Zanzibar is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean situated off the coast of East Africa. Known as The Spice Islands because of the many spice plantations the cuisine is an eclectic mix of African, Indian & Arab influences. Pilau, the famous spicy rice dish found in Zanzibar, was brought by Arabs or Persians and Biriani was brought by the Indian traders. The original Zanzibar Pilau is a rice dish seasoned with lots of spices and traditionally made with meat & potatoes. This is my vegetarian interpretation of the dish made with pumpkin (it should be sweet potato but I couldn’t find any!) and beans (an African staple).
I used some mixed rice I found in Mercadona (a Spanish supermarket) that I think is new. It is a mix of white, red & wild rice and it worked really well in this dish. The nutty flavours from the wild & red rices gave it an extra dimension. If you live here in Spain I would definitely recommend it. Or is just that I am a sucker for anything new…?
Zanzibar Pumpkin Pilau Recipe
serves 6, vegetarian
- 4oo gr/2 cups uncooked rice (a mix of wild, red & white if possible)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 cardamom pods, bashed to open
- 7 cloves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 chilli finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp minced/grated ginger
- 1 & 1/2 onions chopped
- about 750 gr pumpkin/squash or sweet potato, washed well & cut into 2cm chunks
- 880 ml (4 cups) veg stock
- 450 ml (2 cups) boiling water
- a handful of whole almonds plus extra for garnish
- 1 tsp tamarind (optional)
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- 3 or 4 tbsp tomato puree (tomate frito)
- 2oo gr red beans (cooked) about 1/2 jar/ tin, drained & rinsed
- about 200 gr fresh spinach
- 1 lime or lemon
- a handful of fresh coriander, chopped plus leaves to garnish
Combine the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cloves & cardamom pods in a teacup & cover with warm water from the kettle, stir and set aside. (This softens the seeds & releases the flavours). Wash and drain the rice.
Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a deep pot over a medium high heat, add the onions & pumpkin and cook for about 10 minutes until softened and slightly browned. Heat the veg stock up to boiling in another pan. Add the garlic, ginger & chilli to the pumpkin and cook, stirring for another 2 minutes (don’t burn the garlic). Tip the contents of the pumpkin pan into a bowl and set aside. Add the rice to the emptied pan with the boiling veg stock & boiling water. Add the soaked spices and the powdered spices along with a good teaspoon of salt and stir to combine. Bring back to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now add the pumpkin mix back into the rice pot along with the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, beans, tamarind & almonds. Combine everything well, replace the lid and simmer over a low heat for about 15 – 20 minutes until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed. Check on it occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking and add more hot water/stock if necessary. When all the liquid has been absorbed stir in the spinach & chopped coriander, season again with salt, taste and squeeze over some lime/lemon juice.
Serve in warmed bowls garnished with some almonds & coriander leaves and some extra wedges of lime on the side. The perfect accompaniments to this pilau are wholemeal chapatis and mango chutney….
Wholemeal Chapati Recipe
makes 4, vegetarian
- 3oo gr wholemeal flour or a mix of 150 gr wholemeal 150 gr unbleached white flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil (or other oil)
- about 110-120ml warm water
Combine the flours & salt in a large bowl. Add the oil, then trickle in the warm water a bit at a time stirring to combine with a wooden spoon. When it has cohered into a ball of dough put it on a floured work surface and knead for 2 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to stop it sticking. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl cover with cling film or a clean tea towel & leave for 30 minutes or longer.
Cut the ball into quarters, flour your work surface and start rolling out one of the balls, turning it, clockwise to make a thin(about 2mm), round -ish/oval chapati. Heat your non stick frying pan to hot and cook the chapati for about 1 & 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side until they are golden with charred spots. Meanwhile roll out your next chapati so it its ready to go when the first one is done. Keep them warm under a tea towel or in a low oven while you cook the rest.
If you would like to make your own mango chutney see my Mango & Tomato Chutney Recipe.
There is so much flavour in this dish from all the whole spices this definitely won’t be the last time I cook an East African recipe. The cuisine mixes all the best flavours from India & Arabia with the indigenous African recipes creating stunning food that makes you want to try more. Why not give it a go…….