Monday, September 13, 2010

How To Make Perfect Basmati Rice Every Time; Sour Milk Sea (George Harrison)

Rice is about my favorite food and the following is my recipe for preparing perfect basmati rice.  It is “original” in the sense that I devised it (through some trial and error) by adapting the basic basmati rice recipes of two well-known Indian food writers, Julie Sahni, the author of Classic Indian Cooking, among other good books, and Yamuna Devi, who wrote the essential Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.  I can’t remember at this point what caused me to attempt to amalgamate these recipes; it’s difficult to imagine either having any serious deficiencies.  I can assure you, however, that if you follow my recipe, you will make a generous amount (enough for 6 hungry people at least) of perfectly cooked fragrant basmati rice.

I expect everyone reading this is probably familiar with the taste of basmati rice.  Wikipedia gives a good short description of this wondrous food:  

“Basmati: बासमती,: বাসমতী) is a variety of long grain  grown in India and Pakistan, notable for its fragrance and delicate, nuanced flavor.  Its  name means "the fragrant one" in, but it can also mean "the soft rice." India and Pakistan are the largest cultivators and exporters of this rice; it is primarily grown through paddy field farming in the Punjab region.
The grains of basmati rice are longer than most other types of rice. Cooked grains of Basmati rice are characteristically free flowing rather than sticky, as with most long-grain rice. Cooked basmati rice can be uniquely identified by its fragrance.  Basmati rice has a typical pandan-like  flavour caused by the by the aroma compound 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline.”

Plain Basmati Rice

2 cups basmati rice
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. butter

Wash the rice well in several rinsings of cold water until water is mostly clear.  Soak rice in bowl with 5 cups of water and 1/2 tsp. salt for 30 minutes. Then drain and allow rice to dry 15-30 minutes.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pot over medium flame.  Pour in the drained rice and stir for a minute. Add 2 1/4 cups water (I use 1 cup of water from the water the rice was soaked in) and 3/4 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat to very low, and cook for 20 minutes.

Lift lid.  Mix rice gently with fork. Cover again and cook another 10 minutes until rice is tender. 

We are lucky to live near a very good Indian grocery called Royal India in Malvern, Pennsylvania that sells a variety of basmati rice brands to our local Indian population, who support the store enthusiastically.  This ensures that nothing sits on their shelves for long and everything you buy is very fresh.  They also sell wonderful Indian fruits, vegetables and  spices and carry unusual herbs like fresh curry leaves, which are unique in flavor and texture and delightful combined with the rice.  They basically melt into it and impart a very subtle and delicious flavor.

Because of its distinctive flavor, fragrance and texture, basmati rice is perhaps not a suitable partner for all dishes, but it pairs well with more foods than you might expect.  This recipe makes rice that is so flavorful that it can certainly be enjoyed on its own and it makes an absolutely wonderful summer breakfast eaten with good ripe tomatoes, especially if they’re dressed with a mustardy or herb-y vinaigrette. 

It is important, as the recipe says, to use a heavy bottomed very solid pot with a tight lid, which retains and distributes heat evenly and keeps a tight seal during cooking.  We use the Majestic aluminum Dutch oven my mother-in-law gave us a long time ago, which is our very favorite cooking vessel.  It has lasted forever already and I imagine it will be around making good food for someone who loves it 1,000 years from now.

Pictured:  Tomato and Onion Chutney

Considering the excellence of the rice, it seems only right also to share the two chutney and one raita recipe below. They’re all simple to make (if you can’t find all the spices, feel free to try to vary the recipe in question), inexpensive and are wonderful accompaniments to the basmati rice, especially eaten with some good Indian bread.  (Our grocery sells a variety of excellent plain and flavored breads also.)  The first recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey.  The other two are from Dharamjit Singh.


(Serves  4)

1 medium size tomato
1 medium size onion
1 tsp. salt
1/8 -- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 -- 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 -- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dice tomato in 1/4 inch cubes.  Peel and chop the onion.  Combine all ingredients in serving bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To serve:  Bring cold serving bowl to table.  This relish can be eaten with nearly all Indian meals. 

Pictured:  Fresh Carrot Chutney

Chutney Gajjar (Fresh Carrot Chutney)

½  lb. carrots
½ onion
2 tbsp. finely chopped coriander leaves
1 tbsp. minced green ginger
1 tsp. salt
Juice of ½ lime
Grate or mince the carrots and onion finely and mix with the coriander, ginger, salt and moisten with lime juice.  Mix and leave to marinate for ½ hour before serving.  Like all fresh chutneys, it is better if slightly chilled.


Take 4 oz. sliced cucumber rounds (salted and drained), 2 oz. chopped onions or spring onions and 4 oz. boiled grated yellow squash or zucchini and mix with ½ - ¾ pint yogurt whipped with ¾ tsp. salt, ¼ crushed clove garlic, ¼ -- ½ freshly ground black pepper.  Leave in refridgerator for several hours.  Decorate with a circle of finely chopped parsley, a circle of paprika, another of ground black cumin, and sprinkle with a little black pepper.  Serve with other dishes or on its own.


