This week saw a birthday- another year of life happily completed. It was not a very eventful milestone, but peace is sometimes the best medicine. Based on various events around the home and at work, it is turning out to be a birthday week, rather than a birth day and I will take all seven days and then some. I was rewarded with a surprise visit from my brother and I got to meet my cousin’s fiance. Somewhere, along the middle of last week, we had a weeknight guest and among the dishes on the table, was this tomato rice dish that I had picked up from Anju’s Mysorean table.
My birthday treat to myself was to sleep in, two days in a row. I am weird that way, but I love and treasure my sleep. Nothing makes me happier than a nice nine hour rest, especially, during soccer season, when it seems like I spend more time on the weekends driving the kids around than anything else. I have to confess, the past few months have also taken a lot of my free time, coordinating events and book related stuff. I have enjoyed the events and have been delighted at the response that my cookbook has received, but it has come at the cost of some more free time being eked out of my already packed routine.
Now, back to the rice dish, bhaath is the Indian word for rice in many parts of India, it certainly is called bhaat in Bengali, but my friend Anju refers to vegetable based rice dishes as bhaat, essentially eggplant rice as Vaangi Bhaat and this tomato rice dish as tomato bhaat. What makes these rice dishes different from the North Indian varieties is their simpler earthier flavors and stronger spices. They do not necessarily contain a surfiet of fancy items like fried onions or saffron, but rather are a simple combination of fresh vegetables, rice and earthy seasonings all coming together in a great one pot dish, or sometimes just an addition to the table of other items.
Traditionally, a shorter grain rice might be preffered for this dish, I have however adapted it with basmati, with fewer spices and some peanuts for crunch and protien to make it work on my table as a one-dish meal. I love to make this a few time during fall, when we still have tomatoes trickling in, an abundance of herbs in the garden and colors all round. It is indeed a beautiful time of the year! Every week of the year, I wonder whether it will be the week we close the garden down, and every Monday is often like a new gift of unexpected bounty, still will some greens, loose squashes, lively brocolli, green peppers and the handful of tomatoes we have a crop that continues to sustain us.
A simple well flavored and colorful one-dish vegetarian meal that marries tomatoes with the seasonings of Southern Indian.
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon asafetida
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 3 green cardamoms
- 2 - 3 cloves
- 1 2-inch stick cinnamon, broken
- 10-12 curry leaves
- 3 diced tomatoes
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1 cup of basmati rice
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (optional, if not using you can increase the amount of water in this dish)
- 13/4 cups of water
- 1/2 cup raw blanced peanuts
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1/2 tablespoon minced mint
- Heat the oil in a pan for about 30 minutes and add in the mustard seeds and wait until the seeds crackle.
- Quickly add in the cumin, asafetida and the ginger.
- Add in the green cardamoms, cloves and the cinnamon stick and stir well.
- Add in the curry leaves and the diced tomatoes and mix well.
- Stir in the salt and the turmeric and continue cooking the mixture stirring gently for 3 to 4 minutes until the tomatoes soften and begin to turn saucy.
- Gently add in the rice and stir well.
- Add in the coconut milk (if using) and the water and bring to a gently simmer.
- Cover and cook on medium low heat for 20 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking gently toast the peanuts until the peanuts turn a few shades darker and is aromatic. We tend to like a few darker brown spots while toasting but this needs to be done carefully as it is easy to burn the nuts.
- Remove the cover from the rice, you should have large fragrant reddish golden grains. Turn off the heat and stir in the peanuts and the cilantro and mint.
- Leave the rice covered for another 10 minutes before serving, this allows the moisture to get absorbed and the grains to swell into regal and separate perfection.
There are plenty of possibilities with this dish, you can add in green peas or even green beans, chopped cashew nuts along with the peanuts and of course if you are so inclined a few thyme leaves to join the herb party.
Looking at these tomatoes, I still feel the few we are recieving are vivid and colorful with the fresh scent of freshness. Hopefully they will last a few more weeks to allow me to savor the flavors of the garden and enjoy nourishing tomato and red pepper soup.