Sunday, March 16, 2008

Basmati Rice and Curry Casserole...

10 new recipes came out of the kitchen this speedy week in March - our favorites were the Ginger Angel Food Cake with Coconut Frosting, Cherry Burgers and those insanely good Bittersweet Brownie Peanut Butter Bonbons.

Well, one word can describe tonight's dinner.... whew! I had thought about making this Basmati Rice and Curry Casserole during the week, but I'm glad I went with my better judgment and waited until the weekend. This is one of those recipes that consumes a lot of time and at least for me, left the kitchen quite messy!

While nothing is very complicated in this Biryani (a rice-based casserole, basically), the whole process may seem a little daunting. However, once you break down the steps, you'll see that it just needs some time and attention. Up first, the sauce is prepared - chopped tomatoes, onion and whole (yes, whole - minus the stem of course!) serrano chiles are whizzed together in a food processor (or blender, your choice) until the mixture smooths out.

Next, a handful of sweet golden raisins and raw cashews are added to a layer of shimmering oil to plump up the raisins and toast the nuts. This happens fairly quick, so don't stray from the skillet - when you remove them, use a slotted spoon and try to leave as much oil as possible in the skillet. Once those two are removed, whole cumin seeds, cardamom pods, a couple bay leaves and cinnamon sticks are spread into the skillet until their intense aromas release into the air. Thin, half-moon slices of a red onion are then tossed in and cook until they begin to turn a light golden.

The smooth tomato puree from above is added, along with pungent garam masala (a blend of warm spices), salt and turmeric. These ingredients simmer and concentrate down until most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving you with a thick, well-seasoned mixture. This takes about 15 minutes or so - while you wait, long-grain fragrant white basmati rice is given several gentle baths to remove excess starch so the grains remain fluffy when cooked. When thoroughly rinsed, the rice sits in cold water to rest while waiting on the dish to be assembled.

Into that reduced tomato sauce, bitter leaves from mustard greens are stirred in, followed by chunky cauliflower florets, protein-rich chickpeas and a bit of water. While you wait for the greens to wilt, the rice, with a pinch of earthy saffron, is briefly toasted and then partially cooked. Once you see that most of the water was been absorbed on the surface and you notice craters starting to appear, the casserole is ready to be layered. Half of the hearty sauce goes on first, then comes the layer of rice. The rest of the sauce is spooned over the top and the final topping is those toasted cashews and plumped golden raisins.

Before serving, you will want to try and fish out the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks - the recipe also calls to remove the cardamom pods, but they really blend in well and can be hard to spot! So, after all of that, was it worth it? Very much so! Jeff and I haven't ever eaten such an interesting, complex and diverse dish that we've prepared ourselves. You can play with the amount of serrano peppers - even though we used four whole peppers, we found the heat level to be about medium. Feel free to reduce one or even add a couple if you would like it more mild, or more spicy! I'm so anticipating lunch tomorrow!


  1. I saw this dish in the magazine and was also very tempted to try. I am glad to see your review Joe, and the pictures look so delicious, really made me want to try it even more!

  2. I can smell all the flavors. I'll have to give it a try.

  3. mmmmm... sounds yummy...and I know I can get the Serranos as I got one a few weeks ago... pretty warm.....but nice.....

  4. Wow, that looks very tasty. Do you think the mustard greens could be subbed for something else?

  5. My my it sounds like a lot of work but it certainly looks tasty.

  6. Ana - I think you would like this!

    Helene - it was so fragrant!

    Bumblevee - yes, they had a nick kick without being overwhelming!

    Sharon - maybe broccoli rabe or dandelion greens for the bitterness? You might even be able to try kale or chard.

    Wheeler - Thanks!