Pilaf (Pilaff, Plov or Ash) is an Azerbaijani national dish. There are over forty different types of pilaf in Azerbaijani cuisine, and one them is Sweet Pilaf, which is usually prepared to celebrate the beginning of spring (Novruz), weddings, and other festivities.
This pilaf consists of Gazmag (a golden crispy crust), rice which is prepared in a special way, dried fruit, chestnuts, and the saffron infusion. All of these ingredients add a beautiful color and aroma to the dish.
3 ½ cups white basmati rice
22 cups water (12 cups to cook rice and 10 cups to soak it)
1 pot of boiling water
2 tbsp salt (plus extra salt to soak rice)
1 1/2-2 cup chestnuts
¾ cup dried apricots, pitted
½- 1 cup dried sour plums or prunes, pitted
½ cup raisins
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp melted or clarified butter (you can use ghee as well)
¼ tsp saffron threads
1 cup and 1 tbsp undercooked rice
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 large egg
salt to taste
¼ tsp turmeric powder
pepper to taste
4 tbsp butter
Cut the bottom, or peel a narrow strip from the flat side of the each of the chestnuts. In a saucepan, bring them to a boil. Turn the heat to medium- low, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove 1 or 2 chestnuts at a time from the saucepan (they are hard to peel otherwise). Peel the shells and inner skins.
Check the rice for any debris. Rinse it under the water until it runs clear (this is done to remove extra starch). Place the rice in a large bowl , pour over lukewarm water to cover, and add pinch of salt. Let it soak for 30 minutes.
Place dry fruit in a small bowl. Cover with hot water and set aside for 10 minutes (skip this step if you don’t like soft texture).
In a mortar and pestle, grind saffron with a pinch of salt, and pour over about ½ cup hot water. Cover with a plate and let infuse.
In a frying pan, melt the butter and add the chestnuts. Over medium-low heat, stir them in the pan for a few minutes. Add the apricots and plums, and cook them for 2 minutes. Add the resins. Cover the pan, and cook on low for 1 more minute. Remove the mixture from the burner.
Bring water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Drain the rice without rinsing. Add the rice and 2 tbsp of salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and simmer for 6 to 10 minutes or until the rice grains float to the surface. The rice should be soft on the outside but hard on the inside. In a mesh strainer rinse the rice with boiling water. You might have to do it in 2 batches if your strainer is small.
Mix the egg, yogurt, salt. pepper and turmeric in a bowl. Stir in the rice you just cooked. In a large pot, you are going to simmer rice, melt 4 tbsp of butter. Add the mixture to it, and evenly distributing it over the bottom of the pot. Pat it down with a spatula. Turn the heat to low and cook for 2 minutes. With a spatula, cut Gazmag into 4 or 8 triangular shapes (this makes it easier to remove after cooking), or you can improvise with the design.
Using a large slotted spoon gently add half of the rice over Gazmag. Add the dried fruit mixture on top of it, and then add the rest of the rice to cover it. The top layer of the rice should be dome-shaped. Pour the melted butter over it. Cover the pot with a kitchen towel. Place the lid on top. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Carefully remove the lid and towel. Add the saffron infusion in a zigzag or circular pattern. Don’t pour it in one spot. Replace the towel and lid on top of the pot, and simmer for 30 more minutes or until the rice is cooked through. When the rice is done, the grains shouldn’t stick together. The rice should have a light and fluffy texture to it.
Carefully separate the rice from the dry fruit mixture. Place the rice on a large platter. Arrange the fruit mixture around the rice. With a spatula, carefully remove Gazmag. Place it on top of the rice in a manner you prefer.