Basmati is a variety of long-grain rice, famous for its fragrance, fine texture and delicate flavor. Its name means “The Fragrant One” or “Queen of Fragrance” in Hindi, but it can also mean “Soft Rice.”
Basmati rice has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent in the foothills of the Himalayas for thousands of years. Its nutlike flavor and aroma can be attributed to the fact that the grain is aged to decrease its moisture content. You can find it in Indian and Middle Eastern markets as well as supermarkets like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other local grocery stores.
The grains of basmati rice are much longer than they are wide, and they grow even longer as they cook. They stay firm and separate, not sticky, after cooking. Basmati rice is available both as white rice and brown rice. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, approximately 30 minutes as opposed to 10.
Due to the high amount of starch clinging to the grains, I recommend you wash Basmati rice before cooking.
The ideal Indian rice dish, biryani, is truly a jewel when made with basmati rice. The art of cooking combines spices, herbs and other seasonings in a wonderful show of color, aroma and flavor. Biryani originated in the kitchens of the kings in Hyderabad. It’s a one-dish meal that goes well with plain yogurt or yogurt raita.
Rice pilaf is another great dish to make with basmati rice. It can be made as plain cumin-seed pilaf or as a fancier version with succulent meats or vegetables.
One of my favorite recipes, the simple Green-Pea Rice Pilaf, is on Page 36.
Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home Cooked Way.” For more information and additional recipes, visit www.flavorstosavor.com.
Green-Pea Rice Pilaf
• 1 cup basmati rice (Tilda brand or other good-quality brand)
• 2 cups water
• 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas (thawed and washed)
• 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
• Pinch of asafetida (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 4 whole green cardamom pods
• Salt to taste
• Pinch of red chili powder
Wash basmati rice thoroughly before cooking to remove extra starch. Wash 2-3 times in running tap water.
Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add asafetida, cumin seeds and cardamom. When cumin starts to sizzle and turn darker, add peas. Drain water from rice. Add rice, salt and red chili powder and stir-fry for few seconds. Add water and bring to boil. Lower heat and cook partially covered until done.
Toss on platter and serve hot with cucumber raita or fresh plain yogurt.
Variation: Add frozen or crunchy fresh vegetables such as asparagus, cauliflower and cabbage to rice pilaf. Season with cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and few black peppercorns.