08 January 2011

Coconut Rice

It's one of those dishes that I keep under my hat, because I know that it's a crowd-pleaser, and I know that I can generally sort it out in a few minutes or so. I'm going into a bit of detail, because it can be intimidating for folk who haven't done it before, but it is certainly simple enough to make.

So, here goes nothing. These are the amounts I used. You can use more or less, depending on what you've got. I didn't have fresh coconut, because the stores are only carrying really bad quality stuff, so I used frozen in this case, because it was easy enough to find. It also means that you're not worrying about having to open up the coconut. I used nonstick, because it would mean that I can use a bit less oil (although I don’t know why I bothered, because I’m adding coconut and peanuts, both of which have a considerable amount of fat in them).

Substitutions: If you don’t have asafoetida (I use LG Compounded Asafoetida), leave it out. It won’t hurt anything. If you don’t have the urad daal (also, you should be using the hulled, white, split urad daal, and not the whole one with the skin on), leave it out. The peanuts will do the job. Curry leaves are another one where it’s strictly there for if you have it. If you don’t, don’t stress about it. Those three ingredients cannot be substituted, but they can be comfortably left out. It will still be delicious in the end. The sesame seed is there, because I can’t easily get my hands on the sesame oil that I’d be using to cook with in South India. I find that adding the sesame seed to the spice mix gives a nice flavour, gives a boost of iron, and has a nice colour in there too. Use white hulled sesame seeds.

This makes a fairly large batch, but it freezes well.

Don’t use brown rice. It won’t taste right. At home, Steve and I eat only brown rice, except for when I make something special like coconut rice, tomato rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice, or any of the other South Indian spiced rice dishes. We don’t eat them frequently, because they’re not really that nutritionally strong. It’s best to keep these sorts of dishes for those times when you have nothing else in the fridge.

6 cups basmati or jasmine or long grain white rice
2 TB peanut, canola, or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed (brown, black, or yellow; just don’t use powdered or prepared mustard)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (powder is not acceptable)
1 teaspoon urad daal (optional)
1/2 teaspoon white hulled sesame seed
2 big pinches asafoetida
1/2 cup raw peanuts (preferably with skin), cashews, or other nut of your choice
1 - 3 stalks curry leaves (you can add up to 1/3 cup of curry leaves with no problem)
3 - 6 green thai bird chiles, sliced into rounds (omit if you don’t like it spicy)
1 - 3 TB grated fresh ginger
1 cup grated coconut (frozen is fine. If you’re using unsweetened coconut flakes, cut it back to 1/3 cup)
Salt to taste

Cook the basmati rice in whichever method you’d use to cook rice. I use my rice cooker, but you can use a pot if you’re comfortable with it. When the rice is cooked, DO NOT OPEN THE LID. Let it sit in the covered pot for about five minutes to finish the last stages of cooking. If you remove the rice from the cooking vessel as soon as it’s done, you’ll end up with undercooked rice. If you’re doing this one the stove, simply remove the pot from the burner, and set it on your counter. If you’re using a rice cooker, unplug it from the wall, and let your rice sit, undisturbed WITHOUT OPENING THE LID, for about ten to fifteen minutes.

While the rice is having its rest and relaxation time, start up a skillet over medium high heat. You want the heat to get hot, else the mustard seeds will never get cooked. While your skillet is pre-heating, get your spices (mustard see, cumin seed, urad daal, sesame seed, asafoetida, peanuts) in order, so that you don’t end up burning your spices. Start by pouring the oil into the skillet. A small wisp of smoke should come off the surface of the oil. If a lot of smoke comes off, you’re working with something other than peanut, canola, or vegetable oil. There’s a reason I specified.

Once your oil is smoking a little, start off with the mustard seed. Wait about 30 - 45 seconds, while the mustard seeds splutter and pop. Once you hear the seeds pop, lift the skillet off of the stove for a few seconds, until you hear the popping subside. Replace the skillet over the stove. If you hear the popping begin again in earnest, pull the skillet back off the heat for a bit, and let the mustard seeds continue to pop. The reason you do this is because the difference between burned spices and just cooked spices is a razor-sharp margin. It’s best to err on the side of caution, rather than burning your spices.

