Spicy Rice- It’s Nice! : Tomato Biryani

I’m back!


Well, almost back.  I’ve been waylaid by this cold-flu-virus thing longer than I ever expected. I haven’t been to the gym in a week. That’s like, forever to me and much longer than I was out when I hurt my back. Surprisingly, I’m still tired by the end of the day, so I’m giving myself another day off to shake it. But today, back to yoga, at least.

Today was my first day back in the kitchen to do some damage since making the feijoada.  Luckily I went home this past weekend and ate mom food or else I’d have been holed up in my house, wallowing in self-pity over the fact that I was sick and subsisting on little more than toast and peanut butterI’m not exaggerating.  It’s a pretty sad sight when I’m under the weather.  I can be such a baby.

Looking for an easy dish to get into the swing of Southern India, I went with a vegetarian Tomato BiryaniBirian, meaning “fried before cooking,” is actually a dish brought to India from Persia back in olden times (while not a valid historical reference, I think you get my point).  While some may think of it as being more of a Northern Indian dish, by traveling south, you’ll find that there are countless varieties of Biryani, namely Calcutta and Hyderabadi.  The variety in the south stems from the fact that rice is the southern staple (as opposed to northern staple, wheat) and thus, the locals are more apt to try and spice things up, literally and use a variety of rice grains, spices, meats, etcetera, making no two biryanis the same.


Some recipes out there suggest baking this in the oven, but the one that I used kept everything stovetop. It actually reminded me a whole lot of paella, which I adore (and made back in Spain), in color, cooking style and method, the main difference actually being the flavors.  Throw in some seafood and you’ve got yourself a party.  Even without the seafood, it’s a tasty dish, with a little kick and a lot of personality.

Yes, this rice has personality. A colorful one.


Down with boring rice!

I only added a few personal touches and stayed pretty true to the main recipe- I couldn’t think of anything to add to make this better than it already was and that speaks volumes.

Recipe adapted from pauljoseph at Food52

Serves 6


1 cup basmati rice

2 TB coconut oil

¼ tsp whole cloves

6 green cardamom pods, crushed

2 cinnamon sticks (3” long)

1 curry leaf

1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 tsp grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 fresh serrano chilies, thinly sliced (if you are leery of the heat, remove the seeds)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 ½ cups water

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp turmeric

1 cup frozen peas

Handful of cilantro, chopped

Black pepper to taste

Squeeze of a lime


1. Place the rice in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water, to cover the rice. Gently rub the slender grains through your fingers, without breaking them, to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks), which will float to the surface. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now fill the bowl halfway with cold water and let it sit at room temperature until the kernels soften, 20 to 30 minutes; drain.

2.  Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, and curry leaf. Cook until they sizzle, crackle, and smell aromatic, 15 to 30 seconds. Then add the onion and stir-fry until it is light brown around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Mix in the ginger, garlic, and chiles. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute- do not let the garlic brown.

3.  Stir in the tomatoes, with their juices, and the sea salt and turmeric. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the drained rice and toss gently to coat the grains with the tomato sauce. Pour the water and stir once to incorporate the ingredients. Bring to a boil, still over medium-high heat. Cook until the water has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, 5 to 8 minutes. Then (and not until then) stir once to bring the partially cooked layer from the bottom of the pan to the surface.

4.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes (10 minutes for a gas burner). Add the pea, quickly cover and then turn off the heat and let the pan stand on that burner, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, sprinkle with cilantro and the squeeze of lime.


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