I saw a recipe for an Indian-style rice salad by Mark Bittman in the New York Times’ weekly Dining In section and I knew I just had to try it.
Indian cuisine is replete with pilafs and biryanis and prepared rice varieties, but a rice salad? That sounded different. Besides Desi will eat anything with rice in it, so I had my back covered, just in case.
The salad I ended up making was heavily modified from the original, both in the method as well as the ingredients, but the idea was the same. For one, Bittman recommends cooking the rice like pasta, in a lot of water, and draining it out: something that Indian women too did once long, long ago.
I guess the idea is to retain the separateness of the grains. I couldn’t be bothered with all the boiling and draining on a weeknight, so I just made the rice in my wonderful rice cooker which does a pretty good job of keeping the grains separate.
I also used sambar powder instead of the curry powder that the recipe called for because, hey, what on earth is curry powder? I know it’s available in stores and all that and I’ve seen recipes for it online, but I for one never knew of anyone in India that cooked with curry powder. In fact, there is no one standard powder used for making curries in Indian cuisine. Instead, a variety of unique spice blends are used, from garam masala to goda masala to panch phoron to sambar powder and rasam powder and a whole lot many more.
And to anyone that’s still under this misconception: no, curry powder has nothing to do with curry leaves. Read what Wikipedia has to say about curry powder here.
To get back to the point, I used sambar powder, although feel free to use curry powder if you want to, and light coconut milk instead of regular. I also added zucchini instead of green peas recommended by the original recipe because I’d just picked up some fabulous ones at the market. I think red or green bell peppers or corn or even cherry tomatoes would be great in this dish.
I must say, I loved the salad. The flavors of coconut milk, pepper and wine vinegar in the rice were subtle but delicious. I served the salad with some leftover eggplant curry and a warm potato bhaji, made Maharashtrian style. Just thinking of it now makes me drool.
- For the Rice Salad:
- 2 cups long-grain white rice like basmati, cooked so the grains remain separate. You can do this in a good rice cooker or by sauteing the rice in a teaspoon of canola oil and then adding twice the amount of water as rice. Let it come to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid and then let it cook for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit, unopened, for another 10-15 minutes. Then open and fluff grains with a fork using a gentle hand.
- 1 zucchini, cut in a small dice
- 1 onion, cut in a small dice
- ¾ cup light coconut milk
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1-2 tsp sambar powder (can substitute with curry powder)
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp mint or basil, chopped
- For the Potato Sabzi:
- 5 medium red potatoes, scrubbed clean and then boiled, with their skins on, until tender, then diced.
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1 tbsp udad dal (black gram dal)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- A pinch of asafetida or hing
- 2 green chilies like jalapeno or serrano, minced
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 small onion, diced
- Salt to taste
- Make the Rice Salad:
- Mix together the cooked rice and the vegetables.
- Put the coconut milk, rice wine vinegar, sambar powder, pepper and salt in a blender and blend about 30 seconds.
- Pour this over the rice and vegetables. Add the mint or basil. Mix gently with a fork taking care not to smash the grains of rice.
- Make the Potato Sabzi:
- In a cast-iron skillet, heat the oil.
- Add the cumin seeds and when they sputter, add the asafetida and udad dal.
- When the dal turns lightly golden, add the green chilies and ginger
- Stir quickly, then add the onions.
- Cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and stir to coat with the spices.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for another 3-5 minutes.
- Serve hot!
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