Route 79 : Vegetable rice

The effects of feeling hungry on the way home


February 16 2004

Vegetable Rice

I'm really fussy about rice. For all my life it's been such a staple part of my diet that I cannot bear to eat rice unless it's done perfectly the way I like it. I guess you could call me a "rice-snob" - because I turn my nose up (and will refuse to eat) rice served in any office canteen or bistro or restaurant (except Indian or Chinese) because I know that it will be simply awful. I have also noticed that some Indian restaurants in UK are really bad with the quality oftheir rice preparation - I guess it's because they think they can get away with it without anyone noticing.

Rice cooked Indian-style is often the main bit of carbohydrate accompaniment to a "saucy" vegetable or meat dish. You could treat the following instructions as a kind of Delia Smith-style teach-in on how to cook the perfect bowl of rice - but I've had a couple of requests for a treatment on "vegetable rice" so this is what we will do here. (If you want plain rice - then the recipe is exactly the same - but without the masala and mixed veg.)

Vegetable rice is sometimes known as "pilau" rice - although here in UK - "pilau" rice is synonymous with the multicoloured rice. Calling it "vegetable pilau" is more accurate. Normally when cooking rice as an accompaniment to a "saucy" Indian dish - you do plain rice - but if you have a "dry" dish (e.g. tandoori chicken or shish-kebab) then instead of doing plain rice - do vegetable rice to accompany the "dry" (not saucy) meat.

Now - I don't have any purpose-taken pictures of the cooking method for vegetable rice - so I am using pictures from my archive that as much as possible - assembling them in such a way that accurately reflects the different steps in the method. Amazingly - there is only one step that I don't have a picture of - so I will use words instead of picture there.

You will need:

1 large (or 2 small) onions
1 cup of basmati rice (serves two people)
1 generous pinch of jeera (cumin) seeds
3 teaspoons of garam masala
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (e.g. sunflower)
1 generous handful of frozen mixed veg

And yes - I said i was a rice-snob: ONLY BASMATI RICE WILL DO. Do not use any other form of rice - e.g. American Long Grain, hippy wild-rice or that yukky brown rice or Uncle Ben's, Uncle Tom's and other old cobbly. Use only Basmati rice from India or Pakistan or China. Tilda is a popular brand that you can find in the "world food" aisle at your local supermarket.

The froxen mixed veg should be the type that you find already prepared for you in bags in the supermarket freezer compartments. The one I reccomend is the one with small baby carrots, peas, sweetcorn, green-beans and maybe chunks of green and red pepper. You might not find bags with all of the above in them - so it doesn't matter if (say) the bag doesn't contain pepper or green beans. Just make sure you DON'T get the mixed veg where the sweetcorn are the "baby sweetcorn cobs" and DON'T get ones with "broad beans" or "chopped carrot". If it has sweetcorn in it - make sure it's the juicy sweetcorn kernels, if it has beans in it - make sure it's green beans (long, thin dark-green stalky things) and if it's got carrot in it - make sure it's whole baby carrots. Also - the peas should be peas - not "mange-tout".

Here is a picture of a bag of frozen mixed veg that we like to use:

It's the Waitrose organic version that you can see the ingredients of by clicking here.

Anyway - here goes:

Make sure the rice is washed of all "starch" throughly. We do this by pouring the rice into a sieve and placing the sieve into a bowl and placing the bowl in the sink with the cold water tap pouring into it. We let the water run (be careful not to have powerful jet - as this is wasteful of water) for a few mins - and then let the rice drain by balancing the sieve on top of the small cup that you used to measure the rice in the first place:

Whilst the rice was being washed - you have a few mins to peel and chop the onions coarsely. Slice the onions along their "grain" - so you end up with long thin bits rather than fat chnunky squares of onion. Then prepare the pot on medium-to-high flame - with the oil in it. When the oil is hot - throw in the generous pinch of cumin seeds and wait until you hear them fizzle and pop before you throw in the onions.

Fry the onions for several minutes - stirring frequently - until the onions are becoming translucent. They shouldn't really be browned for this recipe - unlike many other Indian dishes. So - lower the flame slightly to keep the onions cooking without burning/browning.

Now it's at this point that I don't have a picture - but what you do next is to add the frozen mixed veg into the pot. you can do this straight from the freezer - in fact it's better to do so - just scoop up a large generous handful (or two if you like) and drop it into the pot. Because the veg is cold - and the pot is hot - you will hear a delightful "shhhhhhhhh" sound as the ice begins to melt. If the veg is stuck in a frozen lump - then use a wooden spoon to gently break it apart - and stir around until all the veg is separated. Immediately add the garam masala to the pot and stir around. The smell should be very aromatic by now!

It's at this point that I don'tt have a picture to illustrate!

(Adding the frozen mixed veg and 3 heaped teaspoons of garam masala)

After the veg and onion masala mixture has been stirred for a few minutes - turn up the flame to high and add the drained rice. Stir it around gently - kind of like folding it with your wooden spoon - and then as the cold rice starts to make a hissing noise - add just over one-and-a-half times of water than the rice you measured in the first place. Delia Smith will probably say exactly twice - I say one and a half times. In fact - the method I use is to stick my index finger into the pot - the distance between the surface of the rice and the surface of the water should be halfway up the first "segment" of your index finger. Just above your base of your fingernail. With practise - you will know just by looking into the pot.

Put the lid on the pot (no vents) and make sure the flame is really fierce - and within a few moments the water inside will be boiling voilently:

Whilst it's coming to the boil on the fierce flame - prepare a low-flame burner on your hob - try to get the smallest possible flame. Then - when the rice pot is making a loud noise of boiling - immediately transfer the pot to the low flame and listen for the boiling rice to calm down to a quiet gentle simmer.

Let the rice simmer for around 15 minutes. Whatever ytou do DO NOT KEEP TAKING THE LID OFF TO SEE HOW IT'S DOING. Wait until 15 mins are up - and then take the lid off and give it one "turn over" with your wooden spoon - and then place the lid back on - but with a gap so that the rice can vent. Turn the flame right off at this point - and let the rice sit there for 5 minuets before serving.

When it's done - it should be fluffy (but slightly moist due to the onion/oil) and aromatic - with delightful chunks of vegetable to provide extra flavour and texture.

Vegetable rice!

Have you tried this? Even if you haven't - let me know what you think!
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