Apr 16, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make Perfect Fluffy Rice

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We eat rice every day, twice a day. Before I moved to South Asia I had rarely cooked rice. I had never even used a rice cooker! Googling the subject of cooking rice only revealed numerous methods with less than perfect results. So I emailed my Chinese-American university pal Eileen as to how to properly cook rice. I quickly learned that western methods of cooking rice were overly complicated and prone to failure.

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The first thing my friend recommended was to buy a rice cooker. Well, we had a rice cooker but it had no instructions and we rarely had electricity to even run the thing back then. Now that we have 20 hours of electricity a day I can concur that a rice cooker is one of the most cost-effective gadgets ever. If you cook rice on a regular basis you definitely need a rice cooker. It is the easiest and most time-saving appliance ever, just set it and forget it!

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This is the kind of rice we eat every day!

The technique my friend Eileen taught me to cook rice is the absorption method. This is the most common way to cook rice in Asia. Rather than drowning the rice in water and hoping for the best, one adds only as much as the rice needs to cook, and waits for it to absorb while cooking. -It is the simplest way to cook rice and I have found it gives the most reliable results. The method you use to cook rice also depends on the variety of rice you are using. Indians tend to use long-grain rice and use techniques to create separate grains that remain perfectly intact. The Chinese use starchier medium-grain varieties so that the rice sticks together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks. I have cooked both a local short-grain pearl rice and long-grain Basmati rice with this absorption method with excellent results for the past 10 years!
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1/2 cup uncooked rice = 1&1/2 cups cooked rice

First, you'll want to determine how many servings of rice you wish to make. I usually estimate one and a half cups of cooked rice per adult for my Indian family then add an extra half cup just in case. Rice triples in volume when cooked so that's one-half cup per person of uncooked rice.
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ONE PART RICE TO TWO PARTS WATER
The second and most crucial part of this technique is the ratio of rice to water. All sorts of variables come into play here: the type of rice being cooked, the age of the rice, humidity levels, how well the lid fits on the pot you use, the temperature of the burner being used, altitude, what phase the moon is in (kidding) - the list goes on. Because of all these variables, this is the step that may require some trial and error. The best place to look for the proper ratio the rice is to be cooked at is the directions on the package the rice came in. (Amazingly enough, the instructions on the back of rice packages are usually correct.) If that is unavailable I usually estimate one part rice to two parts water. Sometimes we buy local rice that comes in a plain burlap sack from a village and sometimes we buy rice from the supermarket that's labeled. If the rice is really fresh (as in recently harvested) it may need a little less water to cook. Rice harvested more than a year previous generally requires more water than recently harvested rice due to decreased moisture content. Cooking rice is game of ratios, so be sure to measure carefully unless you want a bowl full of disappointment.

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This is how rice gets cleaned so there's bound to be twigs, pebbles, or bugs in it!
Third, unless you are using rice that is fortified or enriched you will have to wash it. Rinsing traditionally polished rice alters its texture when cooked. Rinsing removes the thin layer of starch from the surface of each grain and keeps the rice from sticking together thus ensuring perfectly separate grains. Long-grain rice, like Basmati, is always rinsed for this reason. This doesn't have to be an extremely thorough sort of a cleanse. I usually rinse the rice twice over the sink by submerging it in water, swirling the rice with my fingers, then pouring off the cloudy water. Submersion allows any debris like twigs, bran, or insects to float out of the rice also. I have seen recommendations on the internet to rinse rice until the drainage water runs clear- this will never happen no matter how many times you rinse the rice I assure you.
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2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline: the aromatic compound that gives bread, jasmine rice, basmati rice, pandan, popcorn, & bread flowers their characteristic scent
Fourth, you need to decide if you wish to soak the rice or not. Soaking the rice speeds up cooking which affects the flavor of the rice. By letting the rice soak for 15 to 30 minutes, you can decrease the cooking time of most rice varieties by about 20 percent.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is the flavor compound in aromatic rice varieties that is responsible for their characteristic popcorn-like aroma.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline dissipates while cooking. The longer the rice is exposed to heat, the less of an aromatic flavor it will have. By soaking the rice and shortening the cooking time, you will get more flavorful results. Some people rinse again after soaking the rice, I do not find it necessary.

