The nice thing about leftovers is that you can either just eat them, or make a new dish to accompany them. Last night we ate the Dahi Aloo Curry that I wrote about in this post. The first time around that curry was not exactly a success, but not really a failure either. The second time around, it was closer to a failure than the first time. It did not reheat well at all. The flavor was good, but it was even thinner than the first time (I had hoped it might get thicker!) and that just really detracted from it. I will try making it again, although with some changes, but only because the flavor was so good. Anyway: at least I tried making this new (to me) rice dish!
From 660 Curries I picked out Perfumed Basmati Rice with Black Cardamom Pods, which is essentially a pilaf. In the course of selecting it, I finally got around to reading what Raghavan Iyer wrote about rice cooking methods as well as basmati rice in particular. I didn’t yet read his entire essay on rice. The recipe I followed uses what he calls the “absorption/steeping” method to cook the rice. You start by rinsing the rice by covering the grains with some water and gently rubbing the grains with your fingers, carefully draining the water, and repeating the steps for a total of three times (or until the water runs reasonably clear). This is important especially if you buy real basmati rice that is sold in a sack, I’m assuming because the grains will be dusty.
After rinsing the rice, you add 1 1/2 cups of cold water and let it sit for 20 or 30 minutes, which softens the grains. Then you add 1 1/2 tsp of coarse salt and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. You have to keep an eye on it: when the water has evaporated from the surface and craters appear, stir the rice once and cover your pot with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to the lowest setting you have, and cook for 8-10 minutes (8 minutes for electric, 10 for gas ranges). Turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner for another 10 minutes. Done!
But I made a pilaf last night, so instead of cooking the rice directly after its soaking, I drained it. I then sauteed cardomom pods and bay leaves in olive oil (Iyer uses ghee, which I cannot eat), added thinly sliced red onion after a few moments. When the onions had begun to caramelize, I added a generous pinch of saffron threads, followed by the drained rice. I stirred those around and then added 1 1/2 cups of water. From that point forward I followed the directions described above.
In reading about the basmati rice, I learned a thing or two. I used to buy “real” basmati rice, but recently switched to basmati from California, because it was cheaper. I have thought it tasted different and had a different texture, which I didn’t like as much. But otherwise I figured the products were essentially the same. I think I may have been wrong and despite the extra cost, I think I’ll return to real Indian basmati rice. It’s true that it’s expensive–the world’s most expensive it turns out. But Iyer explains that,
“Naturally aged for many years, like a fine wine, before it graces your kitchen, basmati is less starchy and more slender than other long-grain varieties. Not only is it a complex carbohydrate, but it is also rich in amino acids and other essential nutrients, including iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, and thiamine. Basmati from India or Pakistan is not fortified with minerals, unlike the varieties grown in the United States.” (p. 707)
Naturally fortified is definitely better than adding stuff that doesn’t occur on its own, in my opinion. And as I had already noticed, Iyer points out that California and Texmati “basmati” grains are short, stout, and starchy and describes them as poor facsimiles of the real thing. So I’m switching back.