Readers of this blog (mainly those who, like me, have an unfortunate tendency to remember boring and useless trivia on random topics/people) will probably know that I like the presence of coconut only in certain dishes and then only the way I’m used to it being made at home. Pieces or chunks of coconut in anything are a definite NO, coconut in sweets and cakes is pretty much no-thanks, and the presence of coconut in dishes where I do not like or expect coconut (such as in potato podimas or adai, sprinkled on dhokla or plantain fry, etc) is also not encouraged or particularly welcome in the super-exclusive club that is my mouth (its motto being “All rights of entry reserved. Strictly no admittance to aubergines or dead animal products. All coconut products will be vetted beforehand”).
As far as I’m concerned, coconut has to be finely grated – always, in dry dishes – or ground to a smooth paste, if it’s a gravy dish or thogayal/chutney.
So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that I’m not a fan of coconut milk – or, for that matter, elaneer or tender-coconut water, despite its reported refreshing qualities in the heat of summer and all that. (I’ll take a bottle of cold water any day.) Coconut milk to me is always associated with a sickly-sweet sort of taste. That said, though, I have tried it in Thai dishes (not made by me, though) and even cooked with it myself once or twice. Truth to say, although they would never be my first choice, the dishes did turn out better than average.
This is possibly the third time ever that I’ve used coconut milk, this time to make another version of tomato rice. Since I do like tomato rice, and I didn’t use too much coconut milk (and it was pretty thin coconut milk at that), it turned out better than better-than-average. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that it was pretty darn good. The tomato rice didn’t taste overwhelmingly of coconut milk, and the presence of coconut milk didn’t negate the presence of the spices/seasonings used, which is how I like it.
The rice was rich without being overly unctuous... although I have to admit that when it was cold, it had a greasy sort of mouth-feel (obviously because of the fat in the coconut milk, even watered-down as it was). That was not a pleasant experience for me or my tongue – only by the somewhat dubious virtue of me being me and my tongue being my tongue. When the rice was re-heated though, it wasn’t a problem.
Recipe for: Rich tomato rice
1 cup basmati rice, washed, soaked in cold water for at least 15 minutes
3-4 fresh green chillies (or to taste), slit
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 cup coconut milk (diluted to taste)
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
1 tsp cooking oil
1. Heat oil in a pan (which has a tight-fitting lid), and add in order: green chillies if using, cumin seeds, grated ginger. Fry for 30 seconds, then add sesame seeds.
2. Stir for 30 seconds, and once the sesame seeds start popping, add the chopped onion.
3. Add turmeric powder now, and stir-fry till the onions turn soft and translucent. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Cook on medium heat till the tomatoes start to soften and break down.
4. Drain the soaked basmati rice and add it to the pan.
5. Stir well, turning up the heat to high, and keep stirring till any excess water evaporates (3-4 minutes, and the rice will start to clump together.)
6. Add the frozen green peas and stir till mixed with the rice and masala.
7. Add the coconut milk now, and the 1/2 cup of water.
Add salt to taste, then stir well. Bring the liquid to a brisk boil, then cover the pan with a lid (you can put a clean tea towel under the lid to absorb the steam, just make sure that the ends of the cloth don't trail down near the flame!). Turn the heat down and let simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the rice sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. After that, take off the lid and fluff the rice gently with a fork.
Or if you're using a pressure cooker, let it come up to two whistles after maximum pressure, then turn off the heat. Open when the pressure drops.
Serve hot with a chilled raita.