Indian Style Rice

The blessing of a well stocked pantry is that so many more dishes are available to you at the spur of the moment. There are a few ingredients in this classic Indian style rice that you may not have in your cupboard, but I suggest that they would be excellent additions if you don’t already have them. Cardamom pods are expensive, but they pretty much last forever. Ground cardamom will get flat after a year or so, but the cardamom seeds seem to keep for years within the pods. Mustard seeds are tiny, but they pack a punch. I have an Indian friend who used to make dinner for me when I lived in San Francisco; he would often toss a few mustard seeds into whatever he was making to give it a lift. (Try adding some to lentils.) Most of us have ground cumin, but as with other ground spices, ground cumin will go flat. The whole seeds last longer. Besides, cumin is better when the seeds are toasted first. Turmeric is what gives this rice its vibrant yellow color. Not only does turmeric have plenty of health benefits, it’s the primary ingredient in yellow curry powder.

Now, about the rice. Please make it. This rice was one of those OMG food epiphanies for me. As in, “this is so easy and so incredibly good, why haven’t I been making it my whole life?” Seriously. We made this for an upcoming chicken dish and thank goodness we made a big batch. The technique for making the rice is different from how I usually make rice. In this case you boil the rice in more water than the rice can absorb, and then drain the water from the rice when it’s done. The rice is boiled with the cinnamon stick, cardamom, and cloves, so it soaks up those flavors while it’s cooking. Then it is tossed with sautéed spices and onions.

Indian Style Rice Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

If you don't have whole cardamom pods or stick cinnamon, add a pinch of each ground in with the cumin in step 4.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups long-grain rice, preferably Basmati
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • One 2-inch piece of cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil (or ghee if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Method

1 Place rice in a sieve and run cool water through it to rinse it until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in cool water for 30 minutes. Drain.

2 Bring 8 cups of water and the salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the rice and stir. Add the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the rice, and test if it is done to your taste; rice can take more or less time to cook depending on how old it is. If still too firm, cook a few minutes longer.

3 When the rice is cooked to your liking, drain the rice into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop if from cooking. Remove the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and discard. Set the rice aside to drain.

4 In a pan large enough to hold the rice, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and the chile flakes. Cook until the mustard seeds start popping, then add the onion. Sauté until the onion begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes.

5 Add the garlic and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and mix well. Sprinkle the turmeric over the rice and mix well. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

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26 Comments

  1. Sanjeeta kk

    Wow! This looks really nice. You can try the same recipe in Rice cooker, it will be faster and you don’t have to drain the water as well (more health benefits). But reduce the quantity of water when using rice cooker.

    Nice to visit your site. Enjoy your readings on food and love the recipes of course.
    Best wishes.

  2. Tracy

    I usually cook my rice in plenty of salted water. “As though you were cooking pasta” as I once explained it to a friend. I find it much nicer – doesn’t stick and is less starchy.

    The only time I don’t cook rice like this is if I am doing a ‘rice dish’ such as risotto, paella, rice & lentils, or something.

  3. Nalanda

    Perfect recipe Elise. Just one thing you could try though — instead of adding the turmeric towards the end, add it right after the mustard, cumin seeds and the chilli flakes. This ensures that it is “cooked” as well. Raw turmeric downplays the rest of the flavours and smells. Also, once it is cooked with the spices, it’ll gel well with the onions and then the rice, coloring and flavouring equally. Besides, the antiseptic qualities of turmeric, that it is so famous for, work well when its cooked.

    Hope you get to try this and let us all know how it turned out! Cheers!

    Thanks for the tip! ~Elise

  4. Julie

    Would you serve this with something overtop, or just on the side of say tandoori chicken?

    I think either way. ~Elise

  5. Mitch

    Looks delicious! What’s the advantage of cooking the rice in this way? It seems far more labor intensive and time consuming–is the texture or taste better? I “get” the addition of the spices, but what about the soaking, draining, rinsing, etc.?

    I think it’s easier to get the rice fluffier this way. A friend of mine in Japan recommended making brown rice this way too, for this very reason. Haven’t tried the method with brown rice yet though. ~Elise

  6. amanda

    Another awesome addition to this is peanuts. You can just toss them in when you’re sauteing the spices. Cilantro is also lovely as a garnish.

    As an American who cooks Indian food constantly (my boyfriend is from there), I wholeheartedly recommend also trying lemon rice. It has always been one of my most favorites.

