Whenever Desi and I would visit Madras, we almost always got swept up by relatives into a tour of various temples, including Sholingar and Thirupathi. Both Desi and I are not temple-goers, and my in-laws, I think, were hoping that those whirlwind tours, packed with as many deities as possible, would make up for all the blessings we’d lost in the preceding months by not praying.
The trips, however, were invariably fun and more like picnics, notwithstanding long waits outside each temple. Countless relatives, including Desi’s parents, six siblings and their spouses and kids, would be packed into cars or vans along with boxes and boxes of tamarind rice, lemon rice and coconut rice to keep everyone well fed through the journey.
The coconut rice was my favorite. Perhaps because my own family hails from the beautiful Konkan coast where coconut and rice are staples of almost every meal. I often make coconut rice in my own kitchen here, when I want something much more indulgent than plain boiled rice but don’t want to spend too much time cooking.
While the original recipe for coconut rice calls for fresh coconut, I have found that substituting with canned coconut milk results in a dish that not only tastes authentic, but also looks really pretty. While one would typically add the fresh coconut after cooking the rice, I cook the rice in the coconut milk, which helps infuse the flavor into every single grain.
I use a single 14-oz can of light coconut milk, but you could use regular coconut milk or half coconut milk and half water. Keep in mind that using regular coconut milk will impart a stronger coconut flavor to the rice.
I served the coconut rice, adapted from Lifco’s How to Cook? cookbook by Vedavalli Venkatachary, with a vegan version of Dum Aloo, a spicy potato dish from Kashmir. It was the perfect marriage of foods from India’s north and south!
The coconut rice would also go very well with my Peppery Cabbage Kootu.
South Indian Coconut Rice
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 2 cups basmati rice , washed and drained
- 1 14- oz can of light coconut milk plus 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp chana dal (bengalgram dal)
- 1 tbsp udad dal (blackgram dal)
- 2-3 dry red chilies
- 1/4 cup cashew pieces
- A pinch of asafetida (optional)
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- Salt to taste
- In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat 1 tbsp oil.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add rice. Stir for a couple of minutes until opaque.
- Add salt, coconut milk and water and let it cook until most of the water is absorbed.
- Cover the saucepan, turn the heat to low and let the rice cook for another 20 minutes.
- Turn off and let it stand undisturbed while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- In another pan, heat the remaining oil and add mustard, chana dal, udad dal, cashew, red chilies, asafetida and curry leaves.
- Stir until mustard seeds splutter and the dals and nuts begin to take on a golden hue.
- Add to the rice and mix gently with a fork, taking care not to mash the rice.
- If you have any fresh/frozen coconut shreds on hand, toast a couple of tablespoons lightly and add as a garnish.
- Serve hot!