Each country has its own special method of cooking rice. In North India, the most prized rice is basmati, a fragrant, long-grain rice that is cooked on its own (namkin chawal), or with lentils (kitchri), or in spicy stock (yakhni pilau). It is always cooked by the absorption method. If basmati rice is not available, use any long-grain rice.
The most important point to watch is the proportion of rice to liquid. Use the same size measuring cups for both rice and liquid, and the result will be perfectly cooked rice every time. In Sri Lanka, basmati rice is not as readily available as it is in India or even in western countries. If available, it is very expensive. So this dish would most likely feature muttu samba (translates as “pearl samba”) a tiny, round grain that, like basmati, offers the quality of fluffy, separate rice.
- 500 g (1 lb/2½ cups) basmati or other long grain rice
- 2 tablespoons ghee or oil
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 6 green cardamom pods, bruised
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 litre (2 pints/4 cups) hot stock or water
- 2 teaspoons salt (if stock is unsalted)
- Wash the rice well and drain in a sieve for
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the onion until golden brown. Add the spices and well-drained rice, stirring with a slotted metal spoon, about 3 minutes or until all the grains are coated with ghee. Add the hot stock and salt, and bring quickly to the boil. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and turn the heat as low as possible. Cook for 15-20 minutes without lifting the lid or stirring. Turn off the heat and leave covered for a further 5 minutes. Then remove the lid to allow steam to escape for a few minutes and fluff the rice with a fork. Remove the whole spices. The rice may be kept warm in the same pot, covered, for 1 hour. Serve with a metal spoon that won’t crush the grains.
If using a rice cooker, there are a few things to consider. Some brands say you can fry the spices on ‘cook’ mode, so fry the onions, spices and rice as per the saucepan method. If the pan has a non-stick surface, there is the likelihood of scratching it, so be sure to use a wooden or plastic spoon to stir. Read the instructions carefully and don’t do anything you’re not supposed to-it may invalidate your appliance guarantee. Note: For plain steamed rice omit the ghee, onion and spices. Use hot water rather than stock.