Nobody’s Perfect, but This Baked Brown Rice Pilaf Comes Pretty Close

Last night I was poking around on Chowhound’s home cooking message board and came across a lively discussion of baked brown rice. Baking my brown rice had never occurred to me, but then I recalled two very delicious baked rice dishes my mom made when we were kids: one involved very thinly sliced onions that nearly caramelized in the oven, and the other was a traditional Mexican rice with tomatoes, onions, and peas. Both had perfectly cooked, individual grains and the almost crunchy texture that for me is a hallmark of anything truly yummy—generally speaking, I’m all about the crust. I’ll leave behind the soft middle of bagels, good bread, even some cakes, to focus on the browned, toothsome edges.

Curry has been dancing around my cooking brain lately, so I thought a baked brown rice pilaf might be a nice complement to a vaguely Indian vegetable stew. The Chowhound discussion included several recipes but none seemed to be exactly right for curry, so I did what I always do: I plucked a good idea from here, an interesting technique from there, and added a whole lot of improvisation from my pantry. The end result was shockingly good—enough to elevate a fairly lame attempt at curried eggplant (for which I won’t bother to include a recipe) into quite a delicious, and healthy, meal. You may have heard the term “nutty” used to describe brown rice. Well, I’ve never particularly understood that usage. Brown rice is delicious, it’s flavorful, it’s fiberiffic, but I’ve never thought of it as especially reminiscent of nuts. Baked, though, it’s a revelation. Nutty is exactly the right word for this pilaf. The top layer gets just a hint of a crust, and the spices mellow into the very heart of each grain. Plumped raisins accent sweetly, and the onions get ever-so-slightly caramelized.

In the future, I’ll toss in a rinsed and drained can of chick peas and let this pilaf be the star, with a sprinkling of toasted almond slivers. No stew necessary, I tell ya.

Weight Watchers readers: It’s Core, with the exception of the raisins.

Baked Brown Rice Pilaf
Serves 2-3

½ T. olive oil
½ T. butter
1 ½ cups long-grain brown rice
1 T. Penzey’s Balti Seasoning (or spice mixture of your choice)
1 small onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup raisins
½ t. salt
2 1/3 cups liquid [I combined chicken broth and water]

Preheat oven to 375. In a large dutch oven, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until some grains are quite brown. Add spice mixture and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add onion, garlic, and ginger, and sauté another 3-5 minutes, until onion is softened and rice is well toasted. Add raisins and salt. Carefully add liquid—it will bubble furiously, so add it quickly and stand back. Cover with a double layer of aluminum foil and bake one hour. Fluff with a fork, cover with a kitchen towel, and let sit 5 minutes. Re-fluff before serving.