Read an Excerpt
The Indian Grocery Store Demystified
By Linda Bladholm
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2000 Linda Bladholm
All rights reserved.
Rice & Rice Products
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Hindi word for "rice"
Rice is the essential grain of India — the fluffy white mound around which all other dishes revolve. Rice soaks up soups and thin curries in the south and accompanies thick yogurt and cream-based kormas and koftas in the north.
The basis of all Indian meals is rice, bread, or both. In the south and coastal regions rice is eaten at every meal, and it is the rice that is the meal, while the other dishes are for flavoring it. Rice acts as a neutral foil for the highly seasoned, spicy sauces, curries, and soups that are served with it. The traditional way of eating in India is to use the right hand to scoop rice up with bits of food or pieces of torn bread. A mountain of steaming rice is heaped in the center of a plate or a banana leaf and surrounded by other dishes.
Rice can be cooked with spices, raisins, nuts, paneer cheese, lentils, meat, or with vegetables to make pulaos and biryanis. Rice is flavored with tamarind, lemon, coconut, yogurt, and ghee. Split beans are simmered with rice and seasonings to make hearty one-dish meals. Rice is boiled with milk, sugar, and sweet spices to make desserts. Rice is carefully selected depending on its use, with great distinction made between rice that is good for pulao, rice that makes a creamy pudding, or rice that is preferred as a daily table rice.
Besides its role as a staple, there are many ways that rice is used. Rice is soaked overnight and ground with split lentils into a coarse-grained batter. This is used to make thin, crepe-like pancakes and fritters, or it is steamed into spongy cakes. Rice is ground into flour and used as a thickening agent to make dumplings, flat breads, noodles, batters, wafers, and sweets. Rice is pounded and rolled thin to make rice flakes, then is puffed by heat until crispy.
Rice is sacred in India. Raw rice mixed with red powder (gulal) is showered on bridal couples and guests at weddings. In the Hindu tradition rice has always symbolized plenty. A bride will often kick a measure of rice grains across the doorway of her husband's home, symbolizing that she is bringing wealth into the home of her new in-laws.
Rice has been cultivated in India for over 3,000 years, and the country is second only to China in production. There are thousands of types with distinct flavors, aromas, and textures that result from differences in climate, soil, and seed stock.
In the typical Indian grocery store one of the first items you will see — or bump into — are the huge, family-size 20- to 30-pound sacks of rice that are near the front door or stacked like sandbags down a central aisle. Look for the more modest 5- to 10-pound bags. There are also small 1- and 2-pound packets or boxes, good for sampling different varieties. There is rice from India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, California, Texas, and the Carolinas to choose from. Some are packaged in rough, burlap bags or white, cotton sacks, while others are in stiff jute or plastic bags. Many of the packages are splashed with vivid graphics of animals, flowers, or angels. All of the packages have Hindi or Arabic lettering along with English, which describes the contents. This labeling is important because you can't see through the burlap or jute to examine the grains.
In most Indian grocery stores you will find two main rice varieties: aged basmati and Patna long grain. Perhaps you will find a few specialty rices such as South Indian red or gobindavog. Brown rice is also usually available. Indian cooks prefer white rice, produced by polishing off the outer layers of bran and oil in the husk so that the rice will keep longer. The stronger flavor of brown rice is felt to overwhelm delicate seasonings. To compensate for lost nutrients, protein-rich legume and dairy dishes are eaten with rice. You will also find parboiled (partially boiled) rice, which is not to be confused with American "minute" rice.
Rice is cooked by two methods in India. One is by absorption; the other is by boiling in lots of salted water. Boiling is the preferred method in many parts of India. After boiling until tender, the rice is drained, fluffed with a fork, and drizzled with ghee or melted butter. The leftover water is saved for cooking — or ironing due to the high starch content.
All rice should be transferred into clean jars or airtight containers. Store it in a cool, dry place so that it will keep for a long time. Refrigerate leftover cooked rice in well-sealed containers, as rices will harden if exposed to cold. Reheat cold rice with a few spoonfuls of water in a microwave or in a covered pot over low heat. Add leftover rice to soups or dals. Sauté it with fresh ingredients, stir-fry it or blend it with yogurt and spices.
Following are the types of rice that you may find in Indian grocery stores, listed in order from the most used and available to the lesser used and harder to find. A mail-order source for unique rices is found here.
Chaawal is raw rice. Bhatt or bhath means cooked rice.
The word basmati means "queen of fragrance." It is an aromatic long-grain rice with very slender, pointy-shaped kernels. In India it is prized for its extra-long grains, translucent milk-white color, even size, silky texture, delicate scent, and buttery, nutlike taste. The unique flavor comes from the soil in which the rice grows. Most imported basmati has been aged six months to a year to intensify its flavor and aroma. Basmati is like wine, improving with age. It can be aged up to ten years or more. Older basmati also cooks better, remaining fluffy while new rice becomes sticky and clumps. Basmati expands greatly, especially lengthwise, as it cooks. This creates distinct, dry, fluffy grains. It is the fragrant foundation of pulaos and biryanis and is an ideal daily table rice.
