fluffy, authentic basmati rice

Yesterday I promised to share the steps for perfect basmati rice accompany your roasted vegetables (or, ideally, your homemade Indian food–no pressure). For those of you who love Indian food and can’t get enough basmati when you’re out to eat, you’re going to love re-creating it at home. But I’m here to talk to the rest of you who don’t eat basmati. Maybe it’s because you don’t “do” rice, Uncle Ben has ruined it for you. Perhaps you’re haunted by nightmares of wedding food gone-by: lumpy, dry rice with overcooked chicken.

Basmati is a fragrant rice on its own. I grew up thinking white rice was only edible with piles of salt and two tablespoons of melted butter to mask the overwhelming presence of bland. But basmati is magical, I mean–it’s even an awesome word. Basmati is a long-grain rice grown in India, and though you can find it at most grocery stores, you want to be certain it is imported from India. Trader Joes has delicious, authentic basmati. Though I haven’t found it at my local  Giant, America’s Test Kitchen rated Tilda Basmati Rice as the best nationally-available brand. Just be sure it is from India. If you have an ethnic market near you, that’s an even better way to ensure big bags of authentic basmati.

What makes me so certain of my rice making skills? There are a number of methods to cook basmati, and I found some wacky ones on YouTube. I took a class on vegetarian Indian cuisine last winter from Shyli Nair, a former cook at the incredible Aditi Indian restaurant in Georgetown and Kingstowne.

Since I’m no culinary inventor (see Secrets to Success), I usually follow the instructions on bags of rice, boxes of pasta. It concerned me that my instructor was using plastic cups you might find at the water cooler of a doctor’s office to measure out her basmati and water ratios. For all I could tell, she wasn’t measuring. She said, “Okay, now fill your cup halfway with rice and then rinse it and then fill it more with water.” Oh dear.

This is the beauty of Indian cooking that I will talk about another time–there is a wide gradient between right and not-so-bad, and your basmati rice will likely turn out delicious no matter the variation.

All you need:

a pot with a fitted lid (not too huge, but not too small either),

olive oil (not Extra-Virgin, though you could use other oils here if you don’t have olive),

mesh strainer or colander,

liquid measuring cup,

cumin seeds (optional, but awesome),

one crushed cardamon pod (optional as well)

  1. RINSE YOUR RICE. new to me! I had been just cooking and eating basmati before this…but I learned you must always, always, always rinse basmati to remove the starch. pour your desired amount of basmati (1 cup, whatever) into a mesh strainer and rinse really well with cold water.
  2. SET THE RICE ASIDE. near the pot is handy.
  3. HEAT YOUR POT. if you presently have a habit of sticking things in your pan and then turning the heat on, 2010 is a good year to stop doing that. you need the heat on medium to medium-high; when you place your hand a few inches above the pot’s surface and feel the heat, then pour in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. TOSS IN CUMIN SEEDS. only once the oil is shimmering and moving around on its own–this is how you know the oil is hot enough for cooking. if you’re not using the seeds, no biggie, just proceed to step 5. the amount of cumin seed is up to you, they add a very earthy quality to the final taste–I typically add less than a teaspoon. start step 5 as soon as the seeds start crackling and browning, avoid burning. add the cardamon pod here, if using.
  5. TOAST THE RICE. a shocker, I suspect. pour in your rinsed rice, if it’s still wet that’s perfect. keep stirring it around in the oil, not letting the rice stick to the bottom. stir until fragrant and slightly golden, just about 2 minutes.
  6. POUR IN TWICE THE AMOUNT OF WATER and stir. bring the water to a boil.
  7. COVER AND STOP WATCHING THE POT. seriously, leave it alone now. after many, many episodes of scrubbing a blackened pot, I now make the habit of turning my heat to the lowest or even warm setting. better to wait a little longer than burn the whole batch, I found. according to the bag of TJ’s brand basmati, it should only be about 20 minutes until your rice is done. this is true sometimes, but I found initially I was getting clumpy rice and by cooking it longer (30-35 minutes) it developed that fluffiness I adored about restaurant rice.

You really want to leave the pot alone, and if your pots have glass lids like mine this is easier to do. If you check that all the water has been absorbed, wait at least 30 minutes before checking. Take it off the heat for a few minutes before gently fluffing with a fork. some days I get so excited and fluff fluff fluff and then I’m thinking: why does this look like crushed rice, not long-grain?

Basmati is fantastic with Indian foods because you’re mixing it with tomato juices and rich sauces–and since these are all so flavorful, the rice doesn’t need any finishing touches. While I find the olive oil to add just enough flavor, if you taste it (see Needs Just a Dash of Something) and want a little more flavor happening, try: a little squeeze of lemon juice or lemon zest or fresh cilantro.

enjoy, and let me know how it turns out! 





Basmati can be found in both white and brown varieties, and I do love brown for its nutty flavor (not to mention it’s higher in nutrients). But here is white basmati with garlic naan and homemade palek paneer: a stunning spinach and cheese accompaniment.

For my recent post on palak paneer, learn to make it here.


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Filed under dinners, techniques, the basics

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