Veiled rice pilaf

Rice pilaf with a delicious veil

Since COVID-19 pandemic started, probably like most of you, I missed travelling the most. I keep on remembering my past travels both in Turkey and outside. Reminiscing about these travels also reminds me of the wonderful local dishes I’ve tasted, the warm and hospitable people I have met and the stories I have collected.

The other day I was thinking about my trip to Diyarbakır from two years ago. Diyarbakır is located on the southeastern part of Turkey, and it is one of the most beautiful places that I had ever visited, both in terms of historical sights and culinary culture. The second longest wall, after the Great Wall of China, is in Diyarbakır called Diyarbakır surları (Diyarbakır walls). There is Diyarbakır castle and the infamous Hevsel gardens cultural landscape, which is a seven thousand year old civic garden that is very unique in its own right and it was inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

I had spent only a day and night inthis mesmerizing city, but it was filled with delicious memories. Especially the dinner event I had attended took place at the courtyard of the Diyarbakır City Museum was unforgettable. It was a collaboration of local food establishments, women’s associations and even some natives who are known to be great home cooks. Everyone cooked a specialty local dish and they are all laid out in large platters on big tables. The whole courtyard was decorated for this festive event and the food was the focus.

Veiled rice pilaf was one of the simplest yet most compelling dish that I had during that night. It is a rice pilaf dish that is covered with minced beef with almonds, which is made for religious holidays, engagement parties and weddings.

What makes this dish special is the two locally grown ingredients: Karacadağ rice and almonds.

Unfortunately, I had neither. Instead of Karacadağ rice, I used sarıkılçık rice from Kastamonu and instead of almonds I used walnuts from Bayramiç, Çanakkale.  It still turned out to be an extremely delectable dish that adorned our dinner table.

Duvaklı pilav (Veiled rice pilaf)
For the rice:
2 cups rice, soaked with warm water for 15 minutes2 tablespoons butter
3 cups water or stock of choice, boiled1 teaspoon salt

For the minced meat:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound (250 grams) minced beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear then let it drain in the strainer for about 10 minutes.

In a medium size pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the rice and sauté (so to speak) about five minutes until the rice starts to stick to the bottom. (I use stainless steel pot with a lid but if you use a heavy cast iron pot or other types of pots with a lid then just sauté until the rice turns opaque).

Add the boiled water or stock and salt then let it come to a boil. Once boiled, turn down the heat to low and cover the pot with the lid.

The rice will be ready in 15 minutes, or until little holes form on the top and the liquid is completely absorbed.

Turn off the heat, place a clean kitchen towel or double layered paper towel between the lid and the pot and set aside for at least 10 minutes to rest.

While rice is resting prepare the minced beef.

Heat the olive oil in a medium size pan. Add the minced beef and start sautéing. Once all the meat turns brown add the onions and continue to sauté until the onions are softened.

Finally add the salt, black pepper, allspice, walnuts, and parsley. Cook for another five minutes then turn off the heat.

To serve: take a flat-bottomed bowl. Layer half of the bowl with minced beef then top with rice until the rim. Turn this onto a plate so that the minced beef is sitting on top of the rice.

Decorate with walnuts (or almonds if you decide to stick to the original recipe) and more parsley if you wish.

Then dig in with your trusty spoon and enjoy this special dish from Diyarbakır.