Nashon’s Birthday Pilau

Today our guide Nashon gave me his family recipe for Birthday Pilau. Pilau is similar to the Indian birianis we have in the U.S. It looks so good!  Here in Tanzania, pilau is a rice and meat- or bean-based dish influenced by Indian cuisine that is often cooked for special occasions. Each family’s version is a little different.

What an awesome birthday spread! No one I know here has invited me to a birthday party yet, so borrowing this from the Gao Chow’s twitter feed. I think that’s a pilau in the upper left corner. I’ve told Nashon that instead of pie or cake, for my next birthday I’ll ask my husband to try his hand at cooking pilau.

Before he became a guide for Good Earth Tours, Nashon was a cook. He loves to cook for his family. A birthday cake costs $15-$20 U.S., so the same price as it is in the U.S. Which is just not right when you look around and realize that A) The cost of living, and average salary here in Arusha, is much less than it is in the U.S. and B) Many things are up to 20 times cheaper than it is back home – unless you fail to negotiate a good price.

Speaking of failing to negotiate, I paid $40 for international calling & data on my phone via Verizon. Big mistake. You can get a SIM card for you phone, and plenty of international minutes, for $3. THREE DOLLARS. I thought this might be the case going in, but it was impossible to tell which SIM card rental company would be trustworthy and reliable here.

There’s also this fact: A two bedroom home in Arusha is about $10,000 US – as long as you have a good local friend with the right connections. The median home price in the U.S. is $188,000, with a wide variance in what that purchases, based on location.

So when a birthday comes along, a $20 cake makes no sense and is deemed unaffordable, even for the middle class. Many families prefer to whip up a tasty, healthy pilau that’ll please everyone at the party.

Recipes Make the World Go ‘Round
Nashon and I have really bonded over our shared love of home-cooked food. I’ve given him two recipes so far: a bean and kale dish from the awesome Cooking for the Family classes I took with my Dad, and one for Real Southern Cornbread, the kind Dad ate as a child in Texas. Corn is growing everywhere in and Arusha, and it’s the key ingredient in the Masai people’s strength-building stiff porridge, ugali.

The recipe below calls for a red masala spice, which Nashon and his family prefer for this dish. I might be able get something similar back home at an Indian grocery. But I’ve noticed that all the spices are much fresher here at the local markets. After all, I’m closer to their sources. So I’m gonna do it up right and buy a small amount of the red masala that Nashon uses. That way I can get down to business with this recipe in my own kitchen.

Fellow cooks: Check back here once before going to the store. Nashon is verifying my recipe before we leave next week. I’ll make any updates needed to this post.

Asante sana Nashon! When you visit the U.S., you and your family are karibu sana (most welcome) in our home. Come to Cincinnati, and we’ll cook for you.

Nashon’s Birthday Pilau

1 lb. ground beef or chicken (more if you like)
(Vegan substitution: 1 lb cooked or canned bean, brown lentils or red kidney beans are good)
4 or 5 red onion, diced
2-3 tbs. ground cloves
1 lb. brown rice or quinoa
Red masala spice (Nashon will tell me how much and I’ll add that soon)
White or sweet potatoes, 1-inch cubes, as much or little as you’d like
2 cups sliced carrots, cut in rounds (more if you like)

Optional ingredients: Peas, diced red or green peppers, cashews, raisins or craisins. I think I’ll try adding some cinnamon.

First, chop all your veggies and measure your spices so you’re ready to toss them in.

Meat or Lentils
If you’re using meat, saute it in a separate pan with some olive oil (if needed) until it’s cooked. For chicken, cut the meat into small pieces if needed. If you prefer lentils, cook them separately as well, according to the directions.

While the meat is cooking:
-Saute the onion and potatoes with 1 tbs. olive oil on low heat until the onions are browned and potatoes have a golden brown / brown crust. (You can caramelize the onions if you prefer them that way.)
-Add the tomatoes and ground cloves
-Add the red masala spice

Saute all for 2-3 minutes. Add hot water, just enough to cover if you’re using rice. If you’re using quinoa, add what’s recommended for the amount of quinoa you’re using.

Turn the heat down and cover with a lid to simmer. Cook until the rice (or quinoa) is done. Brown rice usually takes about 30 minutes. Quinoa is done on my stove in 12 minutes, despite what it says on the box. You know when the quinoa is done because the grains grow small white “tails” that you can see.

Check the pot every 10 minutes or so. If you run out of water, add more. If there’s too much, turn the heat up a bit and simmer without the lid to cook off the excess water.

When your rice or quinoa is done, add your cooked meat or lentils (drain the water from the lentils before adding). Serve with plain Greek yogurt, your favorite sour cream or raita. Enjoy!





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