Difficulty: Labor Intensive
This preparation has all the hallmarks of being the creation of a royal chef in the kitchen of the Topkapi Sarayi, the palace of the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul. This rice pilaf is perfumed with finely cut fresh vegetables, herbs, and fragrant spices and wrapped in yufka pastry, a very thin Turkish pastry nearly as thin as phyllo that, in fact, means “thin.” Charles Perry, who has written on the foods of medieval Turkic tribes, has speculated that an ancient Turkish yufka pastry described in an eleventh-century dictionary as a thin bread might be the progenitor of the Near Eastern baklava that exists today. In this preparation, the yufka pastry becomes crunchy and the pilaf inside is like finding a delicious treasure.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
Preparation Time: 2 hours
1. In a large, heavy saucepan or casserole with a tight-fitting lid, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat, then cook the rice until well coated, 3 minutes, stirring. Add the salt and 4 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes, without stirring or looking under the lid. Remove the lid, place a paper towel over the rice, and replace the lid. Let stand off the burner for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat, then cook the pine nuts, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Remove with a slotted ladle and set aside.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the same skillet and cook the onion until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the carrots, fresh peas (not the frozen ones), dill, currants or raisins, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, sugar, and the remaining 3/4 cup water, season with salt and pepper, stir, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the frozen peas (if using) 4 minutes before the vegetables are done. Stir this vegetable mixture into the rice along with the reserved pine nuts.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
5. Melt the remaining 4 to 6 tablespoons butter. Butter a round 12-inch diameter baking pan and layer a sheet of yufka pastry (a round sheet about 16-inches in diameter) on the bottom, letting it hang over the edges. Brush heavily with melted butter. If using phyllo pastry you will need to overlap up to six sheets, brushing each layer with butter. Cover the pastry sheets with the rice mixture, spreading it evenly around the pan, and cover with another sheet of yufka pastry, tucking the sides under and brushing the top with butter. If using phyllo pastry, use six sheets and butter each layer. Bake until the top is light golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Invert onto a flat round pizza pan or an inverted large pan lid. Slide off and return to the baking pan and bake the other side until the top is light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the baking pan to a round serving platter and serve hot or warm.