My Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf is meant for joyful gatherings ~ it has roots in the ancient cuisines of Persia, India, and Turkey, but I guarantee this pretty gluten free vegan dish will thrill everybody around your table, too!
*This post is in association with Nielsen-Massey ~ a brand that I’ve used and loved since I first learned to cook. Thanks for supporting me and the companies I work with, I promise to bring you only the very best, and they help keep TVFGI up and cooking!
When Nielsen-Massey asked me to develop a recipe around their line of fine flavors I got super excited, partly because I’ve been a huge fan of their products forever, but also because I love to experiment with flavor. You’ve heard me talk about it a lot here…I like to bump up the flavors in my recipes just a little bit beyond the ordinary, and by pushing those boundaries I end up with food that isn’t just delicious, it’s memorable. That’s certainly the case with this Fragrant Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf.
TIP: Of course you’ve used almond extract in baking, but did you know it can also be used in savory foods? I’ve added a few drops of Nielsen-Massey Pure Almond Extract to take this pilaf to a whole new level. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like dessert, but you’ll get a background note of that gorgeous flavor.
Pilaf, or a dish of rice cooked with vegetables (sometimes meat) and spices is a special occasion food found in lots of cuisines, from the Middle East, to Latin America. They can be simple, or elaborate, but basically they’re an inexpensive way to feed a crowd. It’s definitely the pretty toppings that take this side dish into celebration mode. I’ve used traditional garnishes, but you can of course go with what you like. Dried fruits and nuts are common, as well as those to-die-for fried onions. The finely shredded orange peel is a delicious surprise ~ the sophisticated combination of almond and orange is classic!
The aroma of this rice is a huge part of why I love it so much, and people who study this stuff say that over 75% of what we taste actually comes from our sense of smell. One whiff of this warm pilaf and you’ll get it. Whenever I cook with almond extract I always take a minute to inhale straight from the bottle. Almond extract is one of the world’s great aromas, so indulge!
Ever wonder why almond extract doesn’t taste like almonds? It’s made with the oil of bitter almonds which is derived from stone fruit pits, so Nielsen Massey almond extract is actually nut free. It’s also cold extracted to preserve all those delicate flavor notes.
Speaking of great aromas, the aroma compounds in authentic Basmati rice are many times more potent than in regular rice, and for a dish like this it’s well worth tracking down. There are lots of varieties of basmati rice, but I highly recommend buying imported rice straight from India or Pakistan. Most stores sell it, just look carefully. Rice labeled ‘basmati’ is not the real deal unless it comes from India or Pakistan. In face its dna has been codified, and like Parmesan cheese or Champagne, it can only come from one region in the world. That helps keep it real.
As the rice cooks with the onions, spices, and almond extract, your kitchen is going to smell amazing. This is rice like you’ve never had it before ~ in fact you may want to serve the spiced rice as is, as a side dish for everyday meals. With or without the garnishes, this is fabulous.
TIP: To get the pretty yellow and white two toned effect in the rice, like you sometimes get in Indian restaurants, you need to add a bit of saffron infused water after the rice has cooked. Don’t mix the rice completely, let the yellow grains stay separate.
Fragrant Toasted Almond Pilaf
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads
- 1 large onion
- vegetable oil , for frying the onions
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 15 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 10 dried allspice berries
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp butter, or olive oil for vegan
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups Basmati rice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 tsp pure almond extract, up to 1/2 tsp, as desired
- 1/4 cup currants
- 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
- 1/4 cup finely shredded orange rind
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- toasted almonds, instructions below
- fried onions, instructions below
- Put three tablespoons of very hot water in a cup and add the saffron, crushing the threads between your fingers as you add them. Give it a good stir and set aside.
- Peel and very thinly slice the onion. Separate the rings, and set aside 1/4 of them for frying.
- Put about an inch of oil in a pan or skillet and heat until quite hot. Working in batches, fry the onions until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
- Heat a large pan or skillet and toast the almonds for several minutes over medium heat until they turn golden. Keep them moving at all times, and watch carefully so they don't burn. Remove from the pan and set aside. If you like, you can also fry the almonds in the oil, after you fry the onions. Your choice.
- In the same pan, toast the whole spices for about 5 minutes over medium low heat, moving them almost constantly until they give off their aroma. Grind in a spice grinder. Add the freshly grated nutmeg. Set aside.
- In the same pan, add the butter and olive oil and saute the remaining onions for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture, according to your taste. 1 teaspoon will be relatively subtle, 2 more assertive. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes. Add an extra tablespoon of oil if it sticks or seems dry.
- Add the rice, and stir to combine. Saute for a few minutes
- Add 2 1/2 cups HOT water to the pan along with the salt and almond extract, and stir. Bring up to a boil, then lower the temperature, cover, and let cook, undisturbed, for 12 minutes. Turn off heat but allow to sit for 10 more minutes.
- Remove the lid and pour the saffron water on PART of the rice. Fluff the rice and pile it on an oblong patter. Don't mix the yellow rice completely into the white, let the colors remain separate.
- Top with the garnishes and the fried onions. Serve hot.
- Now for the rest of your almond extract, you might want to use it in some sweet recipes. I’ve got lots! I recommend my SWEET CHERRY ALMOND BARS, and my TOASTED ALMOND MILKSHAKE, for starters.
- For those beautifully fine threads of orange zest, use an inexpensive zesting tool like this one.
- You can also find all sorts of inspiring recipes ~ Mango Jalapeño Sorbet anyone? ~ on the Nielsen-Massey website. Head on over!
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