A culture of ancestors past, a paternal grandmother with high caliber culinary skills, and a traditional dish of simplicity each provide an ingredient in the recipe for Armenian Rice Pilaf, a dish of Easter Tradition for Agnes Fuller.
Growing up in a home with an Armenian father and an Italian mother, Agnes always considered her childhood as typical American. Similar as many American families, the roots of extended cultural traditions on both sides of Agnes’s family were mostly passed along through food, including Armenian Rice Pilaf. (I’ll share the Armenian style dyed Easter Eggs also shown above later this week.)
The place of Armenia is known in history as the first Christian country, and its foods, including Pilaf, are similar to those of the Middle East.
With strong Catholic faith and tradition, Agnes’s grandmother and then her daughter, Agnes’s Aunt, actively cooked full spreads of traditional foods for the Armenian community at their parish church following weekly mass.
Being a successful executive at the top radio station in the Philadelphia market doesn’t provide Agnes with a lot of free time for cooking. There are still a few dishes among those cultural traditions learned through her grandmother that Agnes cherishes in preparing well, if not to perfection, and Armenian Rice Pilaf is among her top favorites.
They say that food conjures memories of the heart and in Agnes’s case, the cultural past of the pilaf has ignited a richer depth of the recipe in a more spiritual way, through prayer.
Along with enjoying an afternoon with an immensely generous woman, Agnes and I prepared and enjoyed sampling some favorite flavors among Armenian Easter food traditions; Armenian style dyed Easter eggs, sweet tasting Armenian style rolls, stuffed grape leaves, freshly prepared Armenian string cheese, olives and Armenian Rice Pilaf.
Working out the recipe particulars for later sharing with you had only one catch, exacting the timing. Sensing my curiosity on the clock, Agnes shared with me her prayerful process of this simple yet timeless cultural preparation.
She said, ‘You know I don’t actually time the pilaf when I prepare it at home. Instead, I say the prayers of my childhood, and as I finish each set, I know the pilaf is ready for the next step. The prayers make me pause about my family roots while bringing forth tradition in my own family, those generations I now feed and with prayerful hope that they too will be nourished in happiness and peace.’
May your recipes in this Holy Week be filled with loving preparations and prayer.
- ¾ cup “fine” egg noodles (Agnes uses Pennsylvania Dutch brand “fine” egg noodles)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup white rice, rinsed, strained (Agnes uses Carolina brand rice)
- 2 ½ cups fresh or canned chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, more or less to taste (Agnes does not add salt to her Pilaf)
- Using a 4- quart pot with a tight- fitting lid or a Dutch oven, melt butter on medium- low heat, tumble in the egg noodles and immediately begin stirring to blend with the butter.
- Stir continually, somewhere between 4-6 minutes, until the noodles become a deeply rich golden browned color.
- Pour in a few tablespoons of the chicken stock, stir rapidly to incorporate, then pour in remaining broth.
- Add rice, and salt, stir once to blend the mixture then do not stir again throughout the cooking process.
- Secure lid onto the pot and cook around 20-25 minutes until water has fully absorbed and the mixture is fluffy and grains have all separated.
- Remove pilaf from the heat and let set a few minutes. Spoon onto a platter and serve hot straight away.