January 18, 2022 1 Comment
I still remember my first experience making basmati rice on my own without help from my mom. I was working in Washington DC, living in my dream studio apartment on 21st and N St., walking distance to Dupont, GW, and Georgetown. My cousin visited from Delhi and I figured that being Indian meant that we could cook Indian. There was nothing further from the truth. The rice came out to be such a sticky, disgusting mess that we both vowed never to bring it up again. It was downright embarrassing - the two daughters of sisters known to be two of the best cooks in their family.
Why do I bring it up now? Because so many of you email me and write that you have trouble getting Indian rice perfect. I want you to see it's simply about following a few key steps and practice, practice, practice. It is also important to start with quality product. I promise there is hope. The girl who could not get the rice right in her DC apartment grew up to write Indian cookbooks, folks! And yes, she still has that cousin who has grown to be a fabulous cook in her own right.
Basmati in Sanskrit means 'fragrant'. It's a long-grain and aromatic rice that is meant - once cooked - never to clump up. All the grains should fall apart once you cook it, unlike some East Asian rice varieties, which are meant to be stickier. India accounts for about 65 percent of the world's trade in basmati rice. This is important, because here's what I've found - not all basmati rice is actually cooking up to the quality we prefer in our own Indian households.
I have tried to cook with basmati grown in California and often it comes out clumpy. You can get around it by cooking it with slightly less water, but it is not as long-grained as the Indian varieties. I even purchased a basmati sold at Costco that seemed like it was from the Subcontinent, but when I opened it, it was a lot of broken grain. It is still sitting there 6 months later - my kids would not eat it. It's just not the same. So, when you are looking for a quality basmati, read the packaging. It should be grown in India - not America - and it should look long-grained. Your packaging will tell the story and tell you where the rice is grown. Even Trader Joe's sells basmati grown in India - I have used it and I like it. So, you don't have to go to an Indian grocer to get quality basmati.
A few more key tips before we get to the recipe: Use a roomy pot, be sure not to touch the rice ever once you start simmering, and turn the heat off just before all the water has dried away. This last step helps fluff up your rice perfectly.
Jeera Chawal, or cumin rice, is standard in a Punjabi household. Whole cumin seeds are tempered in a little oil with other spices like black cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. This is the recipe I grew up eating, with my mom making it nearly every day. And, on festive party days, she would add sliced onions and cashews. If you have my third book, Indian For Everyone, turn to page 48 for the recipe. If you don't have black cardamom, do not substitute green, just leave it out. But, if you have an Indian grocer near you, it's a good idea to buy some. It's the perfect woody taste profile for basmati rice and will make you feel like you are eating rice from an Indian restaurant.
Jeera Chawal, Cumin Rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
2 black cardamom pods
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 cups uncooked basmati rice, washed
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
1. In a heavy bottomed 4- or 6-quart stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the cumin, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. Stir and cook for 40 seconds until the cumin seeds sizzle and turn reddish-brown.
2. Add the rice and salt and saute for 1 minute, stirring gently to ensure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the water and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 8 minutes, until the moisture just evaporates. Remove from the heat and set aside, fully covered, for at least 5 minutes. If find this step really helps the rice absorb the extra moisture.
4. Remove and discard the whole spices and fluff the rice with a fork before serving. We usually leave the spices in so they continue to add flavor - everyone knows to eat around them. Though if anyone chomps down on a woody cardamom they do start screaming - that's no fun. So, I am sure to take those out.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl and use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Watch me make Jeera Chawal on my YouTube channel. Head over there to subscribe so you never miss a new video!
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