Palace communications were traditionally bound in vermilion silk ribbon, the very colour of this pilaf, which looks sensational.
beetroot250g/8oz, boiled and boiling water reserved
basmati rice½kg/1lb, rinsed and drained
onion1, finely chopped
chicken stock or water
Boil the beetroots whole, until tender. Pick them out of the water and let them cool, reserving the water which will be a dark ruby red. Rub the beetroot skins off – wear gloves if you don’t want your hands stained red – and chop the beetroot roughly into 1cm cubes.
Soak the rice in warm water for half an hour, and wash it until the water runs clear. Drain as well as you can. Melt the onions in butter. When they are soft, add the rice.
After a couple of minutes add enough of the beetroot water to cover the rice and a little more. Turn up the heat and after five to eight minutes, or when the stock has all been absorbed, check the rice; it should be a little nutty, but almost ready. If necessary add a little more stock and continue cooking until the rice is almost done.
Gently stir in the chopped beetroot, with butter dotted over the top of the rice.
Cover the pan with a cloth and a lid. Over a whisper of heat, or none, let the rice steam for fifteen minutes.
Turn the rice out into a dish, helping to fluff it out with a fork.