Do you have childhood memories of food, something you have tasted or smelled as a child that are so vividly etched in your memory that you can feel the smell or taste anywhere? I have quite a few. My dad used to bring these Chocolate Pastries when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old from a bakery in Hyderabad, which has long been closed. They were dense and almost fudge like balls and topped with Chocolate ganache, I think. I clearly remember the texture and taste, but for the life of me, could not recreate it even after several attempts. They remain a mystery.
Another such memory, but not a mystery, is Qabuli rice. It is one of the rice dishes that originated in or around Afghanistan. The recipe for Qabuli rice was printed in a Sunday magazine probably 20 years ago. My mom made it upon my request. We all liked it, but somehow it was relegated to the back burner for a long time until it was totally forgotten. But it distinctly remained in my memory.
Recently when we were having some friends over, I was planning for a vegetarian one-pot rice. I did not want to make my usual rice items. I wanted it to be unique and something different from everyday fare. Qabuli rice perfectly filled the bill. I scrambled up the recipe from my memory, because even my mom did not exactly remember it! The end result was splendid and left the guests raving and wanting seconds and thirds. I loved it so much that I decided this will be the recipe for Qabuli rice for me. You should too.
What you need (Serves 4 as side, or 3 as main):
1 1/2 cup of Basmati rice, washed
1 cup of Chana Dal* (also known as Bengal Gram)
2 tbsp of Ginger-Garlic paste
1 large Onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp red Chilli Powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Turmeric powder
2 Chillies, slit lengthwise
1 tbsp Garam Masala
2 cups of Yogurt, beaten
1/2 cup Mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup Corriander, finely chopped
1/4 cup oil
2 tbsp of Ghee (clarified butter), optional
* Chana Dal or Bengal Gram is nothing but dried, skin-less, split Chickpeas. It is commonly available in Indian grocery store or International sections of a regular grocery store. If you don’t find this, you can substitute Brown Lentils (Puy Letils) or Green Lentils that are more commonly available. Cooking times may vary. Just make sure that they are cooked al-dente and do not get too soft. The color of these lentils will contrast with the rice and turmeric giving a jewel studded look to the rice.
How to make it:
- In a wide pan, add 2 tbsps of oil and once hot add the sliced onion and green chillies. Sauté for 5 minutes on medium, until the onions are golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, red chilli powder, Garam Masala and salt. Sauté for another 2 minutes.
- In the meantime, in a deep pot bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add a big pinch of salt and lentils. Cook until the lentils are cooked al-dente (takes about 7-8 minutes on high). They should be just cooked and still have a bite in the center. Strain out the lentils and set them aside. The same pot and water can be used to cook rice.
- Add yogurt and lemon juice to the cooked lentils. Mix well to incorporate everything. Set aside. This can be made up to 3 days in advance.
- Bring the water back to boil and add cleaned Basmati rice to it. If needed add another cup of water and a bit more salt. There should be enough water for the rice to swirl freely. This will help the grain to elongate the most and avoid clumping. Cook rice in boiling water for 8 minutes. Rice will be about 3/4th cooked. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- In the same deep pot, after wiping off any moisture, add 2 tbsps of oil, to coat the bottom. Add 1/2 of the rice and spread to cover the bottom. Add 1/2 the lentil mix and spread over the rice. Add the remaining rice and lentils to create layers. If your pot is wide, then you may end up with just one layer of rice and one layer of lentils, which is perfectly fine. Dot the top with Ghee, if using.
- Sprinkle the top with mint and cilantro and put a tight lid to trap the steam (or most of it). You can tie a clean kitchen towel on the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook on low for 20 minutes. Check a grain of rice. If it needs more cooking, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of water and replace the lid and cook on low for another 5-6 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and lightly mix the layers. Do NOT over mix, the appeal is in the carelessly tumbled look.
- Tumble it into a wide serving dish. Scrape the bottom if any rice is stuck. The crunchy bits are the best parts.
- Garnish with roughly torn Mint and Cilantro and serve hot with Cucumber Raita.