Boggy

I've been spending some time lately researching purloo (or as often pilau, or any of numerous other spellings), that Southern category of composed rice dishes descending from the Persian pilau and bearing numerous influences, from African to French to Spanish. Purloo (usually pronounced per-low, or in the case of pilau, pi-low) is one of the South's oldest culinary cornerstones; in The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection, the food historian Karen Hess cited mid-18th-century references as earliest documentation of the dish but wrote she was "convinced that pilau was a feature of South Carolina cookery practically from the beginning," when it flourished in the rice-producing coastal Southeast. Purloos appear in countless variation, from versions containing chicken and little else, to shellfish-focused iterations with or without vegetables, to tomato-stained red rice to hoppin' john. What they all share is a common technique, in which long-grained rice simmers in a precise amount of broth until every bit has been absorbed and the grains of rice stand collectively fluffy and individually distinct and intact. Making one correctly, which entails allowing the rice to cook, undisturbed, without prodding or editing, is both a clear demonstration of skill and something of an act of faith. Translating the faith into confidence is something I'm still working to master. But I don't really want to get too far into purloo here now, except to offer it as contrast for another related dish that I much prefer, both to cook and to eat: the bog.

If you hold the purloo up as an ideal in rice cookery (and many do), you might consider the bog as purloo's less refined, less polished sibling. Its name certainly hints at no elegance or pretense, although a devoted bog fan could make a good argument that it can present plenty of the former. A bog is prepared in much the same way as a purloo, but with more liquid; the grains become more saturated, and while they are not cooked until they lose their integrity, neither do they hold much back. My grandmother's preparation of chicken and rice, though cooked in north Florida instead of South Carolina, the bog's supposed home grounds, bore more resemblance to a bog than a purloo, its grains swollen and saturated, the starch from the rice having thickened the broth into something very nearly like a gravy. A bog is not thoroughly soupy, but neither is it nearly dry, and I think this middle ground is why I, with my enthusiastic appetite for sauced, gravied, or brothy things, find bogs more compelling to eat. As important, I find them more relaxing to cook, and with their wider margins of error, easier to correct or modify. Not that making a bog should be gone at carelessly—the rice shouldn't cook so long that the grains are falling apart, and there shouldn't be so much liquid that the dish teeters into soup. But it is a fairly forgiving dish to make, and unless you're really not paying attention, it's more apt to turn out well than not. I like this reassurance, whether I'm serving a crowd or just the couple of us.

And yet, after all of that, I'm not going to provide a recipe for a bog. This is all just a roundabout of context for how I so often approach dinner, which is with a bog in mind. I start with a heavy pot, add some fat, a few aromatics to warm and bloom, and then a grain to roll around for a minute or two. I'll add enough water or broth to cover by a little, and simmer everything until the grains are saturated and plump, the broth has thickened a bit, and there's only a little liquid left behind. Then I'll add a few more ingredients I want to cook only barely, and let the whole pot steep for a few minutes more, while everything composes itself into a whole. You could call it a very thick soup, which I suppose it is, but with my regional bias I also tend to call it boggy. Here's one example.

Boggy quinoa with curry leaves, sprouted mung beans, and mustard greens

Serves 2

4 teaspoons peanut oil (not toasted) or extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

10–15 curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

few grinds black pepper

small handful celery leaves, chopped

1/2 cup quinoa

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup sprouted mung beans (see note below)

1 small bunch young mustard or arugula greens, cut into ribbons or torn

Warm oil in a small Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-low heat until warm. Add fennel seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, and a few grinds of black pepper and warm for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add celery leaves, and stir until wilted. Add quinoa (rinsed and drained), stir well, cover with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the quinoa has expanded and is fully tender, about 15 minutes. Add mung beans and greens, and simmer until the greens are just tender, about 5 minutes. Allow to stand for a few moments more. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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To sprout mung beans without a sprouting kit, pour 1 cup of mung beans into a large glass jar and cover with cool water. Cover the jar with a double thickness of cheesecloth, secured with a rubber band, and soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the beans through the cheesecloth, then refill with water and rinse them by swishing the water in the jar and draining again. Prop the jar up at an angle where it can continue to drain (as on the edge of a large, wide bowl), and leave for another 8 hours. Rinse and drain the beans again, and repeat as necessary, rinsing more frequently if the beans are drying out, until sprouts appear. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to four days.