The Food Desert Project: Thomas Jefferson's Perloo

The Food Desert Project: Thomas Jefferson's Perloo

Pilau, or Perloo (for those of you who love Pogo like we do,) is an American Lowcountry rice dish based loosely on the rice pilafs and biryanis of the middle east and India. I don’t know if you are aware of the adventurous kitchen of founding father Thomas Jefferson, but he was about as experimental a gourmet as was possible before air travel. This simple dish is purported to be one of his favorites, mostly because the original used both pignoli and pistachios, exotic nuts just being introduced into Europe via Italy. The Glory of Southern Cooking reports that Jefferson most likely brought back both kinds of trees to cultivate at Monticello, and he might well be responsible for bringing in the cultivars we use in the US today. (Jefferson’s garden had an unbelievable impact on American horticulture and agriculture.)

This is one of those simple dishes that packs a lot of flavor into a small, plain package: I can’t wait to see how it goes with the turkey I’m planning to roast tonight! If your food desert doesn’t offer unsalted raw nuts, give them a quick soak in warm water and then rinse and drain them before toasting; you may want to eliminate the salt entirely. You may not be able to find pignoli and they are expensive no matter where you find them, so I substituted pepitas, or roasted pumpkin seeds. If you can’t find those, use sunflower seeds.

0012 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
1 cup long-grain or converted rice
1/2 cup pistachios
1/4 cup pepitas or pignoli
1 tsp salt (or salt to taste if using rinsed salted nuts)
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Put the butter, stock and rice in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat to low for about 20-25 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. In the meantime, toast the nuts lightly in a skillet until they are fragrant. When the rice is done, mix in the nutmeg and nuts and season with salt. Enjoy!


I can’t think of Perloo without thinking of Walt Kelly’s Pogo cartoons of the 1960s. We are blessed to have inherited a neighbor’s collection of Pogo comic books, and in one, Equal Time for Pogo, there is an entire strip dedicated to the 1968 Republican candidates for President…including George W. Romney and Ronald Reagan. I remember first coming across this strip during the Reagan era, and now, here it is again…the timelessness of these pieces is amazing!

Filed under: Pantry cooking, Recipe

Tags: pistachios, rice, side

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