Thursday, September 1, 2011

Magic Rice, Where A Simple Dish Gets Whacked With A Wand!

    Rice. Who out there liked rice as a kid???? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Unless you grew up in a household where rice was part of an ethnic tradition and people really knew how to cook the shit out of it, the rice most of us regularly found on our table was made by this guy. Uncle Ben, and his converted rice.
   Now don't ask me what converted rice is. I can only tell you that when a small convent school girl was told that the rice she was eating was converted rice, the one question that always came to mind was..."what was it before??Presbyterian?" Yes, I was a literal kid. Of course there was another rice that reared it's bizarro head around the house. Seeing as how I grew up in San Francisco there was always the chupacabra of crypto-gourmatology, Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco "Treat".
   Naturally growing up in an Italian family, my nonnas did cook amazing risotto but that was Christmas, Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. The rest of the year it was that boil in the bag, clumpy, gooey American stuff loosely referred to as rice.
   Once I was old enough to get on the bus and start exploring my native city, I learned that there was great rice beyond risotto. A variety of cultures presented a wealth of rice, all for the price of a Muni pass and a couple of transfers. Once I learned to eat rice the way many, many cultures meant it to be eaten, the next step was learning to prepare it properly. Which brings me to the simple rice dish that I like to call Magic Rice. Actually it's technically called Black Gram Dal Rice. I call it magic rice because first the rice is made, simply and plainly and then the magic happens.  Here's what to do.

South Indian Spiced Rice

 Making Rice
    This is a very simple way to prepare plain basmati rice.
Rinse 2 cups of rice in cold water and soak it in a bowl with 5 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt for 30 minutes.
  While the rice is soaking prep:

 The Spell
   In a pan or skillet dry roast the following spices
 2 Tbs of urid dal
 1 and 1/2 tsps of black peppercorns
 2 Tbs of white sesame seeds
 2 Tbs of dried grated coconut
    Toast the spices and dal and coconut until the mixture turns aromatic. It will only take a few minutes.
  Place the spice mix into a spice grinder or blender and grind it to a powder. Set it aside.
Now it's time to prep:

The Glamour
 In a small skillet heat:
  1 Tbs of unsalted butter
 When the butter is hot and foamy toss in:
  2 Tbs of halved cashew nuts
Toast them until they turn golden
Drain them on a paper towel and set them aside.
Now it's time to:

 Cook The Rice
 Melt 1 Tbs of unsalted butter in a heavy pot
When the butter is melted and foamy, pour in the drained rice and stir it around.
 Add in:
  2 and 1/4 cups of water
  3/4 tsps of salt
 When it comes to a boil cover the pot turn the heat waaaaaay down and let it cook for about 20 minutes.
 After 20 minutes, take the lid off, mix it gently with a fork, put the lid back on and give the rice another ten minutes or until the rice is tender. Set it aside
  Now for the finishing touch:

The Magic
 In a skillet heat :
  2 Tbs of unsalted butter.
 When the butter foams toss in:
  1 tsp black mustard seeds
  1 tsp urid dal
  1 tsp channa dal (yellow split peas)
  1 dried red chili broken in half
  a few curry leaves
 When the mustard seeds start to pop, toss in:
  2 seeded, finely chopped green chilies

 Cook for another 2 minutes
 Pour the contents of the skillet into the cooked rice and give it a thorough mix.
 Add salt to taste.
 Finally mix in the ground spice powder well and garnish the whole thing with the toasted cashew nuts. Bippity Boppity Boo! Magic happens.
 You are good to go.

   This dish is a great company meal because the spice powder can be made ahead, the cashews can be roasted ahead of time, and then as soon as the rice is cooked, the final addition of hot spices in oil is added.
 I've fixed this rice with an Indian meal.

   It also goes great with any Western style menu. Can't beat that.
   On another track, I've been cooking a lot for a couple of friends who are dealing with medical situations. One is recovering from a riding accident has found out that she's gluten intolerant. Another who's a vegetarian, has to eat a low iodine diet for the next several weeks while he preps for thyroid cancer treatment. Oh, and they live in the same house.
   Fortunately Indian food meets a lot of their varied dietary needs, and even though I cook a lot of vegan and gluten free dishes, I'm not a dessert person and what's dessert for if not for times like this??? So thanks to everyone out there who's shared great gluten free, vegan dessert recipes with me. They're lovin' em.
  One of the things I've discovered in this very precise cooking, is a recipe for what I like to call Indian Fries. Low oil, lots of flavor. That's all I'm gonna say. It's coming up next. Follow along on Twitter@kathygori


  1. I swear we grew up in parallel universes. I hated rice until I found out that the converted rice wasn't "normal".

  2. Wow, it's like you responded to a request. I never am interested in cooking rice at home because it's always so blah, even though I use "real" rice. (I had minute rice growing up though; I know!). I think I've been missing the magic!

  3. Great rice - don't really need anything else to accompany (except maybe...dessert!)

  4. looks so delicious. love the way you presented the recipe :D

  5. Very nice! Love the way the rice looks..:)..come to think of it, though I have eaten rice all my life, I am not sure if it is converted or not..LOL..

  6. This looks like a wonderful recipe. Fragrant and fun, I can see myself making this regularly. Thanks for sharing. Bookmarked! :)

  7. Interesting. In South India, we very often make this a similar version of this rice, and call it 'coconut rice'!

  8. this is coconut rice aka south indian style mixed rice dish:))



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