As a child, I did not like rice. It seemed like everything I ate had some form of rice in it.
Mornings would start off with mum coaxing me to comb my hair, apply kohl on my eyes (to a strict "convent" school, that too) and eat two fat idlies (that would invariably find their way into my lunch box, as well.) Coming back home, she'd have a plate full of white rice, mixed with greens and sambar and chicken curry and whatnot waiting for me along with the Arabic master (hazarath).
I find it depressing that I got fat on food like that, but c'est la vie.
However, I discovered rice in other avatars: the fried rice (Nasi Goreng Ayam) I had in Indonesia is definitely one of the best things to have entered my mouth and soul; the Kashmiri Pulao at Tandoor with Rogan Josh made my month and this sweet Basmati rice saffron kheer that makes its appearance at Muslim weddings completed me. Oh, and Koji rice!
While organic and raw is all good, try looking beyond Basmati/Zeera Samba and Ponni. Beyond fried rice and biryani. For example, a great risotto, may be?
Risotto gets a bad rap it does not deserve. It is the Quickstep/Kiss of Death ("So You Think You Can Dance?") for Masterchef Australia contestants. People who try it at restaurants (even at Tuscana) give it a thumbs-down. And the harder it is to get my hands on something good, the more I desire it.
You've heard this line before, but make it yourself.
If you're in Madras, this might be something you want to bookmark and try after a couple of years when exotic ingredients stock up on our grocery shelves. Unless, of course, you have a few kickass friends/relatives or a job that takes you on a jetplane.
Dad came back from Italy with a Duty Free bag full of ingredients from a painstakingly formulated list I sent with him. Porcini mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, Extra virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Arborio Rice and the like.
Risotto. The ingredients were begging to be made into a risotto.
Mum had some gorgeous fresh prawns that she wanted me to use up, so I sauteed some of it in chilli-garlic paste and popped it on top of the risotto, but this could easily be made into a gourmet vegetarian dish. I don't know if any rice other than Arborio or Vialo Nano could be used, but since Arborio travels and keeps really well, order it online or call a foreign-settled relative/friend. Fresh mushrooms and mushroom soup can be used, but Porcini mushrooms give out such a delicious depth and saline quality to the dish. This easily is the best Umami dish I've knocked up.
The Mushroom Risotto made its way to the table at iftiari/breaking of the fast time. The rains were pouring outside, thunder punctuated our conversation and this steaming hot risotto was finished in record time. A touch of lime cut through the creaminess of the risotto... the only source of creaminess being the Parmesan cheese and starchy rice itself. Not a bad deal, eh?
And minus the shrimp, it makes for a smashing vegetarian dish. Unless you think mushrooms aren't vegetarian (this I've heard too many shocking times), in which case tofu or cottage cheese makes for a kick-ass substitute.
Citrus and Mushroom Risotto with Spicy Sauteed Shrimp:
Recipe source: adpated from Man Eat Food (originally Food and Wine magazine)
3 dried thai red chillies (I used Kashmiri lal mirch)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup dried porcini mushroom
1 cup boiling water
1.5 cups arborio rice
6 cups chicken/vegetable stock
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
zest of a lemon
200 g shrimp/prawn, deveined and peeled
1/4 cup chopped parsley (I used mint)
1/4 Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp Unsalted butter
3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil.
salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare the stock. I dissolved Vegetable Bouillon cubes in about 1.5 litres of water and reduced it down. A little extra stock is OK, because you can never tell how much stock the rice is going to soak up.
In a pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Saute the fresh mushrooms until the mushrooms are softened and let out the delicious mushroom liquid. Keep aside.
Throw in the arborio rice. Keep sauteeing until all the plump grains of rice become transclucent.
Add in the porcini mushroom stock and cook until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Add in the stock, one cup at a time. Keep stirring, so the bottom doesn't scorch. After you've added about 5 cups of the stock, take out a few grains and check to see if it's cooked al dente. If it has add in the mushrooms (both soaked-dried and fresh-sauteed) and some more stock and stir. This process should take around 20 minutes to half an hour.
Check to see if the rice grains are tender and the sauce creamy. If not, add some more stock/hot water (depending on the saltiness and the flavour). Remove from heat, add in the lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan. Taste and add salt, pepper and butter to taste, and cover.
This risotto should ideally be served immediately.
Add the chilli-garlic mix and cook for around a minute and remove from heat. Add in the parsley/mint.
Overcooking the shrimp will lead to a rubbery texture, so be careful. My sister-in-law suggested marinating the shrimp in the chilli paste with a little salt for 15 minutes, ensuring that the shrimp soaks up the flavour and doesn't taste bland on the inside.
Stir the risotto. Serve in bowls. Add the shrimp, oil and all, top.
Serve with some shavings of parmesan, a wedge of lemon and some more chopped herbs. Moral of the day: homemade scrumptious posh food = not an oxymoron.