Universal Pilaf, Legume Version

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Back when I was doing a series of pantry-cooking posts, I wrote about my favorite recipe that I turn to when (a) I’m hungry (b) I need to fix something at home, going out is not an option and the food fairy is not coming, and (c) I feel like I have nothing in the house to make a meal out of.

It is the Universal Pilaf recipe from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.

Typically I end up at this recipe when I’m thinking about how hungry I am and I start going down my mental list of what I can make and multiple items have to be abandoned due to a lack of key ingredient.

Omelettes? … no eggs. Tacos? … no beans no chicken. Quesadillas? … no cheese. Scrambled eggs and cheese grits? I JUST SAID NO EGGS NO CHEESE. Are you even listening to me?!?


Sometimes the part of my brain that can keep track of what is in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer gets cranky with the part of my brain that just wants to eat. And once I get to that point, it’s time to head for the pilaf options.

Usually I have either cooked chicken or ground beef in the freezer, so I think of this as a recipe for chicken or ground beef. But the last time I went through this mental exercise, I had neither. But I did have a can of chickpeas in the pantry, one that I had bought to make a large batch of hummus with but ended up making a smaller batch and reserving the second can for future use.

Okay then. The future is now.

We have grain (rice), vegetable (spinach and/or peas, carrots), aromatic (garlic), and protein (chickpeas). We always have chicken stock, because I buy whole chickens and poach them and freeze the chicken stock, and I can’t imagine ever not having some kind of fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, bacon grease) somewhere.

We can make pilaf.

As I was pulling the vegetables out of the freezer, I ran across a small container of chicken fat, and that seemed like a good option for the fat.

So I put the frozen chicken stock and frozen spinach on the stove to thaw, peeled and sliced carrots, and heated a tablespoon or so of the frozen chicken fat.

When the fat was hot, I added minced garlic, then added a cup of rice and coated the grains with fat, then put in the rinsed and drained chickpeas, then the two cups of chicken stock. Covered and returned to a boil, then added the carrots and spinach along with a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. Covered, turned down the heat, and let it simmer. When most of the liquid had been absorbed, added about two teaspoons of Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder. Kept on the heat until the liquid had all been absorbed, then turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes, then moved off the burner entirely and let it sit for a few more minutes.

While it was finishing up and steaming, I chopped some dried coconut flakes and some cashews (roasted, unsalted), and put into a dry skillet and toasted them lightly.

Put the pilaf on a plate, sprinkled on the coconut and cashews, mixed it all together.


Makes two large servings, four small ones, or one large-ish and two small-ish ones. (Usually when I make this recipe, I eat it once for dinner and twice for lunch, so I think of it as three servings.)

Not bad for a dang I am hungry and I have nothing in the fridge night.

6 Responses to “Universal Pilaf, Legume Version”

  1. Sara Says:

    I love your blog, and have been reading it for about 2 years, but I have gotten this email update 6 times in the past two weeks.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Really? Thanks for letting me know. Are you subscribing via WordPress or Feedburner? (Feedburner might be called something else, Google owns it).

    All of the emailing happens in the background so I have no idea if things aren’t working unless someone tells me. I can look into if if you give me more details. Sorry for the inconvenience — I hate to have turned into a spammer!

  3. Hello Rebecca, I am also named Rebecca and ironically I am in the process of eating on just a dollar a day for the 40 days before I turn 40. I am doing it for several reasons and had to laugh when I read your opinions of the couple from California because I had the same rant to my husband when I read about them. I am also a lover of the Tightwad Gazette :) I sure wish I would have thought of the way you started because this math is tedious, some nights I know I have up to 15 cents left but just don’t feel like adding anything else up! My next project will involve the use of my garden produce. I found your Blog by seeing if my blog was google-able by topic yet.. (it isn’t) Very good stuff! Thanks for documenting your project!

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Hey, thanks for checking in and good luck with your project.

    Trying to calculate food costs is definitely hard — and also, I feel, kind of misleading, since the unit cost is generally going to be dependent on the size you buy to start with. So really, who’s to say how much a teaspoon of oil costs? Doing it by spending only a dollar at a time seemed to me to be the most “honest” way to do it. And also it seemed not possible when I thought about it, which is why it was interesting to me. I’m a sucker for a challenge.

    The only thing I might have changed about my project would have been to figure out some way to use baking supplies (flour, sugar, oil, etc.) from my pantry. The startup costs for getting those items was too high for a short project, and not enough time to amortize the costs. I guess if I had gone longer with the project, I could have made that work, but for 30 days it didn’t make sense. And that was kind of limiting, I would have liked to have shown how you can make so many things (muffins, empanadas, pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, etc.) really cheaply with minimal time or skills required. Had to rely on packaged mixes for those, which was fine but not nearly as good as homemade.

    Anyway, I’ll check out your project when I get a chance and best of luck!

  5. One of my main staples is a bread dough I call nickel bread, because each piece only costs a nickel. A friend of mine tasted it and said it would make good pretzels so I tried that today and they were very good! I post recipes on a sister blog. Thanks for your response. I do have to admit I am glad I have my baking supplies figured because I have made a really good spice cake too! :)

  6. lessisenough Says:

    You should look up M.F.K. Fisher’s recipe for “war cake,” which is a spice cake that could be made despite war-time rationing. I don’t remember the ingredients, but thought it sounded interesting. I think she said she remembered it as being quite good, but when she made it again after the war, realized it wasn’t.

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