Monday, March 15, 2010

Warning: Inauthentic but Tasty Food Ahead

Baked rice has become one of my stand-by dishes in the past year. It's hard to imagine a more versatile kind of cooking. Basically, you season the rice, add whatever vegetables or meat you like, some stock, and bake the rice. Doesn't require a cooking school degree. This technique is used in one form or another in cuisines all over the world, from Jambalaya to Paella to Biryani.

I've been working on my Pulau-style rice for a while now and I must say, I'm getting pretty good at it. I made one the other night that's worth sharing. I must now warn anyone of Persian, Indian, Pakistani, Afgan, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Marathi, Uzbek, Turkmen, Armenian, or other Central Asian descent, that my version of this dish is wholly and completely inauthentic. But I'm going to share it nonetheless.

I like to begin with a lot of fresh turmeric. Peel it and pound it to a paste with a mortar and pestle. Turmeric is one of those delicious foods that is secretly incredibly healthy, and we should all be eating more of it. Finely chop an onion and cook it over medium heat in butter in a heavy bottomed pot. When the onion is translucent, add the turmeric and a bit of salt and stir as you cook. Add whatever mix of spice you like now. You can add spice powders, but I prefer whole spices here. There is no one right way - use whatever feels right to you, try different combinations. This time I used cardamom pods, fenugreek, coriander, cloves, cumin, and black peppercorns.

Add two cups of rice - use good quality rice, preferably Basmati, although jasmine rice will do as well. Toss the rice well with the onions and spices, try to coat every grain with the buttery spice paste, and cook for a minute or so. Add some more salt. Now is the time to add whatever meat and vegetables you like. Since I bake mine for only an hour, I don't use cuts of meat that require long slow cooking. I like to use lamb shoulder or leg, but chicken thighs work well too. For the vegetables, I find that peas, cauliflower, mint, and parsley do well together.

Stir well, add a bit more salt, and now the liquid - 2 and a quarter cups worth. You can use stock from a box, but I implore you to make and use your own chicken stock. It really is that much better. The stock will come to a boil very quickly - turn off the heat, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and put the pot in a 275 degree oven for an hour. Take it out of the oven and let it rest with the lid on for about 10 minutes. You'll have something that looks a bit like this, although hopefully you used more butter and stirred your rice better, so the grains don't stick together as much as mine did this time.

You'll have dinner for two adults and a load of leftover food. Or, as in my house, two days of lunches for two little kids and plenty of food for adults to pick at.

What to drink with this kind of food? Riesling seems to be the go-to wine for this kind of food, and high acid white wines certainly do work well. I actually prefer light bodied red wines though, things like Poulsard, Beaujolais, or even Zweigelt. Good versions of these wines offer clean fruit flavors, perhaps complicated with spicy fruit and earth, and can offer good structure without angular tannins that would conflict with the assertive flavors of this dish. But everyone loves Riesling with Indian food, and so I figured this time I could be contrary simply by doing what everybody else does..

The 2008 Clemens Busch Riesling Kabinett trocken, $21, Mosel Wine Merchant, was in fact a lovely match. And it was delicious before dinner too, while the rice was baking. The Kabinett trocken designation means that the grapes were harvested at Kabinett sugar level, but the wine was fermented dry. And it is 11.5% alcohol, whereas Kabinett level wines that are not fermented dry are typically around 8% alcohol.

This wine is completely dry, but it not in the searingly dry and acidic style. It feels lush, actually, with rich aromas and full flavors. Initially a bit shy, the nose expands with flowers and spicy tones, and just the suggestion of fruit. Perfectly balanced on the palate, this wine has the acidity and focus to cleanse the palate and the depth and richness to support the aromatic food. I love wine like this - it costs about $20 but it is absolutely world class wine, it would compliment any food you throw at it, and it will probably live forever.


ben wood said...

I must try this- it seems like a great dish- any suggestions for veggie versions?? I would prefer a non meat version . . . but possible need the protein (depends on the day . . )
ps. where are you getting the fresh tumeric?

Joe Manekin said...


Thanks for the culinary inspiration. We are attempting a version using a similar spice and flavoring base, substituting quinoa for rice, better than bouillon (the mushroom variety) for stock and carrots and swiss chard for your veges. So basically its a different dish, but inspired by your post. Thanks.