What’s that in the Box??

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summary: recipe for Armenian Toasted Noodle Pilaf – or is it Azerbaijani??; revelations about Rice-a-Roni; yay for summer and the garden producing at last; scapes and parsley;

the San Francisco Treat
the flavor can’t be beat
One pan, no boiling, cooking ease
A Flavor that is sure to please
the San Francisco treat!
(Ding, Ding)

Do you have an audio virus now? I sure do!

And. Were you like me? Did you think that Rice-A-Roni was something slightly inferior, along the lines of Kraft Dinner and Hamburger Helper?

Bzzzzt! Could we be more wrong?!

I’m not quite sure why we suddenly decided that we neeeeeeeded to try making Rice-A-Roni. But thank goodness we did.

Armenian Pilaf

However, when we suddenly had the urge, we didn’t want to go so far as to buy a box. In fact, we didn’t even get as far as seeing if the boxes are available in our supermarket. Instead, we googled “Rice A Roni Recipe”.

Wow!! Who knew?!

The actual recipe is not only delicious (it’s now T’s favourite) but it appears to be ubiquitous anywhere that Armenians live and/or have lived!

Tens of thousands of Armenians living under Ottoman rule died during the genocide that began in 1915; the survivors fled the country. The Armenian diaspora includes large populations in North America, and there are also Armenians still living in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
– Naomi Duguid, Cuisines Without Borders, Taste of Persia: A cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan
      Pilaf is a staple of the Armenian diet and I ate it all the time as a child. I continue to make it for my family. It’s a simple dish, but it is like a warm hug in a bowl. Made with either white rice or with bulgur wheat, pilaf is usually a side dish served with chicken, lamb or beef. I don’t serve it with pork or fish, but I suppose you could. Pilaf can also serve as a main dish for vegetarians.
      Everyone’s pilaf is a little different. Some like it super dry and some like it wet. Most will agree that the pilaf at the bottom of the pot is the tastiest.
– Valerie Kolligian Thayer, The Kitchen Scout | Armenian Rice Pilaf (with crushed vermicelli)
      Lois DeDemenico, 80, […] began to tell a story about San Francisco in the 1940s and the convergence of a Canadian immigrant bride, an Italian-American pasta family, and a survivor of the Armenian genocide – all of which led to the creation of “The San Francisco Treat.” […]
      Lois had long ago lost touch with Pailadzo Captanian, the woman who in the 1940s had taught her to make Armenian rice pilaf — the recipe that would inspire her husband’s family to create a side dish that gave Kraft Macaroni & Cheese a run for its money in the 1950s, when rice was rarely found on the American dinner table. […]
      Mrs. Captanian taught Lois how to make paklava (baklava), soups and her specialty, Armenian pilaf. […]
      Lois says she still makes pilaf the way Captanian taught her.
– Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, NPR Hidden Kitchens: The Kitchen Sisters | Birth Of Rice-A-Roni: The Armenian-Italian Treat, 31 July 2008
Pailadzo Captanian’s rice pilaf is a favorite dish at Captanian family gatherings. She passed her pilaf recipe down to her daughter-in-law Mellie Captanian in the late 1940s. In 1965, Jacqueline Captanian, who was then dating Mellie’s son Barry, asked for the recipe for Barry’s favorite dish: rice pilaf. […] “We are not sure if Pailadzo included mushrooms or pine nuts in her version of this recipe, but the following is the way I learned it from Mellie in 1965,” Jacqueline Captanian said.
Pailadzo Captanian’s Rice Pilaf (includes recipe)

NPR Screenshot Captanian Armenian Pilaf Recipe

Looking further on the internet, it’s clear that this rice and pasta pilaf is not just an Armenian dish. Mahin Gilanpour Motamed’s recipe for Noodle Rice (Reshteh Polo) at Food&Wine doesn’t mention where it originates but F&W Editor in Chief Nilou Motamed grew up in Tehran.

