Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Fragrant One

During the years of living in Tokyo, lunch or dinner in one or another international restaurant was a regular treat each week. As is the case in any major city around the world, there is no shortage of restaurants in Tokyo serving food and recipes from all around the world. One favorite always looked forward to was Indian and it’s hard to count the many different Indian restaurants in Tokyo visited over the years. I have missed Indian food since leaving Japan to live in Florida.

As much as I like it, I’ve always been daunted by the thought of cooking Indian food myself; with all its exotic spices and ingredients, balancing all those flavors in the pot doesn’t seem easy. Indian cookbooks often describe elaborate spice mixtures in creating the curries and particular ethnic flavors of the Indian subcontinent. From who or where it came from is a mystery, but a curry cookbook wound up on my kitchen shelves and until today had never been opened. I looked through the book trying to find something uncomplicated that wouldn’t require buying every ingredient in a long list, and found in the ‘Bite on the Side’ section a fruit and nut pilaf that set my mouth to watering.

Basmati is a variety of long grain rice notable for its fragrance and delicately nuanced flavor. The word ‘basmati’ means ‘the fragrant one’ in Sanskrit, though an Arabic translation of the word comes out as ‘my smile.’ India is the largest cultivator of basmati rice, but it is easily available in the US from California growers. The grains of basmati are longer, and when cooked do not have the stickiness common to most long grain rice. Available in either a white or brown variety, the fluffy quality of the rice makes it an excellent choice for curries and pilafs. Basmati rice is the central ingredient in this fruit and nut pilaf.


What you will need:

1 generous cup of basmati rice

Scant 2 cups of water

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons ghee*, vegetable or peanut oil

Generous 1/3 cup of blanched almonds

1 onion thinly sliced

1 teaspoon cinnamon

seeds from 4 green cardamon pods**

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons finely chopped dried mango

3 tablespoons finely chopped dried apricots

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1/3 cup pistachio nuts, chopped

* Ghee is clarified butter customarily used in India.

** With its strong taste and aromatic resinous fragrance, cardamom is a common ingredient in Indian cooking. Green cardamon is one of the most expensive spices by weight, though little is needed to add its special flavor. There were no cardamon pods in my supermarket and with the small bottled variety selling for $8.89, the cardamon was left out of my recipe.


Rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear, then let it soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside until ready to cook. Boil the water in a pan. Add the saffron threads and salt, remove from heat and allow the saffron to infuse. Put the ghee or oil in a large pan with a tight fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and stir-fry until golden brown, then use a slotted spoon to scoop them out immediately from the pot; reserve for later. Put the onion in the pot and cook, stirring frequently for 5-8 minutes until golden but not brown. Add the spices and bay leaves and stir fry for 30 seconds.

Pour the rice into the pot and stir until the grains are coated with oil. Add the saffron-infused water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the dried fruit and cover the pot tightly. Simmer without lifting the lid for 8-10 minutes until the grains are tender and all the liquid is absorbed.

Turn off the heat and use two forks to mix the almonds and pistachios into the rice. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Re-cover the pot and let send for 5 minutes.

Serve with a green salad and bon appétit!

1 comment:

  1. This recipe sounds fabulous. I use Spice Island cardamon quite often as it is good with any dish that has fruit.....vegetables with apples.....desserts with fruits and even some cheese spreads. I will share my cardamon with you. I was thinking about the is an expensive item, also. Hope you not only enjoyed making this dish but also eating it. Usually Indian foods are quite spicy but I find no ingredient that would make it spicy except the peppercorns.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America