The (by no means) definitive guide to every Indian rice recipe

Basmati rice

By now, regular readers will have had ample time to digest my description of an Amira rice feast at Gymkhana, and are no doubt hungry once again for more of the same grain. So I’ve seen fit to attempt to explain at least a few of the many hundreds, thousands, or indeed unquantifiable number of ways in which rice is relished across the Indian subcontinent.

Many will argue you can’t beat a good biryani, but I’ve tried to avoid the obvious in order to offer a slight insight and widen your eyes to the wider world of rice recipes. I’ve found the research rather like counting grains of sand on a beach; but thankfully rather more happily appetising.

(Disclaimer – the following is by no means definitive and you may well come across items in other avatars and/or bearing other names. I shall simply ascribe any irregularities to the beauty and diversity of India’s cuisines and languages)

Breakfasts

Dosa Deli

Appams/hoppers – South Indian or Sri Lankan, saucer-sized soft rice-and-coconut-milk crepes cooked in a curved pan. Available in endless incarnations both sweet and savoury  – of which egg-topped is an excellent option.

Pez – This Goan rice porridge is a gruel that would have Oliver Twist demanding ‘more’, for sure. Much like the Southeast Asian ‘congee’, it offers gentle nourishment – a bland base that can be enriched with any ingredient that takes one’s fancy.

Dosa – …and indeed, many of the classic incredible South Indian rice-and-lentil crepe’s endless brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins twice-removed and other distant relatives.

Idlis – Made from the same lightly-fermented rice-and-lentil batter as the dosa, South India’s idlis are little flying-saucer shaped pillows cooked in a specially-shaped steamed. Delicious and nutritious.

Puttu – A crumbled couscous-like mixture that consists of lightly-fermented, hand-rolled nubblets of rice flour that’s layered up with fresh coconut flesh and steamed in logs. In Kerala, it’s inseparable from kadala (tiny black, well-spiced chickpeas).

Bhajani Cha Vadai – This marvellous Maharashtrian, healthful version of the popular savoury donut ‘vada’ is made with a spiced blend of multiple millet flours, chana dal, rice and wheat.

Xandoh guri  – In Assamese, the name just refers to the coarsely-pounded powder made from soaked and fried rice. The dry mixture can be prepared like porridge; sweetened with simple sugar or the  tastier jaggery. 

Sunga saul – An Assamese item comprising soaked rice that’s packed into a bamboo tube that is plugged with a banana leaf and roasted. What’s inside is sweetened and eaten with hot milk and curd.

Snacks

Poha Zoe Perrett The Spice Scribe Danny Kingston food Urchin Where's My Pork Chop

Rice papads – A pan-Indian variation on those common thin, crisp lentil wafers often pushed as ‘poppadoms’, made from ground rice. Ideal for conveying chutney to mouth. Can be cooked without oil; better with.

Poha/aval/chira – Flattened, beaten rice grains available in different thicknesses and relished widely. A brief soak, a quick fry’n’toss with region-specific ingredients that might include spices, curry leaves and peanuts, and you’re good to go.

Chakli/murukkus – Deep-fried, spiky spirals of ground rice-and-lentil batter that are even more addictive than they are crunchy – i.e. ‘very’, as Indians from South and West in particular will attest.

Kuzhi paniyaram/paddu/ guntha ponganaluTamilian crisp-skinned, fluffy-fleshed fritters that come sweet or savoury and offer yet another use for idli-dosa batter.  Made in a pan much like that used for Dutch aebelskiver,

Jhal muri/bhel puri/churumuri – Respectively from Bengal, Western India and Mangalore. Whichever region’s recipe you use to rustle up your own cones of this spicy, savoury snackerel, it’s a better use of puffed rice than a bowl of breakfast cereal.

Breads etc.

Roti Rajasthani Rasovara Indian breads

Akki roti – A Karnatakan rice flatbread that may be mixed with veggies, spice and other nice things before being slapped on a hot, oiled tawa – sometimes with a plantain leaf covering it as it cooks. Gorgeous with a gobbit of ghee.

Pithas – A cunning, catch-all term for a broad category of rice-batter-based pancakes and other items in East India and Bangladesh – from thin soft pancakes, to fat steamed dumplings, to fancy fried fritters for festivals.

Tandalachi bhakri – A speciality along the Konkan coast, this Malvani item is a soft flatbread made without maida. A great choice for those going gluten-free, or, like me, just can’t choose between rice and roti.

Pashti – A fat-fried, rice flour flatbread best relished with peanut chutney or South Indian gravies. The Tamilian trick is to use hot water to make a lump-free dough for the item so popular amongst the Labbays of  Tamil Nadu’s Arcot area.

Pathiri – A rice flour pancake from the Muslim ‘mopilla’ community of Kerala that can be kept soft post-cooking with a brief bath in coconut milk – which also adds to the fine flavour.

Sannas – A relative of the idli,  these small steamed rice-flour sponges from the Christian kitchens of Goa and Mangalore are super for soaking up sauce. The dough is traditionally fermented with local toddy or coconut palm sap.

Main dishes

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Panta bhat/Pakhaḷa – ‘water rice’ might not sound like much but in Bengal, Orissa, and East India, this dish is a delicacy. Cooked rice is allowed to slightly ferment overnight in water – adding a pleasant tang and making it most digestible.

