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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Diwali Rice

I love this dish not only because of the memories it brings back, but also because the pleasure of its flavour far exceeds the pain of its preparation - a culinary equation that wins me over every time!

This is vegetable pulao, folks - delicate, nourishing, aromatic - but I call it Diwali Rice because my very first memory of this dish is from my first memory of Diwali...

Which really was a very long time ago.
But then, first memories stick.
Clear and vivid.
As if it were just yesterday that they were created.

Come back with me, then, to my very first memory of Diwali...

The excitement would really all begin a week or so before the actual day, with a visit to the Diwali maidan to pick out fireworks. We'd walk from stall to stall, giggling with anticipation, surveying the goods, picking things out - a bit of this, a bit of that.  Some spinning chakras, a boxful of anaars, which when lit, would burst upwards into droplets of golden fire, rockets that would shoot streaks of brilliant reds and blues and greens and golds into the heavens...all of these, bought, then carefully boxed and stored, and put aside until Diwali eve.

We'd hardly sleep a wink the night before Diwali, hugging our pillows tight, impatiently waiting for morning to come.  And then as the first light of dawn would shine into our bedrooms, we'd jump out of bed, get into new clothes and savour the feel of festivity. Most of the day would be spent setting things up for the evening, the house in a state of friendly chaos, people scurrying between rooms, deities being brought out of store cupboards, silver being polished, kitchens busy at work, the smell of cloves and cinnamon wafting enticingly through the air...

With dusk finally settling in, we'd get even more impatient. "Crackers, crackers!" we'd scream, jumping up and down in glee, "when can we do the crackers?" "Be patient," the adults would say, "we'll do the crackers soon, but first the Puja." And so, the evening would commence with the Puja, the offering of prayers to the goddess Lakshmi - milk and honey and the ceremonial fire in return for health, and happiness and prosperity. Puja done, we'd feed each other sweets  - cool, nutty kaju barfi, creamy peda, yellow ladoos stuffed with plump raisins and nuts...
And then, finally, it would be time for the highlight of the evening; indeed for many of us, the highlight of the year. Fireworks time!
We'd step outside the house, leaving windows and doors ajar, expressly for goddess Lakshmi to pay us a visit if she so desired! Then we'd carry the fireworks out into the driveway, stopping to marvel at the street we lived on, transformed, overnight, into a shimmering fairy wonderland, filled with laughter and life - whole families joined together, joyous and jubilant in this celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. 

We'd stand and we'd stare, taking it all in - this image of row upon row of houses glittering in the light of a thousand diyas, their flames dancing in the balmy October breeze.

Then, the fireworks would start, much to the delight of giggling children and the dismay of terrified dogs. Sparklers and rockets and flower pots and spinning wheels, would go off, one after the other, and we'd look upwards and gape at the night sky ablaze with colour and light. We'd stand there for hours, untiringly lighting cracker upon cracker with the same unrelenting enthusiasm and eagerness with which we'd do this every single year.

And then, when the very last sparkler had been lit and twirled around and around and around to make little circles of fire in front of us, that finally fizzled away, we'd go back inside and sit down to dinner, tired but happy. And hungry, oh so hungry!

We've always been vegetarian on Diwali, either as a mark of respect or a token of sacrifice, I don't know which. And so while dishes like ghosht biryani or prawn malai curry were more likely to be served on occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, on Diwali, it was always Diwali Rice that would take center stage - fragrant with the aroma of saffron and nutmeg.

And it would be the perfect conclusion to a perfect day.

You just have to taste it to see why...

Here's what you need:

- 500 gms long grained basmati rice
- 4 black cardamoms
- 2 tsp caraway seeds
- 3 bayleaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 cloves


- ½ tsp brown mustard seeds


- Pinch of powdered nutmeg

- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger  

- Pinch of saffron strands dissolved in a tsp of milk 

- 2 tbsp ghee (for the real stuff) or 2 tbsp olive or groundnut oil (if you really insist) 

- 1 large onion, peeled and finely minced
- 100g potato, peeled and diced
- 1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
- 50g peas
- 40g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch segments
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
-  3 tbsp natural yoghurt
- Salt, to taste
- 50g packet salted roasted cashew nuts, to garnish
Here's how you do it:

Soak the rice in water for about 30 minutes. Then drain and set aside. So, for a good pulao, it's really important to get the right rice. You're aiming for each grain to remain separate from every other when cooked, and you will really only get that with long grained basmati, so please try and get your hands on some if you can.

Meanwhile, heat some ghee (or, sigh, olive oil) in a large, deep bottomed pan, and add the chopped onions until they are slightly browned. Add in all the whole garam masala - (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, caraway seeds, bay leaves, and mustard seeds saute on a medium flame, till the spices are aromatic.
Stir in the ginger and all the other vegetables, sprinkle in the turmeric, salt and nutmeg and continue to cook on medium heat. At this point, I lower my flame and add in some natural yogurt. This is totally optional, but I find it lends a tart, creamy, distinctive flavour to my pulao, which I really like, but if you choose to use yogurt too, be really careful. Heating yogurt too rapidly can cause it to separate, which will completely ruin your dish - yes, yes, I speak from experience :( so stir in small bits of the yogurt, in batches, stirring constantly.

Now, pressure cook the rice along with 3 cups water for 3 whistles. Allow the stem to escape before opening the lid. The rice should be soft and fluffy but not sticky - this is why I'm banging on about the kind of rice you use! Long grained basmati has never let me down!

Stir in all the rice into the pan with the vegetables, mixing everything together. Sprinkle the saffron evenly on top and garnish with cashews.

And there, its done: flavourful, fragrant, festive Diwali Rice!

I guarantee the aroma is enough to make your senses sing!
And it's all upside from here, because what smells good, usually tastes even better!

So go on, dig in. Because, I certainly am. And even now, years later, my first mouthful is as amazing as I remember it all those years ago. It is the taste of Diwali. 

A thousand dancing diyas
The sparkle in the sky
The burst of fireworks carried along by the wind.
And long after it's all over - the strains of laughter lingering in the air.

1 comment:

  1. Great recipe, and great post...Thank you!