Layered Rice Pilaff With Dried Fruit and Chestnuts

Eziz Qonaqlar, Meclisimize Ash Gelir! Ok, no panicking, it’s in Azeri, I’ll translate, word by word: Dear Guests, Pilaff is Entering Our Ceremony! This is how the Tamada, a Toastmaster always announces the appearance of a festive Pilaff at the Azerbaijani wedding ceremony. Royal treatment, you would say? Now, listen to this. Beautifully presented and mouth-watering pilaff is literally escorted to the reception area with one person at the head (a dancer in a national costume or a waiter) carrying the pilaff plate and others following with torches in their hands. This plate is placed on the bride and groom’s table. And of course, all this is accompanied by beautiful music and a happy cheering of the guests. Now, this is royal!

Yes, Rice Pilaff is the king (or the queen:) of all foods in Azerbaijan. It is not prepared on a daily basis, but there is hardly any celebration, ceremony that would not have pilaff on the menu.

Azerbaijani cuisine boasts countless versions of it, with every region having its own special recipe. Typically, long grain rice is steamed with saffron on top and a layer of golden crust called Gazmag (in Azeri: qazmaq) on the bottom. Traditionally, a crust is prepared from eggs, flours, butter and yogurt. Or, if you are pressed with time, simply lay peeled sliced potatoes or flat bread – lavash on the bottom, then scoop the rice on top and steam it.

Usually this type of Pilaff is served with additions, known as ashgara (ashqara) or khurush, prepared separately from the rice. Meat, dried fruits, fresh herbs, fish, vegetables and aromatic spices are cooked in many different ways to make the addition, which, when ready, is piled on top of the cooked saffron rice on individual serving plates.

Some recipes call for the addition to be cooked with the rice, inside the same pot. Like the one I am posting today. It is a simplified version of a layered rice pilaff called Parcha-dosheme Plov in Azeri. The origianal recipe requires a crust on the bottom before other ingredients are layered on top. In our family the following simplified version of it is cooked more often. No crust, but still delicious! Make it a part of your Novruz table!

LAYERED RICE PILAFF WITH DRIED FRUITS & CHESTNUTS
Parcha-Dosheme Plov

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS
3 cups long-grain white Basmati rice (you can also use long-grain American rice)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup peeled chestnuts*
½ cup pitted dried apricots (you can half them, too, if they are too big)
1 cup dried sour plums, pitted
½ cup pitted dates
½ cup golden raisins
1 ½ (700g) pounds skinless, boneless chicken cut into 2-inch (5cm) cubes
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half lengthways, then thinly sliced in half-circles
1/3 teaspoon ground saffron threads*, dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water
salt
ground black pepper

VARIATION 1: You can also use lamb in this recipe instead of chicken. Boil the lamb it in a pan with water for about 5 minutes, skimming the froth with a slotted spoon, then drain and use as directed in the recipe. This is done to remove the unpleasant smell and to get rid of the excessive froth lamb releases.

VARIATION 2: You can substitute dried sour plums with dried barberries (in Azeri: zirinc) or dried pitted sour cherries.

1. Pick over the rice carefully, removing any stones or other extraneous particles. Place the rice on a fine-mesh strainer or colander and wash thoroughly under lukewarm water until the water runs clear (as close to clear as possible). The rinsing process removes the starch so that the rice grains will remain separate after cooking.

2. Soak the rice in a large container filled with lukewarm water mixed with 1 tablespoon of salt.

3. While the rice is soaking, prepare fruits and chestnuts. In a medium frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add peeled chestnuts and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add dried apricots, plums and dates and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add raisins (add them last because they brown fast and can be easily burned) and stir-fry for 1 more minute. Remove from heat.

4. In a large non-stick saucepan, combine 10 cups of water and 2 tablespoons salt. Bring to a boil. Drain the soaked rice (do not rinse) and add it, in batches, to the pot. Boil for about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, to prevent rice grains from sticking to the bottom. Watch the rice closely so as not to overcook. The rice is ready once it surfaces to the top. Try one grain to see if it’s ready – it must be barely done – not fully cooked and not too soft (VERY IMPORTANT). Drain the rice in a large fine-mesh strainer or colander. Set aside.

5. Rinse the pot you boiled the rice in. Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Tilt the pan to distribute it evenly. Arrange meat in one l layer at the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper, to taste. Follow with the layer of sliced onions. Simmer over medium heat uncovered, without stirring, for about 3 minutes to let the flavors develop.

