Sunday 23 October 2011

Brilliant basmati to take on the takeaway

Lamb dopiaza with basmati rice
As my own kitchen skills have gradually improved, I’ve noticed a correlating change in my attitude towards eating out. In the past, I was renowned amongst friends as the “voucher queen”, always able to sniff out a bargain meal that we’d all accept as a satisfactory supper. But now (if my purse allowed…!) I’d far prefer to shun the high-street chains in favour of spending a bit more money on a high-end dining experience. As much as I adore Italian cuisine, I can’t bring myself to cough up for an overpriced bowl of pasta and sauce – especially when I know I can rustle up a pretty mean risotto in the comfort of my own home using just the bare essentials.

Of course, there’s always an exception to any good rule, and mine is the great British favourite of the Indian takeaway. My attempts at curry and rice have never tasted authentic…combine this culinary challenge with my diet-destroying addiction to naan bread, and I have a pretty compelling reason to choose a cheap trip to the tandoori on a night out.

My major problem area in Indian cooking has always been the rice. No matter how hard I’ve tried, my basmati has always taken on the consistency of a gooey rice pudding, instead of the trademark light and fluffy grains. But this weekend I discovered a foolproof 5-step recipe for brilliant basmati rice that has banished the takeaway menu to the dustbin for good.

Authentically Indian basmati rice (serves 4)

300g basmati rice
2 tbsp vegetable oil (this works even better with ghee, if you can get it)
5 cardamom pods, lightly cracked
5 cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
450ml water
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Seasoning (salt and pepper)

Rinse the basmati rice in several changes of water until the liquid runs clear. If you have time, leave the rice to soak for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside until you’re ready to start cooking.

Cook the oil in a large saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add the spices and stir for 30 seconds to release the flavours.

Stir the rice into the saucepan and make sure the grains are coated in the oil / ghee. Add the water and a pinch of salt then bring the pan to the boil.

Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, then reduce the heat to as low as possible. Leave to simmer without lifting the lid for approximately 10 minutes, until the grains are soft and all the liquid is dissolved.

Turn off the heat and mix the coriander into the rice using 2 forks – you can also use the forks to separate any rice grains that have got stuck to the bottom of the pan. Place the lid back on the saucepan and leave to stand for 5 minutes – this extra steaming helps give the basmati its trademark fluffy texture. Season as required.

Serve alongside your favourite curry and chutney – I opted for a hot and earthy lamb Do Piaza (literally translated as “onions, twice”, which explains the heap of fried rings added at the end of the cooking process!)

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