The Mogul emperor Akbar, who ruled India from 1556 to 1605, wrote about this very old and famous rice dish in his memoirs. For Indians, however this seductive dish has been so widespread far so long that we mostly take it for granted. With its lovely, sweet saffron flavor, it can be served alongside savory dishes or on its own as a snack or dessert. Some Indian households make this with yellow food coloring to give the rice an all-over yellow coloring, but I just use saffron; I like the way the spice colors the rice unevenly; so that some grains are yellow while others remain white.—Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness
1 1/4 cups basmati rice
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon milk or cream
1/4 cup ghee or canola oil
A 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
10 green cardamom pods, pounded in a mortar and pestle to break open the shells
A 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
2/3 cup sugar
1. Combine the rice and water in a medium bowl and soak 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the water. Set the rice and water aside separately.
2. Meanwhile, toast the saffron in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring and pulling the pan off the heat occasionally to keep the saffron from burning, until the saffron darkens to a maroon color and is fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Crush to a coarse powder in a mortar and pestle, or in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Stir in the milk or cream, and set aside.
3. Combine the ghee or oil, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and ginger in a medium heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the currants and nuts and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the reserved water, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer very gently over low heat for 15 minutes.
5. Now uncover and sprinkle the rice evenly with the sugar. Drizzle the saffron mixture over the top. Put the pan over very low heat, cover, and continue cooking 5 more minutes. Serve hot.
Recipe © 2004 Sivir Saran. All rights reserved.