transfer to bowl. Repeat with remaining oil, spinach and pepper flakes. Set aside.
When the rice is ready, add the spinach mixture, feta, olives and dill, then fluff rice with fork to separate the grains. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 259 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 211 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 6 g protein.