Rice dishes


Kashmiri morel mushroom pilau

Morel is the only mushroom to eat at this time of the year – but I’m surprised how little-known and difficult to obtain this fine delicacy is in the UK. You should be able to find morels in well-stocked delis, good health food shops and large supermarkets.

I love their honeycomb-patterned, tulip bud-like shape. What I love even more, however, is that Kashmiris refer to them as ‘gucchi’ – making their traditional ‘gucchi pilau’ sound like a designer rice dish. Suffused with saffron soaked in flower essence and studded with spices (all of which are available in Indian grocers, large supermarkets and specialist spice shops), it is indeed an exotic and aromatic dish.

Serve with plain yoghurt, raita, or a few spoonfuls of my Kashmiri Spiced Spring Greens – the recipe for which I posted on 25th March 2009. The pilau is also grand enough to eat all on its own. Serves 4 to 6.

12 oz/ 300g white basmati rice
3 oz/ 75g almonds
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 teaspoon pure screwpine essence (or 1 tablespoon rosewater, orange flower water, or jasmine flower water – they will all give their own distinct taste)
4 oz/ 100g dried or 6 oz/ 150g fresh morel mushrooms
3 oz/ 75g clarified (or unsalted) butter
4 black cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
6 green cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
3-inch piece cinnamon, broken into 2 or 3 pieces
6 cloves
3 dried bay leaves
A small pinch of asafoetida
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
Salt
1 ¼ pint/ ¾ litres cold water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

1.    Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in just enough water to cover it, and set aside.
2.    Steep the almonds in boiling water from a kettle for 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, cool a little, remove the skins from the almonds and slice them vertically.
3.    Crush the saffron strands in a mortar, and soak in 1 teaspoon flower essence or 1 tablespoon flower water, as available. Set aside.
4.    Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth, but do not wash as they will lose their flavour. Halve them lengthways.
5.    Heat the butter in a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Add the whole spices and bay leaves. Stir for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker and start to perfume your kitchen.
6.    Add the asafoetida and let it sizzle for just a few seconds.
7.    Add the prepared mushrooms and almonds, and sauté for a couple of minutes until the nuts begin to brown.
8.    Drain the rice thoroughly and add it to the mushroom mixture. Sauté for a few minutes until the grains of rice become shiny.
9.    Add the powdered ginger, the saffron mixture, and salt. Add the cold water and bring the rice to the boil. Then lower the heat, cover with a lid, and let it cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.
10.    Check to see whether the rice is cooked by pressing a couple of grains between your fingers. Remove from heat and set aside, keeping the lid on. Do not disturb the rice.
11.    Sprinkle the rice with garam masala and coriander leaves. Remove the whole spices before serving, or allow your guests to fish them out individually on their own plates.

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persian-broad-bean-pilaf

Regular readers must be getting bored of my enthusiastic – and prolonged – welcome to this cherry blossom season, with recipe after recipe showcasing greens, asparagus, broad beans (and in forthcoming weeks, also peas, artichokes and other seasonal vegetables) on this site. But it still feels like such a novelty after the freezing winter we’ve had in the UK for so long, and the cooking really is different this time of the year. It’s lighter, more fun and frivolous, more visual, and more colour-oriented.

I’ve been meaning to share this great-tasting recipe ever since I started this blog last autumn, but I was just waiting for the right weather: this dish just doesn’t taste the same any other time of the year. It’s the vivid orange and green colours, the lively ingredients, and the simple, fuss-free flavours that make this easy-to-prepare rice such a quintessentially springtime dish.

You can serve the rice as an accompaniment – but when it tastes so good, why let it share the limelight with another dish? Serves 4.

8 oz/ 200g white Iranian or Indian basmati rice
10oz/ 250g fresh broad beans (or mixture of broad beans, peas and runner beans)
Salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 oz/ 50g butter
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
½ teaspoon powdered saffron

Optional garnish 1 (herb omelette):
1 large organic free range egg
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, tarragon, or mint – or a mixture
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

OR

Optional garnish 2 (herbed yoghurt):
8 tablespoons thick creamy yoghurt
1 heaped tablespoon fresh dill sprigs, roughly torn
Salt and pepper

1.    Wash and rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Soak it for half an hour or so in barely enough water to cover it.
2.    Then add a little more water to the rice – enough to cover it up to an inch. Add salt. Cook the rice for 20 minutes until tender. This is the absorption method, and for best results the rice must not be disturbed whilst cooking. Keeping the lid on, set the cooked rice aside for 10 minutes.
3.    Then remove the lid, place the container of rice in a bowl of iced water, and let it cool thoroughly – the longer you leave the rice to cool, the better will be the texture of this recipe. Hours, rather than minutes, is what I am suggesting. . (Alternatively, use 1lb/ 500g cooked leftover rice!).
4.    Meanwhile, shell and steam the broad beans (and other vegetables, if using) for about 5 minutes until tender. (Check by crushing a couple of beans between your fingers). Cool the beans a little, and skin them if you have the time.
5.    When ready to cook, heat the oil and butter together in a saucepan, and sauté the onion for a few minutes until lightly browned. Add the cooled rice, saffron, and more salt if needed. Stir gently so that the grains of rice don’t break or go mushy.
6.    Add the cooked broad beans. (Also add cooked peas and sliced runner beans if using). Adjust the seasoning.
7.    For optional garnish 1: Beat together the egg with the herbs and seasoning. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and make an omelette. Let the omelette cool a little, then roll it up tightly and finely shred. For optional garnish 2: Mix together the yoghurt with dill and seasoning.
8.    Serve the rice hot with either one of the garnishes. Although the garnishes are optional, they enhance this dish and bring out its flavour to full effect.

