A small, but long-grained, aromatic rice with a nutlike flavour and aroma, basmati rice is of Southeast Asian origin, and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It has an earthy, perfumed fragrance all its own. It’s a very light, delicate rice and is perfect with curries and for pilafs.
CRISPY BOTTOMED BASMATI RICE WITH LENTILS
The first time I ate this was at the home of Iranian Jews. I would have happily passed up everything else on the table in favour of this dish. It is time consuming, but not difficult to make, and it’s memorable. The crusty part on the bottom is the best part.
3 cups basmati rice
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cups brown lentils, washed and dried
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, cut julienne
Wash the rice in several changes of warm water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight, in cold water to cover, with 1 tbsp. of the salt. Alternatively, to save time, soak the rice in lukewarm water with the salt for 30 to 45 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and the onion. Cook until the onion becomes translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the lentils, garlic, pepper and paprika. Continue cooking 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, cover, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes.
Season with the 1 tsp. salt, or to taste. Stir in the basil. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring about eight cups of water to a boil with the remaining 1 tbsp. of salt. Drain the rice from the soaking liquid and add it to the boiling water. Return to a boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Test a grain of rice for doneness; it should be cooked entirely except for a small part in the centre. Strain the rice in a colander and rinse with warm water. Drain well.
Heat the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, well-seasoned or nonstick stock pot with a tight fitting lid, over medium heat. Add about 2 tbsp. water and sprinkle the cooked rice evenly onto the bottom of the pot a spoonful at a time until two thirds of the rice has been distributed.
Spread the lentil mixture evenly over the rice. Cover the lentils with the remaining rice, mounding it slightly in the centre. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke about 5 deep holes in the rice from the surface of the rice to the bottom of the pot to allow steam to escape. Cover the pot with a thick cotton dish towel and place the lid on tightly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the pot occasionally.
Fill the sink with cold water 1 or 2 in. deep. Remove the cover from the rice and have a large, round platter ready. Place the pot in the sink for 1 minute, watching so that no water enters the pot. Remove the pot and dry off the bottom, then invert the rice cake onto the platter. It should unmould itself in one piece and be golden brown. Bring the platter to the table and serve family style. Cut individual wedges from the rice cake, similar to cutting a pie. Makes 6 servings.