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Fifth, add a little oil, ghee, or butter to the rice and water before cooking. This is optional but it will add flavor to the rice, help keep the grains separate, and prevent dryness if the rice is left standing for more than an hour after cooking. Restaurants usually do this to keep cooked rice tasting fresher and tender longer. I usually only add a little butter or ghee for special occasions such as if we are having dinner guests. Most Indians and Nepalis do not add salt to their rice when cooking so I don't add it either.

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Sixth, cook the rice over medium heat and with the lid on. If the temperature is too high you run the risk of scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot or unevenly cooked grains. If the temperature is too low you'll get a gloopy mess of undercooked rice. Put the lid on and keep it on throughout the cooking process. I recommend only lifting the lid to check the rice after 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as you risk breaking the grains, releasing more starch, and a mushy mess. You can tell that the rice is completely cooked when all the water has boiled away, there are "fish eyes" or holes in the rice, and you can hear a crackling noise rather than a bubbling noise signifying that the water has completely boiled away.

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The last and most important step: let it rest! Resting is an unskippable step. When the rice has finished cooking remove the pot from the burner and let it sit with the lid still on. Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes after it's done cooking to achieve optimum texture. This rule goes for all types of rice. Keep the rice covered until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. As the Indian proverb goes, grains of rice should be like brothers – close, but not stuck together.
 
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Perfection!
So there you have it: ratio, rinse, soak, flavor, cook, rest, and fluff! Follow these easy steps and you'll get perfect, fluffy, rice every time. This is it - the foolproof recipe to cook rice on the stovetop:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C long-grain white rice
3 C water
1 tsp cooking oil, butter, or ghee (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Measure out 1&1/2 cups rice and place into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cooked rice expands to three times its original size so be sure to choose an adequately sized pot. 
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2) Over the sink add room-temperature water to the rice until it is covered by about an inch. Use your fingers to swirl the rice and water around the pan. Drain the cloudy water off of the rice through your hand. Discard any debris that floats to the surface. Repeat this process one to two more times. 

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3) Add 3 cups water to the rinsed rice and a teaspoonful of oil, butter, or ghee if using. For fluffier rice, the rice should be soaked for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes prior to cooking.

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4) Cover and place the pot on a burner set on medium heat. Allow rice to cook for 15 to 20* minutes or until water has evaporated and the rice is tender. I usually check on the rice after 15 minutesYou may raise the lid occasionally to see if the water is boiling, see if the water has evaporated, or to listen for a crackling noise signifying that the last of the water has boiled away. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking.

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The little holes you see in the rice are called 'fisheyes' and signify that the rice has been cooked properly.



5) Remove pan from heat. Keep the lid on. Let rice stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes to firm up and absorb the last bit of water.

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6) Remove the lid just before serving and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Serve hot. This recipe makes 4&1/2 cups cooked rice.

Helpful Hints:
The same procedure can be used for a rice cooker. Instead of step 4 just place the pot in the rice cooker instead of on a stove burner.

*If cooking at altitudes over 3,000ft/1,000M increase cooking time by 5 minutes.

A special thanks to my dear friend Eileen!

Apr 9, 2018

Indian-Style Yellow Cabbage

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This simple cabbage stir-fry uses zesty mustard seeds, earthy turmeric, garlic, and a pinch of red chili to create a flavorful side dish that can quickly be made for a gathering. An easy to make vegan recipe that pairs well with rice and rotis.

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This recipe is adapted from 5 Spices, 50 dishes by Ruta Kahate. The premise of her cookbook is simple: with five common spices and a few basic ingredients, home cooks can create fifty mouthwatering Indian dishes, as diverse as they are delicious. Ms. Kahate teaches regional Indian cooking from her home-based school in Oakland, California, which has been featured on the Fine Living Network. I bought this book when it first came out in 2007. It is very well written and beautifully photographed. About half the recipes are authentically Indian while the other half are interesting modern fusions with western cuisine. My only complaint is that the recipes are a bit bland for my family's tastes- this is usually easily remedied by simply doubling the spices.

