Vinay's Vegetable Pulav
There’s a long-running debate among Indian cooks on the differences between pulav and biryani. I’m neither qualified nor interested in weighing in on this rather intractable issue any further, though I did want to acknowledge it since I think it’s a fascinating indication of just how ubiquitous both these rice dishes are in India and what a vital role they play in so many of its cuisines. This version from my friend Vinay Swamy (whose mother and aunts I was lucky enough to cook Hoysala Karnataka food with), is a delight, and perfect for when all you have in the house is some rice, a motley assortment of vegetables, and some herbs. The results are delicious and deeply comforting: the fresh herbs add a bright earthiness to the rice and stain it a lovely nutty-green colour, and the vegetables disperse through the dish like little gems tucked away between the grains. I often enjoy this all on its own as a light lunch, but it’s equally good with raita, a little achaar, or a couple of jammy boiled eggs secreted away in its depths.
A note on cooking rice: Though I’ve given a specific quantity of water to cook the rice in, you should be aware that this will change depending on the brand of rice you’re using and the method you’re using to cook it. Familiarize yourself with the brand and variety of rice you’re using—it’s a process that usually involves a little trial and error, but is the only surefire way to get perfect results here. When I’m using a new variety of rice, I tend to err on the side of caution and add less water than I usually would. If the rice ends up a little undercooked, you can always sprinkle on more water and allow it to steam a little longer. I cook my rice on the stovetop, but if you use a rice cooker, you’ll want to change the timings and quantities accordingly.
VINAY’S VEGETABLE PULAV
2 cups basmati rice, washed, soaked for fifteen minutes, and drained well
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced through the root
1 cup carrot, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
½ cup frozen green peas
1 cup cauliflower broken into ½-inch florets
To dry grind:
3 tbsp coriander seed
1.5 tbsp cumin seed
1 tsp black pepper
1 1-inch piece cinnamon bark
To wet grind:
3 large cloves garlic
2 small green chilli peppers (Serrano, Thai, or bird’s eye preferably)
½ cup grated coconut (frozen is fine here if it’s all you have)
1 cup cleaned mint leaves
3 tsp cumin seed
5 pods green cardamom, crushed with the side of a knife
3 star anise
2 tej patta (in a pinch you could use laurel bay leaves, though the flavor won’t be the same)
Ghee for seasoning
I like to start by preparing the dry and wet spice blends. First, toast the cumin and coriander in a dry pan till they start to release their aroma. Grind together in a spice mill with the black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Set aside.
In the small jar of a blender, or using an immersion blender and a narrow container, grind together the garlic, green chillies, coconut, and mint with 1 cup of water until you have a smooth paste.
In a saucepan that holds at least 8 cups, heat 4 tbsp of ghee over medium-high heat till shimmering.
Add the cumin, cardamom, star anise, and tej patta and allow to bloom in the hot oil till the cumin starts to sputter.
Add the sliced onions and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, till the onion has turned translucent and softened.
Add the rice and turn the heat down to low while you stir it gently to coat in the oil. Take care not to let the grains break up too much, or stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the dry spice blend and stir again to mix in with the rice.
Add 1.5 cups of water along with the cauliflower, carrot, and peas, and 3 tsp of sea salt. Stir to combine well. The water should just cover the rice.
Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and bring the heat back up to medium-high.
When you hear the water begin to boil, turn the heat down to its lowest setting. If you can safely add a weight to the top of the lid of the saucepan, do so and allow to cook for 10–15 minutes.
You’ll know that the rice is done when you put your ear close to the pan and you can’t hear water bubbling inside anymore. Also, the steam escaping from the pan should smell sweet and nutty.
Let rest for 10 minutes, off the heat, then open and check for doneness and seasoning. If the water has all been absorbed but the rice is still too al dente, sprinkle on upto half a cup more of water, stir gently to incorporate and return to a low flame for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot with raita and sandige or papadam.