The imported basmati you will find comes from the Himalayan foothills in North India and Pakistan. The best, Dehra Dun, comes from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Basmati is graded by its percentage of unbroken, long, pointed grains. Patna is a slightly lower grade long-grain rice, grown in the region around the town of Patna in Bihar state in Northeast India. It is labeled "Patna basmati" and is a little less fragrant. Less-expensive, broken-grain basmati is also sold and has the same flavor and fragrance, but it does not have the texture and appearance of whole rice. Due to the aging process all basmati is slightly more expensive than other rices.
Imported brands must be rinsed several times and checked for grit or small particles of stone. U.S.-grown Texmati, Calmati, and Carolina basmati don't need to be cleaned. All basmati rice should be soaked in cold water for about half an hour before cooking. The long, fragile grains absorb a little water and relax slightly for even cooking.
Basmati is found in 5-, 10-, 20-, and 55-pound burlap, jute, or plastic bags. Some bags are lined with an inner bag to retain freshness. Brown, unmilled basmati is also available, but it takes twice as long to cook. For brown basmati, look for the Swad brand in small boxes and 10-pound bags.
Good brands of Dehra Dun (also spelled Dehraduni) basmati to look for are the following: Swad, Shiva, Super Sadhu, SK818 Super Dehraduni, and Lal Quilla Dehraduni NO-1. All of these are in 10-pound bags with stitched-on handles. Other brands of Indian basmati include Chirag Red Rose, Tilda, Shahzada, Abu Adnan, and Super Pari in 10-pound plastic or cloth bags. Then there are Zebra, Polac, Panda, and Tiger brands from Pakistan, all in 10-pound cloth bags. You may also find Elephant brand in 10-pound burlap bags, which has a purple pachyderm on the front of the bag. Also look for Kohinoor basmati, Gold Seal Indus Valley pure basmati and Natraj brands, all in 10-pound bags. For smaller sizes, look for Sadaf brand (which has various spice-flavoring packets included) or Tilda easy-cook brand, both in 6- and 14-ounce boxes. Methods for cooking rice and rice recipes are here.
The idea of running out of rice is so unthinkable to Bengalis that they cannot verbalize it. When the rice stock is dwindling, they say that the rice is "increasing" in hopes of averting bad luck by using the opposite word. Rice is also associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and to waste even a grain is believed to insult her. The spirits of departed ancestors are appeased by an offering called a pinda, which is cooked rice and fish mashed into a lump.
This grain is called the "prince of rice." It is also called kalijira or black rice — because it resembles the shape of black cumin seeds. This is a polished, white, very fancy, small-grain rice that is grown in Myanmar, West Bengal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The pointy-shaped grains resemble basmati but on a smaller scale. It is often called "baby basmati." It has a delicate aroma and faintly sweet flavor. When cooked the rice is firm yet tender with separate grains. Gobindavog is delicious in rice puddings, biryanis, or as a plain table rice. In Bengal it is fermented to make the summer dish called pantabhat. Leftover cooked rice is soaked overnight, and in the heat it ferments. It is then drained and seasoned with fried chilies, chopped onion, and vegetable curry.
Look for the Shapla brand. It comes in 5-pound off-white, cloth bags with a lotus in a circle logo from Dinajpur, Bangladesh. It is also sold by mail order (see here).
Samba rice, from Sri Lanka, is a similar baby-grain rice that is sold in 1-pound plastic bags in well-stocked Indian grocery stores. Another gobindavog rice is Gujarati jeera (jeera means cumin seed) from the Gujarat state in West India, sold in 10-pound, white, cloth bags under the Pexco brand. Ambemohar is a rare short-grain gobindavog rice to seek out. It has roundish grains that are smooth and creamy white. The distinguishing feature is its mangolike fragrance (amb means mango), which remains even after cooking.
CALMATI & OTHER U.S.-GROWN RICE
Calmati is a basmati-type rice grown in the Sacramento valley of California. The grains are not as long or aromatic as Indian basmati. Calmati is a cross between brown rice and basmati. It is sold polished or unmilled (brown). Texmati, and Kasmati, and the long-grain Carolina Gold are Texas grown varieties of basmati. All of these are found in some Indian grocery stores in 2-, 5- and 10-pound bags.
RED PATNI RICE
This rice is grown in the coastal, central, and western parts of India and is parboiled, then dried for storage. The short, thick, glassy, and yellowish grains are streaked with red and maroon. It has a nutty aroma, chewy texture and mild, bland taste. It is good for sopping up spicy flavors. Red Patni is also milled into a red flour, used to make a thick batter for pancakes. It is available in well-stocked Indian grocery stores in 1- and 2-pound plastic bags or by mail order (see here).
