Vegetarian Saffron Rice (Pulao) with Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce (Raita)

>> Monday, May 13, 2013

Vegetarian Saffron Rice (Pulao) with Yogurt-Cucumber Salad (Raita)
Bottom left: Raita; bottom right: Vegan Pulao

There's something so social and intimate about cooking; besides cooking for friends, our favorite thing to do is cook with friends. When you ask someone to show you how to make their favorite recipes, their stories and memories come tumbling out while the flavors and smells rise through the kitchen.

Indian Saffron Rice with Vegetables (Pulao)
This is a LOT of rice.

When my friend Sheilja offered to teach me some of the traditional recipes of Northern India, I couldn't wait to get started! She told me about growing up in the northeastern coastal city of Calcutta (Kolkata), the fishing-boat smells and the way her mother used food for healing the family as well as nourishing them.

Indian Yogurt-Cucumber Salad (Raita)

When you make these low-fat and fiber-rich recipes, just know that they are bursting with health and flavor. Cardamom helps digestion and is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric are anti-inflammatory ingredients good for people with arthritis and heart disease. Turmeric also works to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Cumin, which they call jeera, has been proven to aid digestion, boost the immune system, and help cure insomnia. No wonder we wanted to take a nap after cooking and eating all this great food.

The fragrant and flavorful rice is wonderful topped with cool and tart cucumber salad. Saffron can be very expensive, but Sheilja tells me that turmeric is an acceptable substitute though the flavor is different. For the Raita, we used black salt; it is a potent salt with the flavor of hard-boiled egg yolks and adds an interesting touch.

Make sure you take out all the cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks before serving.


For the Pulao

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seed
2 cups cut-up mixed vegetables, or 12 oz. frozen mixed vegetables
2 black cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks about 2" long
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green chiles, thinly sliced
3 cups rice
1/2 tsp saffron threads, or 1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp red chile powder
6 cups water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

For the Raita Sauce

1 1/2 cups Greek-style plain yogurt
1 cup shredded cucumber
2 tbsp chopped cilantro or mint leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp black salt (or 2 tsp white salt)

Stir together all ingredients and keep cool until ready to serve.


In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the cumin, mustard seed, and onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the vegetables, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, and chiles and cook for 5 minutes.

Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then let it drain. Pour the second tbsp of oil into the pot and add rice. Saute until the rice is beginning to look golden. Add the saffron or turmeric, garam masala, chile powder, and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Serve topped with cilantro and raita.


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