Mumbai’s buzzing with auspiciousness this month. Dussera (the celebration of the slaying of Ravana) was last Monday, Diwali is in a couple weeks, our calendar is full of Diwali dinner invitations, and our counters are piled with treats- both savory and sweet- sent by well-meaning relatives. We also have a bunch of coconuts lying around. During Navratri last week, H. and I went to the Mahalaxmi temple. My mom-in-law bought me a coconut to offer Laxmi, which I handed to the priest; in exchange (I think) I got a blessed one back. On Dussera day, which we spent in Mahabaleshwar, we split upon a coconut and sprinkled its water on our car’s wheels (we were doing the Dussera puja) and so we had that coconut, too. My mom-in-law had some coconuts at home for the same reasons and a couple nights ago she suggested we make something with coconut milk.
Of course we knew immediately what we were going to cook. With coconut rice on our minds ever since August, last night we set about trying to make our own. We used the recipe for Celebration Yellow Rice from James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor, and while it was nothing like Buddakan’s overtly rich dish, it was bright and aromatic, each strand of rice plumped with sweet coconut milk and the sprightly fragrance of kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass.
Despite Hrishikesh’s fearful look when I proudly pulled out my curvaceous, leafy bok choy from the grocery bag (“What is that?” he said as if it were an alien baby,) we quickly stir fried it and some broccoli for a silky side dish and then I found some of the Chinese wood ear mushrooms I had brought back with me from America. I love the thin rubbery skin of the flower shaped mushrooms and how easily they soak up flavor. I made them Sichuan-Gourmet style, in vinegar and chiles, for a pickled and spicy cold salad.
Celebration Yellow Coconut Rice
adapted from Cradle of Flavor
2 cups white rice
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 ground turmeric
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp. salt
2 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, each tied in a knot
3 whole fresh or thawed frozen kaffir lime leaves, crumpled with your hands to release their essence
2 leaves basil leaves, torn
Clean the rice thoroughly, three or four times, until the water is clear and no longer cloudy.
In a bow, combine the cooking water and turmeric and stir well to combine.
Add the turmeric-water, coconut milk, salt, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and basil to rinsed rice. Stir well to combine, making sure the lemongrass stalks and leaves are as fully submerged in the rice as possible.
Place the pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring with a spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom of the pot from scorching or burning. Don’t worry if the liquid thickens considerably as it comes to a boil. Allow the rice to boil for 15 seconds, continuing to stir to prevent the rice from scorching or burning. Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to pot tightly with the lid. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to lift or remove the lid during this time; you’ll lose essential cooking steam if you do.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to continue to steam, covered, away from the heat for 10 minutes.
Open the pot and discard the lemon grass, basil, and lime leaves. Gently fold the rice over with a spoon to evenly distribute the flavors. Serve with greens.
Spicy Wood Ear Mushrooms
1 cup dried Chinese woodear mushrooms
1 handful cleaned, chopped cilantro, stems and all
2 small red Thai chiles or Holland chiles
1/2 cup rice vinegar
juice from 2 limes
sugar and chili flakes to taste
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 5-10 minutes until silky but not too soft; they should still retain a rubbery bounce when bitten.
Drain the mushrooms and mix them with rice vinegar, sliced red chiles, chopped cilantro, lime juice, red chili flakes and sugar to taste.
Stir-fried Asian greens with garlic and green chiles
adapted from Cradle of Flavor
These silky greens are just glistening with peanut oil, which adds a nutty sweetness to the dish.
1 bunch cleaned bok choy, chopped into 2 inch pieces
1 head broccoli, sliced thin
3 Tbsp. peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled, bruised until juicy with the flat side of a knife and coarsely chopped into 3 or 4 chunks
1/4 tsp. salt
Heat the oil until shimmering in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic, salt and chiles and stir fry for 1 minute, just until the garlic loses its rawness, about 1 minute. Don’t let the garlic turn brown.
Add the greens, raise the heat slightly and stir fry them vigorously. Oseland says to cook them until they just turn limp so parts are still crunchy (about 2 minutes), but H. likes his greens a little softer so I cooked them for about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a platter- in a bowl they’ll continue to cook with the heat, and eat with the rice and mushrooms.