    Oh, and the basmati rice: I’ve never rinsed or soaked it, and it still just takes 10 minutes to cook (straight out of the bag), so if you’re short on time, I don’t think it’s a vital step.

    I live in New England (MA) and have access to a wealth of Indian grocers, where all of these ingredients can be easily obtained (for really low prices). It’s a worth a visit if you can find a grocer nearby!

    When I lived in Japan I found that everyone rinsed white rise thoroughly before cooking it. I think you’ll find the same practice in other parts of the world as well. From what I understand white rice (this doesn’t apply to brown rice) is polished in the milling process and lightly coated with talc. The rinsing and soaking makes sure that this powder is removed before cooking. ~Eise

  7. ashley

    I’m curious… what is the main difference between boiling the rice as you have done here, and following the directions on the bag, with the certain amount of water that the rice will soak up? The bag directions usually end up problematic for me with the rice burning to the bottom of the pan, running out of water, or not being tender enough and having to start the process again. If there’s no big difference between that and boiling, I’ll just boil from now on! Seems much easier to bet better results. Thanks!

    Well, I think you’ve hit on a good reason right there. ~Elise

  8. Patty

    Elise,
    This looks and sounds fabulous. Do you think brown rice would be an option, flavor-wise?

    You could try it. Brown rice has its own nutty flavor that may or may not work well with the spices of this rice. If you make it with brown rice, please let us know how it works out for you. ~Elise

  9. Asha@FSK

    Ah! I am surprised the recipe asked you drain water. Typically for flavored rice such as this, the rice is cooked in exact amount of water, and, the excess water technique is usually used for plain rice (removes the starch etc.) The reason being, when you drain the excess water, you lose a lot of flavor as well.. interesting…

  10. Suzanne

    Is this rice spicy at all, as in “hot”? If so, is there a way to dial back the spicyness without losing the essence of the dish?

    With only 1/4 teaspoon of chile flakes, it’s barely spicy. I would say it’s not “hot” spicy at all. But if you really didn’t want any heat, I would leave out the chile flakes. ~Elise

  11. cw

    I’m Korean. My mom always rinsed rice thoroughly before cooking, but even she admitted it was an old habit of growing up during the war and having lots of sticks and stones mixed into the rice. Modern rice doesn’t have to be rinsed. When my dad cooks, he’s too lazy to rinse the rice, and it turns out tasting and the exact same texture as when my mom cooks it!

    I think it depends on how they process the brand of rice you are using. ~Elise

  12. mantha

    Mmmmmmm!

    Ghee is tastier with this cuisine, and it’s not hard to make: You simmer unsalted butter gently until there is no water left in it, and the solids sink t the bottom. The clarified butter is then spooned off the top. Keeps a long time, and does not smoke or burn at higher saute heat.

    I’m looking at this and thinking how I would like little tender new peas with it (or in it).

  13. Lauren

    I cook this dish all the time, although I never need to drain the rice, the water just cooks down. For extra flavor I add half chicken broth, half water, finely ground onions and garlic which I first saute with the dry rice and butter before I add liquid, and before the liquid I add the seasonings to the saute mixture.

  14. Ashita

    Hi Elise,

    Been following your recipes since a really long time now.. But never commented..
    This seems to be my forte – i’m indian – and considered by most – a good cook.. could’nt help but add my two-bit too :-)
    You could try this and let me know how you like it..
    Instead of cooking the rice before seasoning it with spices, cook it with the spices. Nothing can beat this flavour !!
    Heat ghee, add all the spices exactly as you have, saute some onions if you wish, add the powdered spices and fry for sometime so as to get rid of their raw flavour and release their intense flavour and aroma.. Add rice.. saute till every rice grain is well coated with the masala you just made.. add hot water.. for one cup of rice add 1 1/4 cup of water.. add salt.. let this boil real well… this will take around a minute or two.. then partly cover the pan with a lid and simmer on low heat till the rice is cooked and all the water has been absorbed.. this will take around 10-12 minutes – depending on the rice.. finish off with squeezing the juice of 1 lime for that refreshing tang.. and garnish with chopped coriander – and if you wish – crisp fried onions.
    Dig in !!

  15. Muslimah Revert

    When I make basmati, I always add lemon or lime juice when it’s finished and stir well. This keeps the grains from sticking together.

