Rice pilaf dishes are incredibly popular in Greece and come in varied forms. The most simple pilaf is made with homemade stock, olive oil, lemon and herbs such as bay and cinnamon. Special occasion or ceremonial pilaf, such as the Cretan wedding pilaf is cooked in stock made from quality meat and bones. To enhance the taste of the pilaf, fresh butter is also used in generous quantities. My sister in law's mother, who is from Crete, is well known for her amazing pilaf recipe. I am hoping to learn this dish one day soon. Then there are homely pilaf dishes, which feature regularly on our weeknight menu, such as spanakorizo (spinach rice) or prassorizo (leek rice) - and my mother in law's delicious kalamari pilaf.
Seafood pilafs are particularly popular in the islands and costal areas of Greece, because it allows the flavour of the spectacular local fish and shellfish, or in this case kalamari to stand out from a fairly simple flavour background. It can also turn a small home-caught catch into a fairly substantial meal for family or friends.
This is my mother in law's recipe - she likes to add a hit of chilli, which isn't all that traditional - but it is her tradition. I love the spicy hit, which you can adjust to your taste - or leave out altogether. Ma counsels that your pilaf must not be soggy, "agapi mou" she says, "you are not making a soupa. The pilaf must be like a skordalia. The rice needs to be cooked, but firm and fluffy....just like little nails". There is no chance of a soggy pilaf with Ma's recipe.
Kalamari pilaf (Καλαμαρί πιλάφι)
1 yellow onion finely chopped (or the white part of a large leek, finely chopped)
1 cup 'bonnet' or other short grain rice
1 cup fresh tomatoes and their juice, chopped
1 cup of cleaned kalamari, finely chopped
1-2 dried chillies
1/2 cup of water
1. Heat some olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) in a fry pan or skillet. Add the onion and rice. Cook until onion is translucent and rice is toasted, about 7 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chilli and water. Stir, cover and then reduce the heat. Cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is cooked. About 10-12 minutes. You may need to add a little more water if the rice has absorbed it all, but has not cooked. About halfway through the cooking time, add the kalamari.
3. Remove from the heat and season well. Place a clean tea towel over the pan, then place a lid on top of the tea towel. Let the rice rest for 10 - 15 minutes and then fluff the rice with a fork and serve. You may wish to remove the whole dried chilies before serving - just so that no one gets an extra spicy surprise!