6. Place half of the rice in the pot over the onion. Arrange the dried fruits and chestnuts in one layer on top of the rice. Pile the rest of the rice on top of the fruits, mounding the rice nicely in the shape of a pyramid. Pour 1 tablespoon melted butter over rice.

7. Place a clean dishtowel or 2 layers of paper towel over the pot and cover firmly with a lid to absorb the steam. Lift the corners of the towel over the lid as shown in the picture below.




8. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Then open the lid and sprinkle the saffron water on top of the rice.


9. Cover again and simmer for another 30 minutes. When ready, meat should be cooked and lightly golden on the bottom. The onion will almost melt into the meat and will not be that visible. Rice grains should be separate and fluffy, and not sticky.

10. When ready to serve, gently take 1 spatula full of rice, fruits and meat at a time, placing it on the large serving platter. This Pilaff is delicious served with pickles, vegetable salad or fresh herbs. Nush Olsun! Enjoy!

Your Comment

53 Comments
  1. This rice dish looks excellent. My customers would love it. I’m going to subscribe and check your site out. You ever cook any quinoa. It’s the “next” new grain. I’ve been cooking with it for 12 yrs, took me a long time to get good with quinoa. Plus it’s fun to say-Keen wa!

  2. Rice looks colorful and with those dry fruits it would have tasted yumm and rich!

  3. Im printing out your recipes .,,thank youuu!!

  4. I think barberries would be nice in this also! Do you have some nice recipes using freekah? It is our new favourite. We have been using many various healthy grains for years, but Freekah is the best!

  5. MARY-ANNE: Barberries would be absolutely delicious in this pilaff. I use them too when I don’t have pomegranate, or sour paste. They make a nice addition. as to Freekah, I not quite familiar with it and I don’t recall seeing it in Azerbaijan, at least in Baku, where I grew up.

  6. I like this idea of cooking the rice, very interesting, i will try it and let you know soon

  7. ARLETTE: Thanks for looking. Pls do let me know when you cook it. Cheers.

  8. Farida
    its not the chestnut season any more, and I want to try this soon, do you think it will change the flavour?? for dried sour plums, can i subtitue dried prunes and for the sour taste use pomegranate molases .

  9. ARLETTE: It’s ok if you don’t have chestnuts. You can do without them. Yes, you can use dried prunes but not sure about molases, as it is more of paste. You can use fresh pomegranate seeds if you have any. If not available, just omit that part.

  10. Farida

    Iam preparing the rice now.. I will let you know after
    but Michel likes it, and will take photos

  11. I belong to Pak, I stayed in Azarbaijan, I like Azari palov to much.thanks for recipe

  12. that rice cook, Thanks.

  13. Farida,

    Art?q alit? il Az?rbaycanda qalm??am – amma bu gün birinci gün Az?rbaycanl? plov bi?irmi?em. S?nin rec?p gör?! ?la alinib. H?tt? Az?rbaycanlar? dedi ki “Dadl? idi”:)

    Thank you for helping me become a little bit more Azerbaijani. You have a beautiful website.

    Blessings to you – and let me know when you come to Baku,
    Linda

  14. farida, how about gazmag. I want to do it for the first time since I moved out of Azerbaijan. I was told that I could do it with tortias. Do you know how?
    Unfortunately, I never cooked when I live in Baku. My mom would do it always. :) So, I need to learn independently now. :)

  15. This looks yummy!

  16. Hello Farida,

    My husband is Azeri and I cooked this dish for the first time today – practice for the upcoming Azeri holiday in March! I want to thank you for such a beautiful recipe and share some of the cheats I used. I have never even seen or tasted a pilaf before today. I could not find fresh chestnuts right now so I used the preserved ones. I also could not find the sour plums so I used pomegranate molasses. It tasted great and my husband loved it. Thank you so much for making this intimidating dish easy to prepare through your great instructions and pictures.

  17. Farida this rocks – your blog rocks, your project rocks, and this recipe rocks. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been looking for a proper, clear, straightforward pilaff recipe which would allow me to reproduce it just like we had it in the old country (I am from Azerbaijan too, but my family never made it, what with being Jewish). I’ll definitely be trying this.

    Reproducing Azeri food in a small village in the Wisconsin countryside, even with a fancy food coop, is no small feat, so you’ve just made this task infinitely better.

