Indian Cooking 301 — Recipe #1: Basmati rice with saffron and whole spices
Indian Cooking 301 – our first lesson will focus on how to use whole spices to make a memorable basmati rice dish scented with saffron
You will use major whole spices that are mainstays of Indian cooking: cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, green cardamom pods, and cloves to form the base of a fragrant, memorable basmati rice dish
You will also use the most luxurious spice in the world: saffron
At the 301 level you will learn how to kick things into gear and make authentic Indian dishes using both ground spices (like cumin powder and turmeric) and whole spices (like cinnamon stick and whole cloves) that you can find at your local supermarket — no need to go to an Indian grocer.
You will continue to master my 5-10-5 Rule — a cheat sheet I created for my husband Sean of the basic things you need in your pantry to make a variety of delicious Indian dishes
Now that you know how to make rice perfectly, and have kicked things up a notch by learning how to make a simple but elegant peas pulau or Basmati rice with sweet green peas and cumin, let’s take it to the next level. This recipe is deceptively easy to make and boasts bold yet subtle flavors. I find the key to making rice well, just like pasta, is to add a sufficient amount of salt. This is especially true when adding whole spices like cinnamon stick and fruit (such as raisins in this case) — salt is essential for bringing out the layers of flavor. In my experience, for 1 to 1.5 cups of rice, you will need around 1 teaspoon of salt to really accomplish this; it is a matter of taste of course, which is why we often see “adjust salt to taste” in many recipes.
The main thing you will learn in this Indian Cooking 301 lesson is to heat whole spices and raisins in oil — you do this on medium to medium-high heat, and while the whole spices are heating, you will be reconstituting the raisins, which will go into the pot cold, and then plump up to 2x their original size. At the end when the rice is cooked, the raisins will return to their original size, but the sugars will have caramelized with the whole spices and oil and permeated through the grains of rice. I particularly like the flavor combination of this rice dish with lamb keema. Many North Indian and Pakistani rice dishes (such as biryani) in particular combine meat dishes with rice and hints of dried fruit like apricot and raisins — a culinary legacy left by the Mughal Empire of Muslim conquerors who controlled most of India from the 1500s-1700s.
Basmati rice with saffron and whole spices
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 cinnamon stick
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1.5 cups uncooked white basmati rice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- Heat oil and cumin seeds together in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the cumin seeds begin to glisten and move a little, add whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves) and raisins.
- Saute until the raisins double in size and plump up. Watch the burner/flame so that the spices and raisins don’t burn!
- Once the raisins look nice and plump and you can smell aromas being released from the saucepan, add basmati rice and saute. Add salt and mix well to combine.
- Add water and saffron. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce heat to the lowest level/flame and partially cover the pot with the lid so that most of it is covered but you leave a small opening for steam to release.
- After about 20 minutes the rice should be cooked through. When you remove the lid and gently tilt the saucepan to the side and no liquid appears and the rice is pulling away from the sides of the saucepan, you will know it’s done.