mexican-green-rice

This delicious recipe is for the classic Mexican arroz verde – a wonderful accompaniment to all kinds of tortilla and bean dishes. Or, if you are like me, you can make a meal of it with the addition of some protein such as fried eggs or grilled white cheese, accompanied by a few slices of avocadoes.

I like to use serrano chillies in this dish, but you may use anaheim, which are milder. Grilling the vegetables tones down their fieriness and earthiness, and gives them a smoky, succulent flavour that contrasts beautifully with the fresh, spiky grassiness of the herbs.

Over the years, I have always cooked this rice with lettuce, but I have suggested spinach as a substitute for those readers who think the idea of putting salad leaves in a cooked rice dish might be a little strange.

Today, UK has had the biggest snowfall in – according to some reports – nearly 20 years. All around me is decked out in thick tapestries of gleaming, milk-white snow. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and cook up a spicy, hot Mexican fiesta to bring forth the promise of colour, warmth and sunshine. Serves 4 as an accompanying side dish.

8 oz/ 200g long-grain white rice
1 medium onion, trimmed, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 medium green pepper (capsicum or bell pepper), deseeded and quartered
2 green chillies, trimmed and halved
3 large Cos lettuce leaves (or a handful of spinach leaves), roughly chopped
1 oz/ 25g fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 oz/ 25g fresh coriander (cilantro)
½ to ¾ pint/ 275 to 450 ml water
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons corn oil

1.    Pre-heat the grill on medium heat.
2.    Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Soak in absolute minimum amount of cold water while you prepare the ingredients for this dish.
3.    Place the onion, garlic, green pepper and chillies under the grill, turning them from time to time with tongs, until they are soft and blistered and have black patches on their surfaces.
4.    Remove from the grill, and cool a little. Peel off the skin from the green pepper.
5.    In a food processor, finely grind the grilled vegetables with the lettuce, parsley, and coriander. Add the water and seasoning, and whizz until you have a fairly thick sauce of pourable consistency. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. (Bear in mind that it should have a little more salt and pepper than you would like because you haven’t added the rice yet).
6.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Drain the rice thoroughly and add it to the pan. Sautee until the grains are shiny and translucent.
7.    Add the green vegetable sauce to the rice, and mix well.
8.    Lower the heat to minimum, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and cook the rice for around 20 minutes. Do not open the lid while the rice is cooking, do not disturb the rice, do not fluff it up, do nothing – just leave it be.
9.    After 20 minutes or so, check to see that the grains have absorbed the sauce and indentations have appeared on the surface of the rice. If not, leave it on very low heat for a little while longer.
10.    Remove from heat, and let the rice stand with the lid on for 10 minutes. Then fluff it up, and serve hot.

saffron-and-champagne-risotto

This is essentially the classic Italian risotto alla Milanese, given a festive touch. Not only does it taste delicious, but the dramatic presentation I have suggested can be something of a party trick! Serve with steamed or roasted asparagus, or a spinach and avocado salad. It can also be eaten Italian-style as a first course. Serves 4.

2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock (ideally home-made)
4 oz/ 100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good-quality virgin olive oil
4 large shallots OR 2 small white onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 very small bottle champagne
14 oz/ 350g vialone nano risotto rice
¼ to ½ teaspoon top-quality saffron strands, crushed in a mortar
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g vegetarian parmesan (or similar hard Italian cheese)
4 tablespoons single cream
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves

To serve:
Gold leaf (optional)
1 normal-sized bottle champagne, chilled

1.    Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and keep it just below the simmering point.
2.    Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil together in a saucepan. Add the shallots and sauté for 5 minutes until soft but not brown.
3.    Add 6 tablespoons of the stock to the shallots, along with the contents of the small bottle of champagne. Heat until the mixture is reduced by half.
4.    Add the rice and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
5.    Add the saffron and seasoning. Then add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring the rice between each addition. Make sure that the rice absorbs the liquid and that the liquid reduces in quantity before you add the next ladleful. This process takes patience as you have to constantly stand at the stove, stirring the rice as you go. Do not be tempted to tip all the liquid into the rice at the same time. The rice should take about 20 minutes to cook. The consistency should be soupy, and the grains of rice should be tender and mushy.
6.    Remove from the heat, and stir in the cream and some of the parmesan and parsley. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve the risotto: Working quickly so that it doesn’t get cold, pile the risotto onto a large, heated serving platter. (Use a black one for dramatic effect). Garnish the risotto with gold leaf, if using. Make a small ‘well’ in the centre of the risotto. Wipe the bottle of champagne with a dry cloth, and place it in the ‘well’. Then carefully uncork the bottle while it’s still standing on the platter, so that the bubbles drip down into the risotto beneath. Once your guests’ ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ have died down, scoop the risotto into individual serving dishes and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and parsley. Pour the remaining champagne into glasses and drink it with the risotto.

stuffed-acorn-squash

I wasn’t going to do another squash recipe: there are, relatively speaking, too many on this site already – as compared to, say, kohlrabi or turnip recipes. But squash is a sexy, popular, versatile vegetable that lends itself well to different types of fillings. So it makes a great centrepiece for a special occasion dinner table.

