I'm making a veggie-paneer curry tonight for dinner, and am serving with basmati. I never seem to be able to get my rice as tasty as the restaurants do. I'll probably sautee some cumin seed in ghee until it starts to pop, add the rice and cook for a minute, and then add the water and a bit of salt and go from there.
This is how we make it in our house. We're Punjabi, so keep in mind that regional differences may apply. Wash and soak your basmati rice in cold water. Heat some oil or ghee in a skillet, and add a small cinnamon stick, a couple bruised cardamom pods, a couple whole cloves, 1-2 bay leaves, and a teaspoon or so of whole cumin. When you can smell the spices, add 1 small onion, sliced. Fry over medium heat until the onion has a nice golden brown color (takes about 10-15 minutes). Drain the rice and add it to the skillet. Saute for 4-5 minutes. Then add salt and water to the skillet, cover and cook, or you can transfer the sauteed rice to a rice cooker and add your salt and water into the cooker.
The Yamuna Devi recipe is nice but terribly complicated for a rice that already has a strong curry dish to go with it.
Here's how I make the rice at home: Take 1 cup basmati rice, fry it lightly for a few minutes to bring out the nutty flavor of the rice. Rinse it well till the water runs clear. Add 2 cups of water and soak it for about 10 minutes. The soaking is important since it makes the rice soft and fluffy when cooked. Then cook it till the rice is done. I cook my rice in the microwave for 20 minutes. You can cook it on the pan. When it is done let the rice cool down a bit.
Seperately, take butter/oil mixture, add cumin seeds, a pod or two of cardamom (cracked open), a few whole cloves, a stick of cinnamon and a bayleaf. saute it all well. When done add it to your rice that has been cooled down. Add some salt and mix it all well.
I meant toast it in a dry pan. I
f you use a little oil/butter to saute the rice, then you can't wash the rice well. If you don't wash the rice well, the extra rich remains in there and once the rice is cooked it the grains won't be separate and fluffy.
So I always toast the rice lightly in a dry pan.
A typical restaurant pilau contains a small amount of turmeric, plus fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole cloves, whole cardamoms (cracked open), and Indian bayleaf. It has a light flavor of spice, but isn't strong enough to compete with the main dish. The only herb might be some chopped cilantro sprinkled over at time of serving.
Boy, do I have a recipe for you!
Savory Rice and Green Pea Pilaf
adapted from THE ART OF INDIAN VEGETARIAN COOKING by Yamuna Devi
1 cup basmati or other long-grain white rice
3 Tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
¼ cup raw cashew, almond or peanut bits or halves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 teaspoons minced seeded hot green chilies
½ Tablespoon scraped, finely shredded or minced fresh ginger root
1 2/3 – 1 ¾ cup water
¾ cup shelled fresh green peas or frozen baby peas, defrosted
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ cup raisins or currants
½ -- 1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.) or 1 ½ Tablespoons mixed dried herbs
If you're using basmati rice, rinse it a few times in a bowl until the water is clear.
After you've heated the ghee (and this recipe is much better with ghee) in a heavy 1½ -qt nonstick saucepan over moderately low heat, throw in the nut pieces. Fry, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden, then remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Raise the heat to moderate and toss in the cumin seeds, green chilies and ginger root; then fry until the cumin seeds turn brown. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
Add the water, fresh peas (if you are using them), turmeric, garam masala, raisins, salt and herbs. Raise the heat to high and bring to a full boil.
Immediately reduce the heat to very low, then simmer gently, covered with a tight lid, for 20-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice, or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender. If you are using frozen peas, defrost them in a strainer under hot running water. After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, remove the lid and quickly sprinkle the peas on top. Replace the cover and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender.
Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Pour in the fried nuts right before you serve it, and fluff it with a fork.