Curd rice – Savoury rice pud? Healthy risotto? Neither, but kind of both. Cold cooked rice is mixed with yogurt and seasoned with spices sputtered in hot oil – serving to bring body temperature down on even the hottest summer day.

Kichuri – The ideal final resting place for all that broken Basmati whose starchy stickiness would spoil other dishes. Rice, dal and subtle spices are cooked to a mush you’ll want to shovel in with a spade. ‘Kedgeree’ is its bastard Brindian offspring.

Bisi bele bath – Literally, ‘hot lentil rice’ in Kannada, this heavenly hotchpotch mixes super-savoury sambhar and rice into a single speciality that nourishes the body and tickles every last tastebud.

Kori rotti –  On the Karnatakan coast, the Tuluva folks prepare this dish for special occasions. Featuring chillied chicken curry served with – or indeed, atop – thin, dry rice crisps, it’s likened to the Arabic dish ‘tashreeb’.

Chakkoli/thakkidi – A tip-top traditional Tamil and Keralite preparation made up of small rice-flour-and-coconut dumplings – Indian gnocchi, if you will –  mixed with meat or seafood in a spice-seasoned sauce.

Chippi appam/kallumaki –  A thoroughly appetising steamed South Indian appetiser of mussel-stuffed, banana leaf-wrapped, spiced rice flour dumplings. Alternatively, the rice mixture may be stuffed into the mussels before steaming.

Chitranna – Just one recipe amongst South India’s vast ‘variety rice’ remit, the Karnataka classic comprises cooked rice livened up by being stirred together with oggalu –  a lip-licking spiced vegetable  melange.

Lamprais – This parcel comes from Sri Lanka and would be happily received by any food-lover. Inside the stuffed baked banana leaf you’ll find a hefty helping of the grain, plus sauces, sambals and much more besides.

Sweets

Desserts puddings La Porte des Indes Indo-French fusion

Kheer – The rice pudding no British child ever encountered at school. Reducing the milk gives a thicker, richer result that’s never claggy. Eaten cold, it’s accented with the alluring tones of rosewater and kewra water.

Phirni – Kheer’s ground rice cousin. Both are North Indian favourites with noble lineage, but phirni’s texture is homogenous. A dish best served cold – preferably scraped from the sides of an unglazed earthenware vessel.

Sel roti – This ring-shaped Nepalese fritter is commonly consumed at Hindu festivals. The ground rice gives sel roti a lighter bite than other similar deep-fried syrupy sweets, making it all-too easy to overindulge.

Sitabhog –  Literally, ‘food for Sita’, this Bengali dish is made of dozens upon dozens of teeny-tiny droplets made from sweetened chenna and rice flour batter that’s sieved into spiced sugar syrup then served with gulab jamuns.

Unniappam – These slightly-sweet, cricket-ball-sized delicacies are made with a rice, coconut and banana batter and taste somewhat like a Caribbean fried dumpling; featuring a friable, caramelised shell that gives way to fluffy dough.

Ada – Typically prepared for the Onam harvest festival, this steamed rice pancakes is folded around a stuffing of jaggery and coconut and steamed in a banana leaf – sometimes with the same plant’s fruit added to the filling.

Adhirasam –  A popular puja item in  Tamil Nadu, most would deem the taste of these sweet fritters worthy of the gods. Balls of fermented ground rice, liquid jaggery and cardamom dough are first deep-fried, then flattened.

Arisalu – A very close cousin of the adhirasam, arisalu are an Andhra Pradeshi speciality often made on Makar Sankranti. The deep-fried fritters differ in decoration – finished off with a final sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Boorelu – Another South Indian Sankranti sweet, boorelu are deep-fried dal-and-rice doughballs stuffed with chana dal, dryfruits, grated coconut, and jaggery. In case that weren’t enough, they are best guzzled with ghee.

Kozhukkattai/modak – known as the former down South and the latter out West, these are popularly prepared for Lord Ganesh. The rice flour dumplings are most often found filled with grated coconut and jaggery.

Nei payasam – a Keralite rice pudding whose hue is a deep, brooding brown from the local jaggery that goes into it. Raw rosematta  rice adds a fulsome flavour that’s entirely unlike Basmati, and ghee-fried cashews finish it off.

Gavvalu – An awesome Andhra shell-shaped speciality made from a rice flour dough that’s flattened and patterned to look like cowrie shells. Instead of sea water, these little pastries swim first in hot fat then sugar syrup.

Patholi/patholeo – a rice flour mixture steamed in fresh turmeric leaves that add an inimitable aroma.

I could go on forever but all your teeth would fall out. But do check out, too, sweet pongal, palathalikalu, the intriguing rice paper sweet ‘pootharekulu’, manoharam, pinaca, anarsa, doodhpak, the coconut cake ‘naralachi wadi’, and the devilishly dark dodol from Goa with its wood-fired aroma.

Relevant reading

  • Expert guide to cooking rice – click here
  • Mega-guide to dosa – click here
  • Types of rice relished across India – click here
  • Amira Rice lunch at Gymkhana – click here
  • A brilliant Basmati experience in Delhi – click here
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