I know that this is going to be way out of sequence, given that I finished a post yesterday with a “to be continued…” teaser, but I can’t resist posting about this absolutely delightful dinner that we just had, and the recipe of course!
I had a pair of giant oxheart tomatoes sitting on the counter-top for oh, about a week? They are best eaten raw, nice and juicy, but let’s say I wasn’t on top of things. So by this morning they were looking pretty squishy. And immediately I thought TOMATO RICE! This is a very traditional dish from the southern part of India, and one that I have eaten happily or unhappily, depending on who made it. The home-made ones are the best of course, and I have been lucky enough to have friends whose mothers were excellent cooks.
When well done, this dish can perk you up in no time with its slightly tangy, spicy, umami goodness. In the hands of the cooks at my alma mater, it turned into a bland, uninteresting pile of coloured rice that appeared like clockwork every Sunday dinner and made me desperately wish for said friends’ moms. After many years of contemplating that tomato rice, I arrived at the conclusion that the problem was the ratio of tomatoes to rice. If the tomatoes are too less, you get a drab tasting dish. If they are too much…I am yet to taste a tomato rice that had too much tomato. You can’t go wrong with this, is my opinion.
A key ingredient is something called sambar/sambhar powder. Let’s say that this is the original, royal, illustrious ancestor of your mongrel curry powder, that yellow powder concocted by some demented and drunk cook over-eager to please his colonial masters who couldn’t handle real Indian food. There are recipes on the internet that tell you how to make sambar powder at home. But let me confess that I have never bothered. I have usually bought ready-made ones from Indian/Asian stores. The MTR brand is probably the best out there, but most brands that originate from India will give you pretty authentic product. In a pinch, you could use curry powder of course – but please use a good quality, strong one.
This dish is not exactly the traditional tomato rice because, drumroll I have made some changes and short-cuts of course. Instead of making the tomato-spice mixture separately and then mixing it with the cooked rice, I have converted it to a one-pot meal that is not unlike a pulao/pilaf. Convenient, fast and tasty!
Here is my simplified, streamlined version:
THE MINIMALIST INDIAN TOMATO RICE A.K.A. AROMATIC AND SAVOURY PILAF WITH TOMATOES
- 1.5 cups long grain rice like basmati
- 2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
- 4 or more cups of chopped fresh and ripe tomatoes (I had two large oxheart tomatoes as I said already)
- 1.5 tsp black mustard seeds
- Generous handful of raw peanuts (shelled but skin on) (use cashews if allergic to peanuts)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- Two sprigs curry leaves (available in Asian stores) leaves separated, washed and blotted on kitchen paper, or coriander leaves
- 1 tsp (or more to taste) sambar powder or a good quality curry powder mixture
- 3 cups of water
- salt to taste -account for the rice and the tomatoes
- For the charred broccoli – 1 head broccoli + 1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil + salt
- Wash and drain rice, set aside.
- In a large pot big enough to cook the rice in, add the oil and heat
- When oil is very hot, add the mustard seeds
- Once the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the peanuts and roast till golden brown and aromatic. Stir frequently to prevent burning!
- Add the curry leaves carefully. If using coriander instead, you will have to add it at the end.
- Fry till you smell the curry leaves and the leaves stop sizzling. keep stirring!
- Add the tomatoes, spice powders and salt. Give one good stir and let cook until the tomatoes break down. Keep cooking with occasional stirring until the tomatoes have turned into a chunky sauce and most of the excess water has evaporated. You will begin to see the oil pooling at the edges and in pockets in between.
- Add the rice and the water. Stir well and taste a drop of the water. It should be nicely seasoned. If not add more salt now. Bring to a boil on high and lower the heat to medium high. Don’t stir anymore. Just keep an eye on the proceedings
- When the water seems to almost boiled away, so that you can once again see the rice on the surface with pockets bubbling here and there, give it a gentle stir, bringing the rice from the bottom to the top.
- Turn off the heat if your stove is electric. If on gas, then turn it down to the lowest setting. Cover and let sit for five minutes undisturbed.
- Remove cover and give the rice one more turn, bringing the rice from the bottom to the top, and check for doneness. If it still feels al dente, cover for a couple more minutes. Otherwise, remove from heat and let it rest for five minutes without a cover. Fluff with a fork or serving spoon and enjoy!
- For a vegetarian, healthy side make charred broccoli (see below). If you have more time and wish for something more decadent, then make stuffed baby eggplants, lentil fritters or onion fritters. Meat/fish-lovers can pair it with fish croquettes, or this roast pork or this fried fish or why not this roast chicken?
For the charred broccoli,
- Turn on your oven to the highest temp. setting and with the fan on (if your oven gives you that option).
- Rinse the broccoli, separate the florets, wash and toss in oil and salt.
- Lay out on a baking dish or tray and roast in the oven until you get charred spots all over.
- I like mine still crunchy, but if you like yours well cooked, then roast at a lower temp setting (like 200 instead of 250 Celsius).