  18. WE NEED HELP FINDIGN FOOD FOR OUR INTERNATION DAY!!!

  19. Hello Farida,

    Thank you for this receipe.

    I was wondering if you could share how to make the kazmag (out of rice preferably, not potatoe).

    I will be trying out the pilaf nxt week :))

  20. the good food.
    Enjoy a food.

  21. very good

  22. I tested this recipe. Even so it looks great on the pic I would give it 6/10. Rice came out fine with dry fruits, however, meat had no flavor at all. I was born and lived in Azerbaijan. My mom used to make this. She actually cooked dried fruits together with meat and onions. I ll try this again but make a few adjustments.

  23. Hai,

    i am an indian liiving in uae and i like to learn all kinds of azeri food because when i first try azeri food i felt something special
    if anyone interest to teach me please reply me
    thanks .

  24. rice jeara friee

  25. I’m from Armenian so a lot of these recipes i’ve grown up with, so its nice to see familiar things and i must say all your recipes come out delicious and the recipes are perfect

  26. will be doing this this weekend , hopefully! thanx!

  27. Will be trying this week! I home school my children, and we are going to be studying about the Azeri people this week.

  28. this is nice where can i buy these fruits

  29. Nyatwa Machingura – In most Middle Eastern/Persian stores.

  30. Great! I left my kazan in Baku, but your recipe works well. Any ideas about gazmag? To me it was one of the best parts :)

  31. Hi Feride! I’m working on the Azerbaijan entry for my food blog, Travel by Stove, which follows my efforts to cook one meal from every nation on earth. I’d like to use this recipe or a variation of it in my blog entry and will be linking back to your page for readers who are interested in going further with Azerbaijan cuisine.

    I was wondering if you could let me know what sort of foods would traditionally be served with this? I’ve encountered similar pilaf recipes in other nations and because they’re made with meat I have a hard time figuring out if they are supposed to be sides or mains. Would love some suggestions … I usually do a side and a main, plus an appetizer or dessert (sometimes both!)

    Thank you, love your blog!

  32. BECKI ROBINS – Thank you for stopping by and your nice words. Glad you will be using this recipe. THis is a main dish on its own – it is typically served with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers (cut into chunks in a salad) in summer and pickles (pickled vegetables, fruits etc) in winter. Yogurt drink, ayran, is good to wash it down (recipe available on the blog). Please let me know if this helps. Good luck! And Enjoy!

  33. So excited to make this tonight! We are Australian and making this to celebrate first night of Eurovision in Azerbaijan! We always cook a meal from the host country…..

  34. Farida, thank you so much for this recipe! Made it tonight with chicken, and it turned out great! Next time I’ll try to use lamb, my husband likes it more.
    A few quick questions about rice/dried fruit. What brand rice do you buy? Also, where do you get your sour cherries? I live in Seattle, and the only sour cherries I’ve seen have been at Whole Foods (with sugar added, so they taste more sweet than sour) or Sadaf brand cherries at Iranian stores, but they come with pits.
    Thank you!!!

  35. Hi..I am a Barber in the University of Texas at Austin part of town, so I get to meet a lot of young people from all over the world….I am also an excellent cook, and love to learn & cook food from other countries….I have recently met some students from Azerbaijan ….they are WONDERFUL !! One of them told me he has lost 10 lbs since he’s been in USA ….poor baby !! he say’s the food & meat here is terrible & full of GMO etc. ….So I want to cook some food he is familiar with & surprise him the next time he comes in for his haircut !! I think I can do it because I cook a lot of Persian food & from what I’ve gathered by looking at your page, there are a lot of similar ingredients & techniques !!
    Keep up the good work, and great recipes. !!! Soooooo Dilicious !!!! Thank you !!!

  36. I meant….Delicious !!!!!

  37. MARIYA – Glad you like it. I use any brand Basmati rice. No particular brand. Sour cherries – I buy them fresh from Middle Eastern markets in the summer then freeze them. for winter. You can buy cherries with pits and remove the pits yourself with a cherry pit remover. Good luck!

  38. MAGGIE BENAVIDES – So glad you hear this! Let me know if you have any questions about the recipes. Enjoy the cooking!

  39. I could never master pilaff and have never tried it. I saw your recipe and decided to give it a try and it turned out just like moms! It reminded me of home. Thank you for recipe!