I’m not sure if I’m free-associating or having a more subconsciously disciplined reverie, but writing about basmati rice and reading these recipes has made me think about the fine old George Harrison song that  The Beatles tried out for inclusion on the White Album and rejected, Sour Milk Sea.  The song emanated from George’s involvement in Hinduism, but unlike other somewhat dirge-y raga sagas (e.g., Within You, Without You and The Inner Light), Sour Milk Sea was a driving, catchy rocker.  George ultimately bestowed the song on Liverpool singer/Apple artist/ex-Undertaker Jackie Lomax, who performed it on his superb 1968 album Is This What You Want?  The band on the track is astonishing, as was their performance:  George Harrison and Eric Clapton on lead guitars, Paul McCartney on bass, Ringo Starr on drums, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Lomax on vocals and rhythm guitar.  Beatles scholars would know better, but I believe that’s more Beatles together on a non-Beatles track than available anywhere else.  

It’s an unforgettable song with clever, touching and amusing lyrics and a fine Harrison melody:  

Sour Milk Sea


If your life's not right, doesn't satisfy you
You don't get the breaks like some of us do
Better work it out, find where you've gone wrong
Better do it soon as you don't have long
Get out of Sour Milk Sea
You don't belong there
Get back to where you should be
Find out what's going on there

If you want the most from everything you do
In the shortest time your dreams come true
In no time at all makes you more aware
A very simple process takes you there
Get out of Sour Milk Sea you don't belong there
Get back to where you should be
Find out what's going on there

Looking for release from limitation?
There's nothing much without illumination
Can fool around with every different cult
There's only one way really brings results
Get out of Sour Milk Sea

You don't belong there
Get back to where you should be
Find out what's going on there

Get back to where you should be
Find out what's going on there

Get back, get back, get back
Why don't you get back now
You don't belong here
Get out of here, babe

Words and Music by George Harrison
© 1968 &1991 Harrisongs Limited


Why it wasn’t a hit, I’ll never understand, but I never do.

My knowledge of Hinduism is marginal (I’m planning on remedying that), but please see below some images – one ancient stone relief from the Angkor Wat shrine in Cambodia and another painting from 1870 showing the “sea” or “ocean” of milk.  I’ve also attached a rather remarkable large-scale sculpture showing figures churning the milk sea that greets visitors at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.  

Finally, in honor of my friend Elizabeth Jeffords, I’ve posted a beautiful photo of Dudhsagar Falls (Sea of Milk), India’s highest waterfall, which is near Goa.  Elizabeth lives in Bangalore, but really gets around.


  1. Hi. Obviously, so do we. Jane (and Aliki, now that I think of it; she's tasted this recipe also) will confirm that it is all that I claim. And so simple and so relaxing to prepare. Cupcakes the size of a quarter? I'm amazed. The Royal India grocery, if you've never been there, is a great place to shop.

  2. Is your visa ready...

    I hope to leave Bangkok for Bangalore on the 28th of Sept..

    Look up Hyderabadi is great once a year..

  3. Anonymous: Hi. It will be ready as soon as I complete my PA MPRE exam in November. Will write you over the weekend. I had too much today today. Will look up Hyderbadi Haleem.

  4. Figs: Thank you very much for writing. As I mentioned in this post, we have a very good local Indian grocery store that offers a variety of Indian basmati rices. Currently, I'm cooking my way through an 8-pound bag (we're a small family) of Laxmi. But I will ask them about Diamond Pearl (I've just visited the website) and will definitely try it. Please visit here again. It's nice to meet you. Curtis

  5. I am trying your recipe as we speak - the lovely basmati's are now resting and drying. I think I finally understand the rinsing now, it really made even the uncooked grains much more vibant looking. I am pairing it with some spinach for spinach rice cheese casserole. mmmmmm

  6. Beautiful blog btw! :)

  7. Thanks so much for your kind note. Please visit again. I've scattered (and I expect will continue to do so) rice recipes in various locations around this blog. One I like A LOT is the Macao Fried Rice, which is like a quick paella. I'll need to index things here, I guess. It's good to have you here. Curtis

  8. hi everybody i make trip to visit goa which in india and i want to see waterfalls so any body know how,where or guide please tell me :)
    thanks Gentleman o.O
    my email:

  9. Thanks for writing and visiting. I wish I could help you, but I am mostly an armchair traveler. Curtis

  10. Hi dear,
    I think that's the perfect way to make basmati rice

  11. Is Basmati rice healthier than jasmine rice? Both Jasmine and Basmati rice are low in fat and will give you a small protein boost. However, basmati is a healthier choice for diabetics, as it has a lower glycemic index than best brown rice (59 to jasmine's 89). Both of these varieties are usually sold 'white'.