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Cabbage was never a favorite vegetable of mine until I moved to South Asia. I never cared for the western methods of preparing cabbage whether raw and shredded as in coleslaw, braised, or even pickled as in sauerkraut. Asian cuisines do cabbage best with simple stir-fries or salads dressed lightly with pungent oil and vinegar or lime juice dressings. This recipe is exemplary of how simple yet flavorsome a cabbage dish can be. (It's also quite pretty in it's glossy and golden yellow presentation.) I have altered the spices in the recipe to suit my family's tastes and to accommodate a slightly larger amount cabbage than entailed in the original recipe. I've used Kashmiri mirch instead of the recommended cayenne. Kashmiri mirch gives more of a rich chili flavor than cayenne and boosts the brilliant yellow coloring of the turmeric in this dish. Most cabbage dishes in Nepal or India are served a little crunchy or al dente, we prefer ours a bit well done. I also prefer frying the cabbage the Kashmiri way in salted oil. Frying in salted oil results in those little carmelized bits of loveliness that add so much flavor. Don't be too skimpy with the oil in this recipe as that's what is carrying the flavor. If you are using a non-stick pan you could probably get away with 3 tablespoons full of your favorite cooking oil, if not then I'd advise sticking to the full quarter cup. Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Ingredients:
3 to 4 TBS cooking oil of choice
1&1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds/rai
4 cloves garlic/lahsun, minced finely
1&1/2 tsp ground turmeric/haldi
1 small to medium head of cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
salt to taste
1/2 to 1 tsp Kashmiri mirch or  cayenne pepper/degi mirch (use less for less heat)

Here's what to do:
1) In a large lidded skillet or kadhai, heat the oil with 1 teaspoon of salt over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add mustard seeds and reduce heat to medium. Add the minced garlic and allow to just brown a little bit.

2) Add the sliced cabbage, turmeric, and chili powder and give the mixture a good stir to coat the cabbage with the oil and spices.

3) Cover and cook until the cabbage is cooked to desired tenderness. (We like our cabbage VERY tender which takes about 10 to 12 minutes.) Stir every three minutes or so. If mixture begins to scorch or stick add a tablespoonful of water, reduce heat and stir. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Serve hot or warm with rice and/or rotis.

Helpful hints:
Try to choose a smaller head of cabbage for this dish, they are more tender and have a milder flavor than the larger heads.

Do not use purple cabbage for this dish unless you don't mind the sickly blue-green shade it will turn when you fry it with the turmeric

Apr 2, 2018

Madhur Jaffrey's Garam Masala

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There are as many versions of garam masala as there are home cooks in India. This recipe for the versatile and aromatic spice mix is from the famed cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey. "Masala" means "spices" while "garam" means "hot," which refers to the body-warming properties of the spices in Ayurvedic medicine.

Madhur Jaffrey
For those of you who don't know who Madhur Jaffrey is - she's a Delhi-born actress credited with bringing Indian cuisines to the Americas with her debut cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973). She has written over a dozen cookbooks and appeared on several related television programs, the most notable of which was Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery, which premiered in the UK in 1982. Her recipes are not always authentic due to their being written for western home cooks and what would be available in a western supermarket in the 70's and 80's. But they are always beautifully written, easy to follow, and can be relied on to taste great!


Ms. Jaffrey's recipe for garam masala is quite lavish in its use of spices yet quite practical. Costly green cardamom takes center stage in this vibrant mix while the less expensive but equally flavorful cumin, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg are the supporting cast. This does not taste anything like the garam masala you'd typically buy readymade! No cheap fillers like coriander or fenugreek in this blend. Ms. Jaffrey has also scaled this recipe down to the perfect amount that will easily fit into an electric coffee grinder like you'd find in a western kitchen too. This is the perfect recipe if you wish to make just a few servings of this bold, versatile, and traditional spice mix.

Ingredients:
1 TBS green cardamom/elaichi pods
1 tsp cumin/jeera or black cumin/shahi jeera seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns/kali mirch
1 tsp whole cloves/laung
1-inch piece of cinnamon or cassia bark/dalchini, broken into pieces (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg/jaiphal or allspice

Here's what to do:
1) Place all the spices in a coffee or spice grinder and grind until to desired consistency.

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2) Keep in a sealed airtight and light-resistant container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

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Helpful Hints:
The original recipe specified cardamom seeds. I do not have the patience to sit there and peel an entire tablespoonful of green cardamom pods. Plus my frugal Prussian farmer and Scots-Irish cheapskate genes will not let me toss those gorgeously fragrant and EXPENSIVE green pods. So I just grind them up too!

Madhur Jaffrey does not recommend dry roasting this garam masala so I don't. Works for me! I usually end up frying or cooking whatever I'm using the garam masala in anyway.

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