But what I love most about Persian New Year is how rooted it is in food and family. Norooz‘s imagery is all about the garden, the farm, the kitchen; its rituals imbue natural ingredients with almost supernatural significance. […] And so as puffs of steam rise from pots of rice and the air fills with the heady scent of parsley, cilantro and spring onion, my kitchen comes to life. This year, I have decided on a classic menu, featuring my mother’s exquisite, time-tested recipes. Our dining table overflows with holiday essentials […] I brew one last batch of saffron water. First I grind the garnet threads in the mortar and pestle—a movement I could do with my eyes closed, after all these years, yet never tire of—until only a bright-orange dune of powder remains. Next comes a splash of boiling water, just enough to steep the saffron, and suddenly I have a bowlful of liquid the color of Caspian sunsets.
      The saffron will flavor such Norooz favorites as sabzi polo, rice layered with herbs, which symbolize renewal. A platter of reshteh polo tells a story, too: The noodles stand for good fortune, while the raisins and dates portend sweetness in the coming year.
– Nilou Motamed, Food&Wine | F&W Editor in Chief Nilou Motamed’s Persian New Year Celebration

There is a recipe for “Noodle Pilaf Arishta Plov” in “The Azerbaijani Kitchen: A Cookbook” by Tahir Amiraslanov and Leyla Rahmanova. They write: “This is Azerbaijan comfort food – it is filling and can be served either on its own, or with chicken and/or vegetables and a green salad“. Their pilaf is very similar to Mrs. Captanian’s, except that they call for an optional addition of gazmakh, a lightly sweetened disc of dough made with a mixture of sour cream and yoghurt to go in the bottom of the pan.

The recipe for Reshteh Polow (Rice with Noodles) at The Persian Pot, that “is originally from Azerbaijan province of Iran” calls for an optional topping of barberries.

Barberries!! Next time I think we should add barberries to our Armenian Pilaf!

Wheat is the food of life in Armenia, as it is in the rest of the region. Over the centuries, Armenians have discovered many ways to work with it
– Naomi Duguid, The Armenian World of Wheat, Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan

In her spectacular book about her travels through the former Persian empire, Duguid includes a recipe for Armenian Emmer Mushroom Pilaf, “a cross between pilaf and risotto” that calls for using emmer wheat berries (but zero rice or vermicelli…).

Najmieh Batmanglij’s cookbook, “A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cooking” containing excellent recipes, includes one for ‘Rice with noodles and dates Reshteh Polow‘, and Paula Wolfert’s equally excellent cookbook, “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking” includes a recipe for ‘Bulgur Pilaf with Toasted Noodles’ that calls for “broken vermicelli”. When we read those cookbooks last summer (both of them, cover to cover – or so we thought), we somehow managed to skip right over the recipes. :lalala:

Reshteh means noodle in Farsi and Reshteh Polow is a traditional dish to serve for Nowruz, Persian New Year (spring equinox). Ha! Who knew?

And. Why was this wonderful notion never included in the ubiquitous ads for Rice-A-Roni? :stomp: :stomp:

At least one of the recipes we saw called for parsley. And I’m ever so pleased with how the parsley is growing in the only sunny spot we have behind the garage. Of course, we had to use some!

While I was out there with the scissors, I noticed that the garlic I planted last fall had flowered. We had scapes!! Whoohoo!

scapes and parsley

I thought the scapes would go beautifully in the pilaf, but T nixed it. He was worried they’d get overdone. So we added them to our vegetable….

Here is roughly what T did to make his new favourite starch to go with grilled chicken:

Toasted Noodles Pilaf
based on Mrs. Captanian’s recipe given to Lois DeDemonico in the 1940s, and All Recipes.com’s Rice-Ah-Roni

Rice-a-Roni the Azerbaijani treat.
Rice-a-Roni the flavour can’t be beat.

  • 1 c long grain rice (we use Thai Jasmine)
  • handful spaghettini broken into pieces (about 2cm long)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ½ tsp celery salt
  • ½ tsp dried garlic slices, ground
  • 1 Tbsp dried onion flakes
  • 1½ c chicken or vegetable stock
  • fresh parsley, chopped finely (optional)
  • salt, as needed
  1. Put the rice into a pot and cover with cold water. Use your fingers to gently mix it. Pour the water out and repeat two more times until the water is relatively uncloudy. Leave the rice in a colander to drain and set aside while you brown the noodles.
  2. Melt butter in a medium heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, then add the broken spaghettini and fry, stirring constantly, until lightly golden.
  3. Add the rice and, still stirring, fry a minute or two more.
  4. Stir in celery salt, powdered garlic and onion flakes and fry for a minute more.
  5. Add stock, parsley (if using) and salt if you think more is needed. Turn up the heat to bring the stock to a boilAs soon as it comes to a boil, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid; place it on a footed rack over the hot burner and immediately turn the heat off. Allow the rice to sit, always covered, to cook until done – about 40 minutes. (Or, of course, use your own rice cooking method if you like it best. Everyone has their own method…).
  6. Just before serving, fluff the rice with a fork.


