Things are getting cold out there. It’s only mid-November but I woke up this morning feeling as if it could have been the dead of winter. Five blankets deep within my bed, I huddled in a little ball, burrowing myself under. Only my nose poked out to the world beyond, numb and pink like a little mouse. I left my house, plump with multiple coats yet despite the layers, the cold settled deep. I was in a cold mood, had cold thoughts. It’s been a cold sort of day.
A cold day calls for foods of comfort. Rich starches, warm flavors, long and slow cooking so that the heat of the stove permeates the house. I made a simple bowl of white rice for dinner, that wholesome grain that I relied on so much for comfort as a child. The only thing I could stomach when sick and the cure-all for a bad day. Rice, butter, salt, pepper.
At the end of this long week, on the first day in a long time where I simply had nothing to do, on a Friday night when everyone else was busy and my thoughts a little bleak, I bundled up at home and made and basic yet elegant spiced Indian rice. It started with toasting an array of spices; cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, whole cloves, a bay leaf, cumin seeds. The spices were tossed with white basmati rice and left to cook for several minutes in which time the air became perfumed with exotic aromas. Rich and sweet cardamom mingled with the bright and spicy cumin. All the while cinnamon filled my lungs with festive warmth and the toasting rice released deep floral nuttiness. Its smell almost visibly swirled seductively through the air, a belly-dancing courtesan of a smell. The rice, once finished, was topped with a sprinkling of pistachios, crispy fried shallots, and a fresh poached egg, The egg yolk coated the granules of rice for a rich and creamy sauce and each bite brought back a little warmth to the my body as the aromas first passed under my nose and into the mouth.
I know, I know, a little non-traditional for Friday night. Shouldn’t I be out having beer and greasiness and other college Friday night things? Well besides my general lack of “traditional”, I just know that it was alone-time sort of night. A night where I needed to sit down with a bowl of rice. The bowl now sits empty and all is good.
Spiced Indian Rice
Adapted from Journey Kitchen
serves 2-3 as a main dish
1½ cups white basmati rice
2¼ cups water
1½ Tbs. vegetable oil
1½ tsp. cumin seeds
2 whole cloves
2 black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 cardamom pods
1 shallot, cut into rings plus oil for frying
a handful of shelled pistachios
1 egg per person
salt and pepper
Wash the rice until the water runs clear and soak in water for an hour. After an hour, drain the excess water. In a deep and thick-bottomed saucepan with a lid or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and cardamom. Stir to coat with oil. Add the cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the rice. Stir to coat and toast for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the rice has toasted, add the water and some salt, stir, turn the heat to high, and cook uncovered for 7-8 minutes until the water is almost absorbed. Cover with the lid, turn the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes or until the water is absorbed completely. Fluff the rice with a fork.
Meanwhile, put a pot on water or the stove and bring to a simmer. This will be for poaching the egg. Also, heat enough vegetable oil in a small frying pan to cover the bottom. Once hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently until crisp and deep golden colored. Transfer to a paper towel to drain. When the water in the pot is simmering, crack the egg/s into the water and cook for about 4 minutes each. Remove from the water and let drain on a paper towel.
To assemble, place a good portion of the rice in a bowl. Top with salt and pepper and a little butter if you’d like. Scatter on the pistachios, onions, and the egg. Season with salt and pepper.
P.S. Be careful that you don’t confuse any of the cardamom pods with the pistachios. They look quite alike and that could lead to an interesting little surprise.