The importance of rice in Indian culture can be observed when it makes an appearance at important life events and celebratory occasions.
The rice used in Indian cooking comes in many forms, shapes and colors, but it is usually classified by the length of the grain.
1. Long-grain rice:
Long-grain rice includes the highly prized basmati, considered the queen of Indian rice. Available in white, brown and red varietals, its name literally translates to “fragrance.” (Before basmati rice grew in popularity in the United States, Carolina long-grain rice acted as a substitute for many Indian home cooks. But fortunately, these days, Indian basmati is easily available in almost every store across the country.)
Within basmati there are several grades, including a less-expensive one called broken basmati; as the name suggests, it is chipped and often used as a cost-effective “everyday rice.” Another long-grain variety is the patna, which has a much milder flavor.
2. Medium-grain rice:
Medium-grain rice has a shorter yet wider kernel, such as the ponni rice, often used in southern India to prepare biryani.
3. Short-grain rice:
Short-grain rice is usually almost twice as wide as long, including the sona massori and matta varietals.
Three most common uses of Basmati in India:
A spicy robust curry with succulent pieces of mutton (The term in India almost always refers to goat meat.) / chicken/ fish is layered with “just done”, soft and fluffy Basmati in a large pan. The layers of rice are sprinkled with saffron-infused milk, dices of butter, fresh coriander, and refreshing mint leaves. Topped with browned onions, the preparation is then sealed, the lid of the pan held tightly into place with some wheat dough. Finally, it is placed on a small fire, some burning charcoal placed on the lid, to give heat from both top and bottom. Since the contents of the pan are sealed, no aroma is lost. The rice soaks up the juices from the meat. It is impossible to cook a successful Biryani unless Basmati is used.
Boiled with salt, and eaten with dal (lentil curry) has to be the most common way for North Indians to consume this variety. Restaurants/ dhabas use drainage method, which keeps “every grain separate” and fluffy. At home though, people use the simpler, absorption method, which uses a measured quantity of water.
Almost every country in the world has its own way of preparing this dessert. India is no exception. Slender grains of Basmati are slowly simmered in full-cream milk with sugar, juicy raisins, crunchy almond flakes and sweet-scented cardamoms, to a creamy, comforting treat! A few restaurants enhance this creaminess further by adding some khoya/ mawa, a dairy product made by reducing whole milk to the point where most of its moisture evaporates, and fat & protein are left behind! The world’s most expensive spice, saffron, when added gives kheer a warm, sunset yellow hue.
Keywords: Indian rice, biryani, kheer
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