Rice is deeply treasured in India and is a dominant staple in Eastern, Southern and some parts of Western India. Indian cooking revolves around a variety of rice dishes. I spoke earlier in one of my previous posts about the culinary heritage known as the royal Indian Biryani. But Indian rice variations will surprise many. Some Indian rice dishes require special varieties of rice. Rice powder, rice crispies and flaked rice (poha) are derivates of rice, which are often used as basic ingredients in a number of other rice variations! In India, even rice starch is used to make a nourishing drink, which is often given to small children or older people to promote weight gain and/or general strength. This rice-starch drink also serves as an inexpensive source of nutrition for the disadvantaged.
Popular rice dishes in India
Cooked throughout India, khichri is another very popular comfort food. For the basic khichri, just heat some ghee in a pressure cooker and add bay leaves, whole red chilies, whole garam masala, cumin seeds and crushed ginger. Extra water, along with tomatoes, green chilies, and salt and turmeric powder are added and this is pressure-cooked till a runny consistency is reached.
The distinctive blend of ingredients in this royal Indian dish makes this unique rice preparation a unique gastronomical experience. Once the royal dish of the Mughal Empire, it is now one of the most sought-after rice dishes in Indian restaurants across the world! Although earlier, this was often prepared with game meats such as deer, peacock, quail or goat, the most popular way of cooking biryani is definitely with the best-quality mutton. Vegetarian biryani also exists and is equally popular since India consists of a considerable number of Vegetarians. For more on the royal Indian biryani, click here.
This is a dessert and is often cooked on auspicious occasions. Rice is slow-cooked with milk, cashew nuts or almonds, raisins and cardamom powder. This is a heirloom dish and is mentioned in the ancient Indian epics. The Kashmiris use rice powder to make a similar rice dessert, which is called phirni. Saffron and rose water are added in some kinds of kheer.
A must-have in Indian party menu, the pulav or pilaf, is an all-time favorite. The steamed rice (preferably the basmati variety) is fried in ghee, in which whole garam masala, bay leaves, cumin seeds, cashew nuts and raisins are added. Cooked meat, fish, eggs or fried, assorted vegetables are then added to the rice, along with salt.
5. Lemon rice
Generally prepared with boiled rice, this is a rice preparation which can be cooked in a jiffy. The pre-soaked and drained rice is boiled with a bit of turmeric and salt. The extra starch is then drained off. Now, in a wok, a few dried red chilies, mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves are added to hot oil. Roasted channa dal (Bengal gram), fried cashew nuts or peanuts and roasted fenugreek seeds are added in small amounts and the steamed yellow rice is added to the wok and stirred once, taking extra care not to break or mash the rice in the process. The gas is switched off and lemon juice is then added to the rice, along with freshly desiccated coconut.
6. Bise Bele Huli Anna (Hot lentil-tamarind rice)
This rice preparation from Karnataka has a magical blend of flavors. A comfort dish and a one-pot meal, it is now very popular in other parts of India, especially in corporate Mumbai. Cooked with yellow pigeon peas or toovar/tuvar dal, it is a spicy and tangy rice preparation with vegetables, such as peas, carrots, French beans, cauliflower, eggplants, cabbage and sweet potatoes. Tamarind, whole garam masala and ground pulses are the essential ingredients here.
Vegetable Fried Rice Recipe
[Whole cinnamon sticks, green cardamoms, black peppercorns and cloves together constitute the whole garam masala.]
Basmati rice (soaked for 10 min and the water being drained): 2.5 cups
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Oil: 1 tbsp
Bay leaves: 2
Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
Whole cinnamon sticks (1 inch each): 2
Green cardamoms: 2
Black peppercorns: 4
Salt (divided): 2 tsp
Raisins: ½ cup
Cashew nuts: ½ cup
Green peas: ¼ cup
Cauliflower florets: 1 cup
Carrots (cut as shown in the picture below): 1 cup
Heat the oil and fry each of the vegetables separately with a little salt. Then fry the cashew nuts and raisins separately and keep aside. This step has to be done on high heat.
Now head ghee in a wok and add the bay leaves, whole garam masala and cumin seeds. Wait till the cumin seeds turn brownish. Now add the drained rice to the wok and fry for 1 min over medium flame. Add the fried vegetables, cashew nuts and raisins and mix everything together. Add salt to this and fry for another 3 min.
Transfer this rice mixture to a rice cooker and fill it up with water just a little more than that required to just immerse the whole rice mixture. Do not add extra water, otherwise the rice grains would be over-cooked. Adding the right amount of water while cooking the fried rice is a very important step. Adding more water lets the fried rice look like khichri. The perfect fried rice is the one in which each rice grain is separate after cooking.