No self-respecting chef should ever use boring packaged commercial curry powder! As an alternative, homemade spice blends, or masalas, add vibrant, multi-dimensional flavors to your cooking, and can be easily prepared in your kitchen. I tasted this delectable, chili-hot, moist and spicy rice that I tasted on my first trip to Tamil Nadu, India. Serves 4 persons.
The spice masala:
1½ teaspoons oil
3 large dried red chilies
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 teaspoons chana dal or yellow split peas
1 teaspoon urad dal
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon oil
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ghee
1 cup basmati rice or other
long-grain white rice
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
2 large red chilies, sliced in rings
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
4 large firm ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
To prepare the spice masala:
Heat 1½ teaspoons oil in a wok or heavy pan over moderate heat. Drop in the red chilies, coriander, chana dal and urad dal.
Toast, stirring occasionally, for 3–5 minutes or until they darken in colour and become fragrant. Towards the end, drop in the fenugreek and coconut, and stir until the coconut becomes golden brown. Remove the spices and coconut and transfer to a spice mill.
Grind the spices to a powder. Remove and set aside.
To prepare the rice:
Bring to the boil the water and salt to the boil in a 1-litre covered saucepan.
Warm 1 teaspoon oil in a 2 litre/quart saucepan over moderate heat. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until the grains glisten and turn whitish.
Add the boiling water, raise the heat and quickly bring to a full boil. Immediately reduce the heat to very low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and gently simmer, without stirring, for 20–25 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy. Remove the pan from the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes to allow the grains to firm up.
To prepare the tomatoes and complete the dish:
Place the remaining oil in a wok or heavy frying pan over moderate heat. When the oil is hot, drop in the mustard seeds. They will crackle, splutter, and start to turn grey. Add the curry leaves, stir briefly, then add the chilies and fry them for 1 or 2 minutes, or until they turn translucent. Sprinkle in the yellow asafetida powder, saute momentarily and add the chopped tomatoes.
Cook for about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and break down. Stir the spice masala into the tomatoes and cook for an additional one minute. Remove from the heat.
When the rice is fully cooked and firm, stir in the spicy tomatoes, fluffing the rice and tomatoes gently with a fork to mix evenly. Serve piping hot.