Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Real (?) Rice a Roni

A certain PHBF got me started listening to NPR during my commute (I know, right?). Honestly it's been the best thing ever - not only am I no longer annoyed by boring, commercial filled morning shows, which lead to me arriving at work all tense and irritated, but some days I actually learn something! Crazy.
One of the segments this morning seriously made me get all teary eyed. It was the story of where our dear San Francisco Treat (ding! ding!) came from. I had heard that it was based on an Armenian pilaf once upon a time, but this story was the deeper, real deal version of that.
It tells the story of the birth of Rice a Roni, but more importantly to me, the sweet old Armenian grandmother that gave birth to a first iteration of that recipe.
The Rice a Roni portion of the story goes kind of like this: the DeDemenico's -a young couple, she Canadian, he Italian-American - lived in a rented room in Pailadzo Captanian's home in the 40s. The new, young wife (only 18) was anything but a whiz in the kitchen, and spent much of her home time while hubby was working, in the kitchen with Ms. Captanian, who eventually taught her how to make an Armenian pilaf. Years later, Mrs. DeDemenico was still making this pilaf. Her husband, who worked at Golden-Grain with his brother, were chowing down one night when the brother said, "You know, this would be great in a box." Totally revolutionary since there were hardly any boxed side dishes on the market, and add to that the fact that almost no Americans were eating rice as part of their meals. Rice a Roni was born and now we all proudly sing the jingle, even if we hardly ever eat it.
The part of the story that touched me most was Ms. Captanian's memoirs - fleeing from the (unacknowledged) Armenian genocide in Turkey. She had to leave her two small boys behind (cue the water works), and flee on foot, pregnant with her third child. You're really better off just reading the story yourself really, so I'll stop. The point is - the idea of frying up some OG Armenian pilaf sounded like fun and they mentioned that they had a version of the recipe posted on their website. Grandma Cap passed it down to her daughter in law, who passed it on to her daughter in law, who gives it to us here. I can't wait to try it out and start making my own tweaks to it:

Grandma Cap's Pilaf

Rice Mixture:

  • 7/8 cup long grain white rice
  • 1/8 cup fideo capellini crushed into small pieces
  • ½ cube butter
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • ½ 4.5 oz jar sliced "Green Giant" mushrooms packed in water and drained. (mushrooms can be substituted with any other canned mushrooms.)
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts


  • 2 ½ cups boiling water
  • 2 ½ chicken bouillon cubes
  • ½ tbsp dried parsley flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • (The broth should taste somewhat salty before it is added to rice mixture)


Melt the butter over medium high flame in a medium sauce pan and add rice and fideo cappellini and stir constantly, cooking until it starts to turn golden.

Add chopped onion and cook until almost clear.

Add mushrooms and pine nuts.

Stir constantly over medium high flame, until the mixture is golden brown with dark flecks of fideo capellini.

Meanwhile, make broth by heating water to boiling and adding bouillon cubes, parsley flakes, salt and pepper (you can heat this in the microwave or on the stove)

Stir to dissolve the bouillon.

Add boiling broth to browned rice mixture, (note: broth /rice mixture should taste slightly salty), return to a bowl, stir once, and cover, then turn down the hat to a low simmer. Do not lift the cover for 35 minutes.

Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork; let rest until ready to serve.

P.S. Cover pan with a cloth to keep warm (If I am traveling with the rice over a period of several hours, I wrap the pan in several beach towels and it will stay nice and warm).

P.P.S To double the recipe: Use 7/8 cube butter; 4 7/8 cups water and 5 chicken bouillon cubes and cook rice for 37 minutes. (You can double all the other ingredients).

If you follow these directions exactly, you should have a perfect pilaf every time. But avoid the urge to peek at the cooking rice. Lifting the cover during cooking will affect the texture and fluffiness of the dish.

1 comment:

M. Quinn Sweeney said...

I guess I'm a bad influence. You may never listen to those morning drive shows ever again.