Serious Eats

Beyond Curry: Easy Spiced Basmati Pilaf

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[Photograph: Prasanna Sankhe]

India is home to many stand-out rice recipes. From pilafs to biryanis to stir fried dishes, rice is celebrated in many ways. We also have a tradition of making it in pressure cookers, making cooking time virtually negligible. Brown rice, as this dish is commonly called, is not to be mistaken with healthy brown rice. It's actually a pilaf of basmati rice tinged with the bronze hue on onions fried in spiced oil.

Brown pilaf is eaten with a mildly spiced, hearty dish called Dhansak, a combination of lentils, vegetables, and spices that's commonly adorned with lamb or chicken. A simple Kerala-style chicken or lamb curry, like this Manglorean mutton gravy would also make an excellent accompaniment.

Red onions work best with this recipe—they take on the characteristic rich brown hue more easily than white or yellow varieties. If you're prone to burning onions quickly, make sure to cook them slowly in the oil—you're looking for soft and brown, not black and shriveled. A mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, and dry bay leaf add an intense perfume to the oil, releasing a comforting, delicious aroma that lingers long after the rice is done. And even though the recipe itself is simple and quick, its elegance and complex flavor profile impresses my guests without fail.

About the author: Denise Dsilva Sankhe is a writer and creative director by profession. But that's only when she isn't eating her way across India. She recreates this delicious cuisine in her Mumbai home, which she shares with her husband, who has long since given up his determination to have salads for dinner.

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