Ras el hanout is a wonderfully fragrant, traditional Moroccan spice mix, made up from a very wide range of whole spices freshly crushed together. It might include cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals and so on – the recipe varies throughout Morocco; each spice stall and family has its own version. Getting good-quality ras el hanout is key to this recipe. In the UK, you can obtain it from large supermarkets, food halls, speciality spice shops, food markets, and Mediterranean delis. Experiment with different spice blends for this recipe. Ras el hanout has a punchy, distinctive flavour, so if you are using a particular blend or brand for the first time, use sparingly – and hand out harissa (Moroccan hot sauce) on the side for extra flavour, if at all needed. Serves 4.

For the squash:

2 medium acorn (or another variety) squash
Olive oil for greasing
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper

For the filling:

6 oz/ 150g white, brown and wild rice mix
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Moroccan, if you have it)
1 small leek, trimmed and finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 very small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 to 6 small button mushrooms, halved
1 oz/ 25g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a small pan
1 oz/ 25g ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon ras el hanout
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 large green olives, stoned and chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ gas mark 6.
2.    Cut the squash in half vertically through their stems. Do not peel the squash or remove the stems. Scoop out the seeds and discard (or dry them in a very low oven for later use as a snack).
3.    Mix a little oil with garlic, paprika and seasoning, then paint the insides of the squash with this mixture using a pastry brush.
4.    Place the squash on a greased baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 30 minutes until tender.
5.    Meanwhile cook the rice according to the packet instructions. Once cooked, let it cool thoroughly.
6.    Heat the oil in a pan, and cook the leek, carrot, pepper and mushrooms for 5-10 minutes until soft.
7.    Add the cooked, cooled rice and stir. (You may be wondering: what’s the point of cooling the rice first if it’s going to be added to a hot pan anyway. Well, the reason is that if you add the hot rice, the grains will break down and the filling will become mushy. If the rice is allowed to cool down first, the grains will remain intact and separate).
8.    Add the pine nuts, apricots, ras el hanout, saffron, lemon juice, olives, coriander and seasoning. Mix gently.
9.    Stuff the squash cavities with the rice mixture, pressing down the filling lightly but firmly.
10.  Serve immediately, or cover with foil and keep warm in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

congee-in-chinese-bowl

Savoury porridges – called congee – are widely eaten by the Chinese (and other Asians) for breakfast. In their plain, bland form, they are also given to the sick, the elderly and children. However, this humble peasant dish transforms itself into something altogether sexier when served with a variety of flavourful accessories. Here, the Malaysian-style congee is accompanied by traditional garnishes, but you can experiment and use any toppings you like – such as sautéed mushrooms, cooked red aduki or black soy beans, fried tofu pieces, and so on. Comfort food has never been more colourful.  Serves 2.

For the porridge:
1.2 litres/ 2 pints lightly flavoured unsalted vegetable stock
450 ml/ 15 fl oz measuring jug filled with short-grain Chinese rice
1 tin coconut milk, well-stirred
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sesame oil

For the accessories:
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely shredded
½-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
1 fresh red chilli, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chilli oil
100 g/ 4 oz tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
25g/ 1 oz roasted peanuts, crushed
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, and cut into 8 pieces each

1.    Boil the stock in a large saucepan and add the rice, coconut milk, salt and sesame oil.
2.    Bring the mixture back to the boil and stir. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes until the rice is cooked and the mixture has thickened. Stir the porridge occasionally during the cooking process to prevent from sticking. Add more water if necessary – the porridge should have the consistency of custard.
3.    Ladle the porridge into pasta bowls. Surround the bowls with the accessories in little individual dipping plates, and add them in according to taste.

This Japanese snack uses specialist ingredients that are widely available in oriental stores and the ‘posh’ sections of supermarkets. It’s an easy, tasty and sophisticated dish that goes well with chilled oriental beer. Serves 1 to 4 – just increase the quantities if you are feeding a crowd.

2 tablespoons red miso (fermented soy bean paste)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine used in cooking)
1 tablespoon sake (Japanese rice wine)
Salt
1 egg yolk
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
4 mochi (rice cakes)
1 tablespoon white and black sesame seeds, lightly toasted

1. Mix together miso, mirin, sake, egg yolk, spring onions and salt.
2. Place the mochi on a greased baking tray, and grill on both sides under a moderate heat until they are puffed up and golden brown. Take care not to burn them.
3. Spread each mochi with the miso mixture, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
4. Return the mochi to the grill, and cook until the miso mixture is heated through. Serve immediately as a hot snack.