Curry leaves are an integral part of Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, but they can be something of a challenge to locate. For those of us who don't have regular access to these fragrant leaves, Madhur Jaffrey has provided an easy alternative in her latest cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: basil.
While the flavors of basil and curry leaves aren't identical, there are fragrant, herbal qualities that they share. Take this Sri Lankan Rice with Cilantro and Lemon Grass for example. Traditionally made with curry leaves, in this rice dish basil is a wonderful stand-in when combined with bright lemon grass and cilantro.
Regardless of whether you are using basil or curry leaves, this is a lovely, deeply flavored pilaf. Beginning with sizzled spices, ginger, garlic, and lemon grass, and steamed with chicken stock, it's got just the right amount of fat to coat the rice and fresh aromatic flavors that come though even when paired with heavily spiced curries.
- Yield:4 to 6
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 3 cardamom pods
- 3 whole cloves
- One 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 10 fresh curry leaves or 5 fresh basil leaves, torn up
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed to a pulp
- 2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
- The bottom 6 inches of a lemon grass stalk, cut into 2 pieces
- 1 packed cup finely chopped cilantro (use tender stems and leaves)
- 2 2/3 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon salt (1 1/2 teaspoons if the stock is unsalted)
Wash the rice in several changes of water. Drain. Soak in water to cover generously for 30 minutes. Drain.
Pour the oil into a medium-sized, heavy pan and set on medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Let them sizzle for 5 seconds. Put in the curry leaves, garlic, ginger, and lemon grass. Stir around for a minute. Add the drained rice and the cilantro. Turn heat to medium and stir for a minute. Add the stock and salt and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn heat to very, very low, and cook gently for 25 minutes.