1.) Celery Salt Celery salt is a blend of salt and ground celery seed. T claims he’s never had it before and that it’s his favourite new (to him) flavouring. (He was amazed to learn that I always add celery salt to the rub for oven-roasted chicken – just like in the Simon and Garfunkel song: “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary-Thyme, and Celery Salt

2.) How much liquid? Please Note: different types of rice require different amounts of water. For example, Indian Basmati long grain rice most often needs 2 cups of liquid for every cup of rice. Use your judgement. You want the finished dish to be on the dry side, rather than gummy or pudding-like. This pilaf is NOT risotto.


We served the rice and noodles with left-over grilled pork and stir-fried rapini with garlic and chopped scapes. The scapes got a little lost in the rapini, but when tasted alone, they were sweet and lovely.

Rice and Noodles

We. Loved. Dinner.

Especially the rice and noodles!

The next night, we HAD to have the pilaf again. We served it with grilled chicken (just a simple thyme/garlic/salt/pepper rub), grilled red pepper, and stir-fried Yu Choy with LOTS of garlic.

Wow. Fabulous. It’s no wonder that Rice-a-Roni did so well.


I do love the internet! Here is one more excerpt from a gem found when searching “Armenian Rice and Noodles”:

In a light-filled San Fernando Valley kitchen, my Cleveland-born mother is teaching me how to make pilaf using American boxed rice and skinny noodles that are a staple in Mexican soup. When it’s done, it will taste like 100 years of Armenian-American life. […]
      Pilaf isn’t specifically Armenian. Its origins are rooted in India and Iran but variations on the dish are served throughout Central and Western Asia and beyond. Every ethnic group has put its own stamp on it. […]
      Mom doesn’t follow a recipe for pilaf. The gist of it was passed down to her via my grandma. While the dish may seem easy enough to make, it’s not. It requires precision to make sure the noodles don’t get too brown and the rice doesn’t get mushy. It took Mom about a decade to hone her skills. She made small batches for dinner after she got home from work and larger pots for the holidays, tweaking the measurements as she went along. For years, my grandpa critiqued the results. Grandma may have shown Mom how to make the rice dish, but Grandpa was the pilaf master. Even now, nearly two decades after his death, people remember his pilaf. He was the go-to guy for picnics, cooking 30 cups of rice in an electric roaster to feed 150 people when Armenian-American groups would gather in parks. […]
      Mom checks on the pilaf. She looks for holes in the pot of rice, a sign that the liquid has dissipated. When she’s confident it’s done, she lets it sit. Typically, she’ll leave it alone for 15 to 20 minutes, enough time to finish preparing the rest of a meal.
      A little rice makes a lot of pilaf. Three cups can technically feed 10 to 12 mouths, although it’s also the amount Mom once regularly cooked to feed a family of five. Today, she divides the final dish between us and the portion she gives me to take home will make three dinners for my husband and I. In the old days, when Easter brought more family to the house, she would up the recipe by a cup of rice. The end result was a mountain of pilaf in the center of the table.
– Liz Ohanesian, LAist, Searching For My Grandfather’s Perfect Armenian Pilaf


If only we had more scapes! …next year!


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1 response to “What’s that in the Box??

  1. barbara


    I had a similar experience with the idea of rice-a-roni maybe a year ago. I don’t recall exactly how or when, but I remember thinking that it sounds wonderful, while I _had_ always discounted it, thinking that it would be as awful as canned spaghetti. I never followed up to actually try making it though.

    You neeeed to try it, Barbara! It’s wonderful. (Several recipes call for using egg noodles; I don’t think I would do that though. Spaghettini works perfectly. I bet that rice vermicelli would work too. – Elizabeth


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