Morel is the only mushroom to eat at this time of the year – but I’m surprised how little-known and difficult to obtain this fine delicacy is in the UK. You should be able to find morels in well-stocked delis, good health food shops and large supermarkets.
I love their honeycomb-patterned, tulip bud-like shape. What I love even more, however, is that Kashmiris refer to them as ‘gucchi’ – making their traditional ‘gucchi pilau’ sound like a designer rice dish. Suffused with saffron soaked in flower essence and studded with spices (all of which are available in Indian grocers, large supermarkets and specialist spice shops), it is indeed an exotic and aromatic dish.
Serve with plain yoghurt, raita, or a few spoonfuls of my Kashmiri Spiced Spring Greens – the recipe for which I posted on 25th March 2009. The pilau is also grand enough to eat all on its own. Serves 4 to 6.
12 oz/ 300g white basmati rice
3 oz/ 75g almonds
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 teaspoon pure screwpine essence (or 1 tablespoon rosewater, orange flower water, or jasmine flower water – they will all give their own distinct taste)
4 oz/ 100g dried or 6 oz/ 150g fresh morel mushrooms
3 oz/ 75g clarified (or unsalted) butter
4 black cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
6 green cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
3-inch piece cinnamon, broken into 2 or 3 pieces
3 dried bay leaves
A small pinch of asafoetida
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
1 ¼ pint/ ¾ litres cold water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1. Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in just enough water to cover it, and set aside.
2. Steep the almonds in boiling water from a kettle for 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, cool a little, remove the skins from the almonds and slice them vertically.
3. Crush the saffron strands in a mortar, and soak in 1 teaspoon flower essence or 1 tablespoon flower water, as available. Set aside.
4. Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth, but do not wash as they will lose their flavour. Halve them lengthways.
5. Heat the butter in a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Add the whole spices and bay leaves. Stir for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker and start to perfume your kitchen.
6. Add the asafoetida and let it sizzle for just a few seconds.
7. Add the prepared mushrooms and almonds, and sauté for a couple of minutes until the nuts begin to brown.
8. Drain the rice thoroughly and add it to the mushroom mixture. Sauté for a few minutes until the grains of rice become shiny.
9. Add the powdered ginger, the saffron mixture, and salt. Add the cold water and bring the rice to the boil. Then lower the heat, cover with a lid, and let it cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.
10. Check to see whether the rice is cooked by pressing a couple of grains between your fingers. Remove from heat and set aside, keeping the lid on. Do not disturb the rice.
11. Sprinkle the rice with garam masala and coriander leaves. Remove the whole spices before serving, or allow your guests to fish them out individually on their own plates.