This was my favourite pilaf, or pullao, when I was a child. It was not hot and spicy, just comforting and very aromatic with the flavours and smells of cardamom and cinnamon and fennel and cloves. It is usually served with a yoghurt raita, but at our home we also had vegetable dishes on the table.
400g (14oz) basmati rice
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 black cardamom pods
1 green cardamom pod
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 medium onion, peeled
1 head of garlic
5 centimetre (2 inch) piece root ginger, unpeeled
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon whole milk generous pinch of saffron threads
a few drops of yellow food colouring (optional)
Rinse the rice well and soak it in water to cover generously for 30 minutes, while you get on with the rest of the dish.
Gather the coriander and fennel seeds, the peppercorns, cloves and both types of cardamom pods and tie them into a muslin pouch. Place in a deep pan about 25 centimetres (10 inches) in diameter with the chicken, whole onion, whole head of garlic and piece of ginger. Pour in 1 litre (1¾ pints) of water, place over a medium heat and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam as it rises. After 10 minutes, remove the chicken and reserve. Continue boiling the liquid for five minutes, skimming off any more foam to leave a clear broth. Stir in the salt, then strain and reserve the broth.
Dry the pan and set it over a medium heat. Pour in the oil and, when it's hot, add the drained rice, stirring gently but continuously for one minute. Return the chicken and sauté with the rice for two minutes. Pour in the yakhni or broth, stir well, cover and cook over a medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the surface rice grains are plump. Meanwhile, pour the milk into a small pan with the saffron and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, tilt the pan and allow the saffron to infuse the milk. Remove from the heat.
When the rice is cooked, remove the lid and pour small amounts of the saffron milk over it to give a golden mottling. Add to this with a few drops of food colouring, if you like. Stir just before serving.
• This recipe is taken from Madhur Jaffery's Curry Nation (Ebury Press, £20).