Rice Pilaf with “Standing Spices”

Serves 6 to 8


2 cups basmati rice
4½ cups cold water
2 medium red onions
¼ cup canola oil, plus about 1 cup for deep-frying
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
8 green cardamom pods
A 2½-to-3-inch piece cinnamon stick, broken in half
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
3 bay leaves
3 whole dried red chiles
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt


Combine the rice and water in a bowl and soak for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and reserve the water separately.

Mince 1 onion and reserve.

For the fried-onion garnish, thinly slice the second onion. Heat the 1 cup oil in a small (about 6-inch) heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat to 360°F. The oil should come about ½ inch up the side of the pan. If necessary, add more oil. (To gauge the temperature of the oil without using a thermometer, drop a piece of bread about 1-inch square into the hot oil over medium heat, turning often, when the oil reaches 360°F, the bread should begin to brown almost immediately and turn golden brown all over – like a crouton – in about 30 seconds.) Add the sliced onion and deep-fry, stirring often, until the onion turns dark brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain on paper towels and then let stand until cool and crisp. Set aside. Discard the oil.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the ¼ cup oil, the cumin, the cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves, and chiles in a large ovenproof casserole over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring until the cinnamon unfurls, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the reserved minced onion and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes. If the caramelized sugars from the onion begin to collect on the bottom of the pan, add water, about a tablespoon at a time, and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up the browned bits.

Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the reserved soaking water and salt, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Then turn the heat down and simmer vigorously, covered, until the water is entirely absorbed and the rice cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Put the casserole in the oven and bake 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the fried onions and serve hot.

© Recipe Property of Suvir Saran