    Adding a bay leaf will also make the rice more aromatic. As far as the cardamom pods go, I use a big, black one instead of two of the small, green ones. I like the savory taste of the black one with the sweetness of cinnamon.

  16. Clarisse

    I made my own version of Ashita’s version (comments, june 26) and the result was just wonderful. Perfect texture with this method of cooking the rice. Added some shrimp, raisins and a little dried coconut and made it into a one-dish meal! Thanks Elise and Ashita!

  17. Sam

    Elise – I am an ardent follower of your blog and an Indian. I just wanted to give you and your readers a “tip” regarding buying Indian spices like Cardamom. They are MUCH cheaper if you go to a Indian/Pakistani grocery store. There is bound to be one where everyone lives or close to where everyone lives. One trip there and you will have an inexpensive pantry to cook Indian :)!

    Great advice, thanks! ~Elise

  18. Janet Moga

    Wow! I made this on Friday night (along with your recipe for African Peanut Chicken Curry) and it was AWESOME! Definitely a keeper. We were having leftovers through the weekend. Thank you!!

  19. Lara

    I made this last night for dinner but didn’t have cardamom. I did steps 1-3 in the morning and finished it 4hrs or so later when the crock pot curry chicken was done. PERFECT. Thank you.

  20. Mari

    I made this recipe with brown rice a few nights ago and loved it! I don’t usually cook with whole mustard or cumin, so I had to stop by and pick some up. As I was reading the mustard label though, I saw it said it added a “nutty” flavor so I opted to leave it out, as brown rice is already pretty naturally nutty. I also cooked the brown rice in chicken broth for added flavor and only used half the salt because of this. All in all, I was quite pleased :)

  21. Lisa Joy

    We made this last night, and it was nearly perfect except for the fact that it was lacking enough salt. Maybe it was because we used brown basmati rice instead of white, but the salt in the water wasn’t enough to carry the flavor over in the rest of the cooking of the dish. We’ll probably add a teaspoon or two when the rice is sauteed with the rest of the spices.

  22. Rani

    Elise…first time commenting but longtime browser…you have a great recipe here for “fodni cha bhaath” as we call it in Marathi, my native tongue as a child. I do agree with a previous comment that adding the turmeric with the seeds is essential as a first step to cook out its inherent raw flavor. Salting rice dishes is always tricky so the first time is always a taste-test. As someone else has suggested, I too sprinkle a bit of lemon juice after adding the onions and then at the very end, a few tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro for freshness. I’ve not used garlic for this rice, but I’ll give it a go next time I have leftover pilaf. This rice is great with raita as a meal in itself, isn’t it?
    Thanks for the wonderful throw-back to my childhood!

  23. Mara

    Hi,
    thanks for the recipe. I was searching for something like this for ages.
    But could you tell me if this freezes well.
    Tks
    Mara

    No idea. ~Elise

  24. Judy

    This rice is delicious. I didn’t have cumin seeds so I used some powdered cumin. This recipe is a keeper.

  25. Sahil

    There is another way I’ve learned to do this, and it might be a bit simpler. Granted, I’ve always done this in a pressure cooker, but I can’t see why it can’t be done in a pot.

    Heat up some oil, put cumin seeds in it. You can add onions now and fry them, or you can do it later after the rice is cooked, but I’ve always done it by putting it in before. Put in the rice, fry it for like 3-4 minutes, and then put turmeric powder in there. Add a bit of chilli powder if you want it spicy, and salt for taste. Put in adequate water, and close the lid. Two-three whistles is generally enough. Open the lid once the steam is out….profit? :)

    The above preparation is done in about 20 mins from start to finish. Another spin I’ve tried on this is adding diced potatoes before putting the rice in. Fry them for about 4-5 minutes, just for them to get a bit hard, and then continue with the recipe. This prep is good for almost any dish requiring rice, but if you’re feeling lazy, take some yoghurt, whip it so its not solid, and enjoy with this.

    There is one more variation I’ll share, its just called Jeera Rice (Cumin Rice). Simply fry some cumin, add rice and salt, and cook.

  26. Kay

    I found this recipe last summer and it was my fav/go-to rice recipe for the entire summer! I didn’t have all the ingredients listed but improvised and it was still really good. I love Indian food so this was a great simple recipe to add to the pile. It’s a year later but thought I’d share anyway:-)

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