Rice first arrived in America when a ship was wrecked on a beach in 1685 near Charleston, South Carolina, then a British colony. The vessel was from Madagascar and was loaded with a long-grain indica variety of rice. Once the ship was seaworthy again, the thankful captain gave the local colonists several bags of the unmilled rice, which they planted. It became the first rice grown in America.
SOUTH INDIAN RED RICE
Rosematta. This is a parboiled red rice grown in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in South India. The plump, long grains have flecks of the reddish outer layer of bran. The grains are yellowish pink because of being parboiled with the red bits. As it boils, a brownish foam rises to the surface. This should be skimmed off. When cooked, the rice expands into fat, rounded grains that remain separate. After cooking, the rice turns whiter with contrasting specks of red. It has an earthy, slightly smoky flavor, almost like red kidney beans. South Indian red rice goes well with strong flavors and hot, spicy dishes. It is also good in pulaos and stews. Look for the Swad brand in 10-pound bags. It is also available in some well-stocked Indian grocery stores in plain plastic bags or by mail order (see here).
BHUTANESE RED RICE
This is a medium-grain, Japanese type of semimilled red rice from the Paro Valley in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Red rice is a staple grain of Bhutan and has only recently been exported to the United States. It is partially polished and has patches of the outer layers of red bran clinging to the off-white grains. It cooks in about 20 minutes and is pale-rose colored, soft, and slightly sticky like Japanese rice. It has an earthy fragrance and tastes like brown rice, but it has a slight roasted, nut flavor. It is good plain, with hearty bean and lentil dishes, or in pulaos. It is available in plain plastic bags in well-stocked Indian grocery stores or by mail order. You may also find another red rice grown in the Himalayas, usually labeled "Himalayan red rice." It looks similar to Thai red rice with long, slim, reddish brown, unmilled grains. It has a chewy, nutty flavor and cooks faster than brown rice does because the grains are slimmer. It is somewhat rare in Indian grocery stores, but it is available by mail order (see here).
This is known as siddha in Bengali. The technique of parboiling rice was developed in South India centuries ago — long before Uncle Ben was on the scene — as a way of increasing the nutritional value of polished rice. Unhulled rice is boiled, dissolving the nutrients from the bran into the water. Then it is steamed, forcing and sealing the nutrients back into the heart of the rice kernel. After cooling, the rice is husked and milled to remove the outer layer of bran. Indian parboiled rice has a harder texture than regular rice as a result of being heated, so it actually takes longer to cook. But it fluffs up, yielding a larger volume. American converted or "minute" rice is similar, but it has been partially cooked before milling which is the reason that it cooks quicker.
Food stalls and snack vendors line the grassy perimeters of the entrance gate to Kantagar temple in the northwest region of Bangladesh. Men squat around charcoal fires selling tea, betel, fritters, and packets of pinkish bash ful with various curry sauces. As I settled on the ground to eat, a bird zoomed down and grabbed some rice, flying off to its nest somewhere in the tree above, confirming why picnics here are called choruibhati, or "rice for the sparrows."
Parboiled rice grains are glassy, pale yellowish, and slightly dented. Cook as you would any rice, but allow an extra 10 minutes cooking time. Parboiled rice is made from long- or medium-grain rices. A South Indian specialty is pittu, a hot cereal made from raw and parboiled rice that has been crushed into a coarse flour and mixed with freshly grated coconut and water. The thick paste is then stuffed into hollow bamboo molds and steamed upright. The unmolded pittu is served with coconut milk and sugar to start the day on a sweet note. Bash ful, also called kozhul, is a parboiled rice from Bangladesh. It is a blend of medium- and short-grain parboiled rices. Some grains are cream colored with bits of red bran attached. Others are slightly translucent with opaque specks. When boiled, a pinkish brown foam rises to the surface and should be skimmed off. The cooked grains are separate and tender. Bash ful is found in well-stocked Indian grocery stores in plain plastic bags or by mail order (see here). For regular parboiled rice look for the Par Excellence and Golden Temple brands in 25-pound bags. Also look for Tilda parboiled basmati in 10-pound bags and 6- or 14-ounce boxes.
This is called phan in Bengali. It is dried paddy rice — rice kernels encased in strawlike, golden greenish husks after harvesting. The rice is not eaten, but is used for puja offerings to Hindu gods. The rice is placed in front of deity figures along with red gulal powder, flowers, and sweets; incense is lit and prayers are chanted. Rice symbolizes fertility and abundance in Hindu tradition. Jav is sold in large 5- to 10-pound bags and convenient 3.5-ounce packets. Look for the Swad brand.
Panicum — Rice-Like Cereal Grains
These cereals are harvested from types of wild, grassy water plants (pani means water), cultivated since ancient times in the Gujarat and Maharashtra states. The cereal grains are threshed from husks just as rice is. They have a somewhat Glutinous texture when cooked. Women cook and eat the seeds several times a year on lunar-related religious festivals. Both types of panicum are good for people with wheat allergies.
Excerpted from The Indian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm. Copyright © 2000 Linda Bladholm. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.