Perfect rice

 Pilau rice with turmeric and peas  

Pilau rice with turmeric and peas  

Cooking perfect rice is one of the essential skills in Indian home cooking. And the secret to this art? Buy the right rice and you're halfway there.

I would never recommend buying rice from the supermarket, you need to get yourself to an Indian grocery shop and find the best Basmati you can. Look for aged Basmati rice, beautiful long fragrant grains which will cook separately (Indian rice should never be soft and mushy).

You can even buy Sela Basmati, which is parboiled before milling to preserve its nutrients, and cooks even faster. Most Pakistani Basmati is good, a couple of the brands I buy include Dawaat, Lal Qila and Kohinoor. The rice comes in big five kilo bags, but it will last for ages.

The next trick is soaking the rice before you cook it. Always wash it well, and then leave it to rest in the water you are going to cook it in for at least 15 minutes, though half an hour is better.  In terms of the ratio of rice to water, I use 1:2 - a cup of rice (usually enough for four people) and 2 cups of water. You want the water level to be about an inch higher than the level of the rice in the pan.

To cook the rice, turn your heat to high and bring it to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to very low, partially cover with a lid and cook for 10-12 minutes until all the water has evaporated, then turn the heat off. Put the lid on fully and leave the rice to keep cooking in its own steam for another 10 minutes, if you have an electric stove just keep it on the warm hob.

Always fluff the rice up before serving, you can drizzle in some olive oil or a spoon of butter or ghee.

There are infinite variations for flavouring rice as you cook it, and I have included a few below.  All quantities are based on a one cup serve of rice. If you are cooking more than a cup, you probably want to increase the amounts by one and a half.

Basic rice

Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil to the cooking water.... include this in all variations below.

 Jeera rice

Add a teaspoon of cumin seeds along with the salt and oil.

 Turmeric rice

Add half a teaspoon of turmeric along with the salt and oil, with or without cumin seeds as well.

Pilau rice

Whole garam masala adds a beautiful fragrance to your rice. Add a bay leaf, 3-4 cloves, 2-3 cardamom, a few peppercorns and a stick of cinnamon.  You can also fry these in a bit of oil first, then add the raw rice and water, but simply adding them to the water is fine.

You can also include half a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and half a teaspoon of turmeric.

Cooking liquid

Another easy variation is to change the cooking liquid. Instead of water, you can use stock (homemade chicken stock is amazing with all the whole spices), or even coconut milk.

Another option is to add a quartered tomato, or include some tomato passata in the liquid. Throwing in some frozen peas as the rice cooks is also nice.

Garnish

All sorts of garnishes work well on rice, especially if you have made a lovely yellow pea pilau, or a fragrant rice with stock.

Chopped herbs, coriander, spring onions or mint, or a bit of red chilli for colour are perfect.

Deep fried shallots or onions give a lovely crunchy texture, and this also pairs well with sliced hard boiled eggs.

There are so many more delicious ways to cook rice, lovely pilaus with lots of veggies, khichri, which is rice cooked with lentils, and lots of rice variaties to use, like brown and red rice.

I'll be posting some of these more complex recipes separately this year, so stay tuned.

Red cabbage stir fry

 

We have made our red cabbage stir fry at the Bombay Cook Club a few times recently and have many requests for the recipe.  It's so easy, so healthy and so tasty... full of nutrient packed ingredients like mustard seeds, turmeric and ginger.  Red cabbage is one of the healthiest veggies you can eat, full of anti-oxidants and properties that can assist in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.  It is also low in calories, and full of immune system boosting vitamins like vitamin C.

You can use pretty much any vegetable as a substitute for the cabbage, including potatoes, cauliflower, peas, capsicum and zucchini.  Just make sure you adjust cooking times to suit. 

