(Almost) Just Like the Boxed Mix Rice Pilaf

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My kids love the boxed rice pilaf that is a mix of yellow rice and toasted orzo. For a long time, I tried to replicate it with a “from scratch” recipe and it just wasn’t quite the same.

What is in the rice mix that makes it so appealing, I wondered–is there the food equivalent of crack in there? I looked closely at the ingredients and noted that there is something called autolyzed yeast extract. That is the main ingredient in Marmite and Vegemite. It is high in glutamic acids and is analogous to MSG. Autolyzed yeast extract, then, is an umami flavor-enhancer. This is the ingredient that amps up the savory taste of the rice pilaf.

I don’t have any autolyzed yeast extract in my spice cabinet, but I can produce the remaining ingredients: parboiled rice, toasted orzo, dried onion, dried onion, salt and turmeric. Using parboiled rice is key to reproducing the distinctive texture of the pilaf, but, if you don’t care about that, you can use regular long grain rice. I found that Hawaij spice mix, which contains turmeric and other spices (black pepper, coriander, cardamon and cumin), is better than plain turmeric for this rice pilaf.

Slight digression: If you want to make your own Hawaijj, or just want to read an interesting article about Yemenite Jewish cuisine, take a look at this article from Gourmet Magazine. The article is from the website of food writer Adeena Sussman, which has other interesting articles and recipes.

(Almost) Just Like the Boxed Mix Rice Pilaf

1 Tbl. olive oil (or butter)
1/4 cup orzo
1 cup parboiled rice (i.e., Uncle Ben’s)
2 cups water or broth
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. Hawaij (or turmeric, but Hawaij spice mix is better)
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the orzo and cook, stirring constantly, until the orzo turns golden brown. This should take about a minute, so watch carefully and have the rice at hand to add to the pot.

As soon as the orzo is golden, dump in the rice and stir well to coat the rice with the oil.

Add the water and seasonings and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

If the water is absorbed and the rice is almost but not quite as soft as you would like, turn off the heat, and let the rice rest in the covered pot for an additional ten minutes. The rice will cook a little bit more with the retained heat.

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