A pilau is properly made with rice, and I had originally intended to make this a rice dish. Wife Jan though that rice would take too long to cook. Israeli couscous was invented as a rice substitute when the fledgling state of Israel could not import as much rice as people wanted. This could therefore be called “Israeli pilau.”
Note: This dish is intended to be a lunch main dish.
Jan has wanted to go to Burning Man for many years. This year she has started working on a project/next book that allowed her to define going to BM as research—as an anthropologist she will spend money on research that she would never consider spending on “fun.” Having been “gifted” a ticket, she has agreed that I will provide several meals.
Food at Burning Man is far more restrictive than simple camping food. It is the ultimate in the philosophy of “you pack it in, you pack it out.” You cannot simply boil a large pot of pasta and then pour out the “grey water.” I also needed to create dishes that would stand up to several days of +100º F desert weather with a minimum of refrigeration.
As I thought about it, I also realized that people would not want to just hang around camp cooking when there was so much else interesting going on. Of course, with all that was going on people would also be very hungry when that did finally stop to eat—and that people might not want to eat all at the same time. I needed to create something that would cook in just a few minutes, that left no “waste water,” that could be cooked in portions as needed, and that would be satisfying to hungry people with varying dietary needs.
I was creating meals for 7-10+ people. I settled on the idea of making “box” dishes—like RiceARoni®. A spice packet, premeasured and mixed ingredients that you just add water to and simmer. By breaking the ingredients into portions, I could allow the Burners to make enough for 4, 8, or 12 people as the situation needed.
The recipe below is for one portion—I will be providing my Burners with three portions of each dish to allow as much flexibility as possible. Each portion should feed four people. Any leftover portion(s) from a particular meal could then be used for a later meal or gifted to another camp later in the week.
As a further restriction, I I was told that there would be at least one vegetarian. I made the main mix vegetarian, but with the option of adding protein later. You can always add non-vegetarian ingredients, but it is hard to take them out. I am also providing a list of possible last minute add-ins for those who need their proteins or wish to add fresh vegetables if available.
Karl’s Saag Pilau for Burning Man
Note: Quantities listed below are for one portion, to feed four people as a main lunch dish.
Bag 1 Spice packet (x3)
1 cube Knorr vegetable bouillon, crushed
1 Tbs. Madras curry powder
1 tsp. cumin seeds
½ cinnamon, ground
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. garlic granules
1 whole Indian bay leaf
Bag 2 (x3)
Canned or precooked chicken
fresh carrots, diced
fresh celery, diced
1. For each portion (2 cups), bring 3½ cups of water to a boil and stir in one portion of the spice mix and one bay leaf (bag 1).
Note: One portion of the spices is 4 teaspoons of the spice mix.
2. Put the water and spices in a pot—large enough for the amount you are cooking—and bring it to a boil.
3. Stir in Saag mix.
Note: I am leaving all three portions mixed together in the second bag for maximum flexibility. One portion of bag 2 is a 2 cups to be paired with one premeasured portion of the spice/lentil mix—this is enough to feed four hungry people.
If you wish to make more/or less than one or two portions. For each person± you are planning to feeding, you may measure out ½ cup more or less of the second bag. Add or subtract ½ cup of water for each measure. If you are only adding or subtraction one person’s portion, do not try to divide up the spice packet, simply use the closest amount as is.
4. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Tip: Stir and scrap the bottom of the pot every two minutes. If it seems a bit too dry add more water a quarter cup at a time. The final dish should be a bit wet, but not a soup.
Note: If adding cooked chicken or fresh vegetables add them now.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and cover the pot.
6. Let the pilau steam for another 4-5 minutes.
7. Fluff the pilau and serve warm.