In a 12-inch heavy-based skillet, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the allspice, cinnamon, and cloves, and stir well. Reduce the heat to low and cook another 5 min., stirring occasionally, to allow the onion to absorb the flavors of the spices and caramelize a bit more. Season with 1/2 tsp. of the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
Pour the orange juice over the cherries in a small bowl to hydrate them, if necessary adding enough water to cover completely.
In a heavy-based 3-qt. saucepan with a tight lid, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and the remaining 1 tsp. salt and stir well to coat each grain with butter. Toast for a full 5 minutes, stirring regularly to keep the grains separated and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan (the rice may turn opaque before 5 minutes is up, but keep going). Reduce the heat to low if there are any signs of scorching.
Fluff the rice by slipping the tines of a fork down into the rice alongside the edge of the pan. Gently lift and toss the rice toward the center of the pan. Continue this process as you work your way around the perimeter. Then add your finishing-touch ingredients and gently fold them in with the fork, using a similar gentle fluffing motion.
Add 2-1/2 cups water, stir once, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let the pilaf sit, still covered, for 5 minutes.
Once the pilaf has rested, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Strain the cherries and discard the orange juice. Using the fork, gently fold in the cherries, caramelized onions, pistachios, and orange zest. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
nutrition information (per serving):
based on eight servings, Calories
12, Fat Calories
100, Saturated Fat
7, Monounsaturated Fat
49, Polyunsaturated Fat
Photo: Scott Phillips