Yes, it’s normal for the seeds to end up all over your stove. The flavour is well worth it.

Once the popping of the mustard seeds has subsided (when the skillet is over the flame), add the cumin seeds. They will pop much more quickly; about 15 - 25 seconds should suffice. Add the urad daal, sesame seeds, and asafoetida. IMMEDIATELY pull the skillet off the heat, because the sesame seeds are violent little buggers, and will start popping at a much lower heat than the other spices. You’ll also notice the urad daal turning from white to a medium brown colour. As soon as the urad daal is cooked, and the sesame seeds aren’t popping so violently, add the peanuts to cool down the skillet. If you're using dried chile, or chile flakes, add it with the peanuts. Dried chile needs to cook in fat for the flavour to come through strongly.

Drop down your heat to medium low, and toss the peanuts in the spices and oil, so that they’re coated. Turn down the heat to low, and put the lid onto the skillet. Let them toast for about two minutes, then open the lid, and toss the peanuts in the spices again. Continue to alternate stirring and covering the peanuts until they’re lightly toasted. You’ll notice that the round part of the peanuts will get a darker toasty colour, while the rest of the nut is only slightly darker than before. This is perfectly fine.

Add the curry leaves when the peanuts are cooked. Stir to combine. Add a few big pinches of salt, to your liking. Stir through the chiles and ginger, and cook for an additional minute or two. The ginger tends to make everything want to stick to the pan, even if you're using nonstick, so you don't want to add the ginger any sooner than you absolutely need to.

Finally, add the coconut, and turn off the heat. Toss to coat, until the coconut gets lightly cooked. If you’re using frozen or dried coconut, turn the heat back on to medium low, and toast lightly until the coconut is light brown. I find that to bring out the strong coconut taste that the dried and frozen coconut lack, you need to give them a bit more time to cook, so that they really stand out a bit. Fresh coconut, on the other hand, needs no help at all. It is the superstar of the dish, and you just need to barely warm it through.

By the time your spice/coconut mix is finished, your rice is done resting. Take the skillet off the heat, and set it aside. If you’re nervous to have the spice mix done in time (because you’re using frozen coconut, or dried coconut, and you’ll need additional time to cook it), feel free to make the spice/coconut mix while the rice cooks.

Now, open the lid of the rice cooker. A steamy puff of fragrant aroma should rise up from the rice, and greet you. Please don’t be tempted to stick your face near the rice. It’s still piping hot, and having steam burns on your face, because you wanted to smell it closer isn’t going to help anyone.

Using a rubber spatula (heat resistant is best), gently pull the rice out of the rice pot. Pile it onto a cookie sheet, and gently (ever so gently) pat it down with the spatula so that it’s one layer high. Pour on the spice/coconut/oil mixture over the rice, until it’s fairly evenly spread out. Set it in front of a fan, or open window, or use a paper fan, or do whatever it takes to cool the rice down to room temp. If you try to mix the rice and spices when the rice is still piping hot, you’ll end up with broken rice, and a mushy mess. Ugh. Be patient, and it’ll pay off. Then, when the rice is cool enough to touch, use your hands to very gently toss the rice with the spices. Be gentle, so that you don’t break up the super long grains of basmati rice.

Eat it as is, or with Indian pickle, or as a side dish to another meal.


My mother saw the blog entry, and sent me an email:

greatly detailed.i cant imagine anyone having any doubts but then i'm a lifetime cook and cant think like a novice.you can add some chopped fresh cilantro to the coconut mix at the end if there is no curry leaves.try it sometime.ive had it and it tastes really good.
maybe you can mention while cooking rice its a good idea to try to cook it so it falls apart and not mushy.did you leave the ginger out on purpose or you dont use ginger.
love you

D'oh! I forgot the ginger. I'll go back and edit that in now. Also, I forgot to mention when you add the chiles. It should be fixed now. Thanks, Amma!