Here below is how you make it:

1/3 to ½ a red cabbage, finely sliced (you can use a ready cut bag of coleslaw mix for convenience too)

1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil

1 stalk of curry leaves (optional)

1 tablespoon of grated ginger

1-2 green chillies (to taste), sliced vertically down the middle

½ teaspoon of black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon of cumin seeds

½ teaspoon of turmeric

½ teaspoon of salt (to taste)

Sprinkle of black pepper

Juice of a lemon

Fresh coriander to garnish

Heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan and fry the curry leaves for a minute or so, then add the mustard seeds, followed a few seconds later by the cumin seeds.  These ingredients will start to spit and pop, then add the green chilli and ginger and fry for a minute or two. 

Add a handful of cabbage and then put in the turmeric powder (so it doesn’t burn directly in the oil), then keep adding the cabbage, stir-frying quickly so it doesn’t overcook and stays a bit crunchy.  Cook for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat.  Squeeze in the juice of a lemon, and add salt, and a grind of black pepper, to taste.  Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot.

Ilona's spicy pepper dish

 

It's such a pity that people don't write any more.  Real writing, beautiful handwriting, on thick paper.  My great grandmother and grandmother's hand written recipe books mean so much more and convey so much more emotion than if they'd been typed into a word document.  Fading script that gets shakier as the books end, smudges, doodled patterns... the books talk to me in a way the typed word never could.  And the letters! Lovingly written aerogrammes on wafer thin paper from India, gossipy and full of news .... I would do anything to go to the letterbox and find one.

Luckily I'm from a family of hoarders, and we still have boxes of paper everywhere. Mum just found this recipe in an old letter written to her by her friend Ilona ... I decided to make it on a whim and oh my goodness!  It's delicious!  Cook it now!  You will need: 

3 peppers (capsicums): red, yellow and green, sliced thinly

1 teaspoon of mustard seeds

a stalk of curry leaves

2 teaspoons of besan (chickpea) flour

1 teaspoon of red chilli powder

1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric

1/2 a teaspoon of salt

1/2 a teaspoon of sugar

oil

squeeze of lemon juice

Make a paste of the besan, chilli, turmeric, salt and sugar by mixing it in a small bowl with a little (1-2 tablespoons of oil) and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, waiting until they pop.  Add the finely sliced peppers and stir fry quickly for a minute or two on high heat.

Add the besan paste, stir it in, and then turn down the heat for another minute or so to finish cooking while stirring to make sure it has blended in.  

Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.

 

Amazingly easy palak paneer

 

Paneer is so easy to make once you try it you won't ever buy it again.

To make a small ball of paneer around 250 grams in weight (to feed 4-6 in a curry), you will need:

3 litres of full cream milk

1/3 a cup of vinegar (apple cider or white vinegar is fine, you can even use lemon juice)

1 teaspoon of salt

Heat the milk in a large pan on the stove until it boils, stirring well.  To flavour the paneer, we added a teaspoon of red chilli flakes and a teaspoon of cumin seeds.  When the milk is bubbling and rises, pour in the vinegar and keep stirring. The milk will start to curdle really quickly.  Stir and stir until the whey has fully separated and is almost clear.  Turn off the heat.

Place a piece of muslin or cheesecloth into a large strainer in the sink and quickly pour in the curdled milk.  Drain away all the liquid, and squeeze the solids in the muslin into a small ball.  Keeping it wrapped in the cloth, place it on a plate or in a bowl with another plate on top of it and a heavy weight to weigh it down.  Keep it pressed for half an hour or so, then unwrap - you should be delighted to find a solid ball of cheese. 

To make paneer and spinach curry for 3-4 people, you will need:

One portion of homemade paneer, cubed

2 tablespoons of ghee or oil

1 heaped teaspoon of my vindaloo masala (or any good curry powder)

1 large tomato, blended or finely chopped

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 large bag of washed spinach leaves

salt and a bit of sugar to taste

To make your curry, heat the oil in a heavy pan.  Add the vindaloo masala powder, tomato and tomato paste and stir well until you have a glossy and shiny curry paste.  Throw in the spinach leaves and stir for a minute or so, then gently add the paneer.  From here on stir gently so as not to break up the paneer.  Add salt to taste, and a bit of sugar if you need it. Add a bit more water to form as much gravy as you prefer - we eat it as quite a dry dish.