And I don’t just say this as because my tastebuds are naturally biased toward the incredibly delicious cuisine of the lovely Indian coastal state of Maharashtra where I grew up.
In fact, as much as I love rice, it’s hard for me to resist any dish made with it. Lucky for me, Indian cuisine from all regions is rich with prepared rice dishes, including pulaos, biryanis, tomato rice, brinjal rice, coconut rice, lemon rice, and many, many more. While all these are supremely delicious and healthy, there’s something about masale bhath that tends to wring the superlatives out of me.
Maybe it’s the explosive yet delicate mixture of spices. Maybe it’s the peanuts and cashew nuts, cooked to blissful tenderness. Or maybe it’s the delicious flavor of the fragrant basmati rice boiled to perfection. Whatever it may be, one thing’s for sure: this dish is a winner.
If you’ve ever been to a Maharashtrian wedding, you’ve probably eaten Masale Bhath, which tends to be a staple at these events. And if you have, I’ll bet you haven’t forgotten it.
One quick note: traditional versions of masale bhath use tendli or thondankai or ivy gourd, but since I only find these at the Indian grocery store, which I haven’t had a chance to go to in weeks, I did without. Add it if you have it on hand, by all means.
So here we go, with my Masale Bhath, an easy meal for those busy weeknights when you just won’t settle for anything less than extraordinary on the dinner table.
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 tbsp canola oil or other vegetable oil
3 medium potatoes (I used red), cut in a small dice
2 medium carrots, cut in a small dice
3 small eggplants (use half of a big one, if that’s all you can find), also cut in a small dice
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1/4 cup cashewnuts, chopped into pieces
2-3 green chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of asafetida (hing)
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves
Dry-roast the peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander seeds, sesame and half the cumin seeds. After these are fragrant and the coriander and cumin are lightly browned, remove to a spice grinder.
In the same skillet, roast the coconut, watching it like a hawk because coconut burns very easily. Once it’s lightly golden-brown, add it to the rest of the spices in the spice grinder.
Powder the mixture and set aside.
In a fairly large saucepan, heat the oil.
Add the asafetida, mustard and remaining cumin seeds.
When they sputter, add the curry leaves, chillies, and the chopped vegetables. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
Add the rice, salt and turmeric. Mix together, and then add the peanuts, cashewnut pieces, the powdered spices. Mix again.
Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and leave it alone to cook for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow the rice to stand, without removing the lid, another 10 minutes at least.
Remove the lid, garnish with coriander leaves, and fluff the rice gently with a fork. Serve hot, with a fresh vegetable salad or a raita made with soy yogurt.