Tag Archives: rice


Rice, glorious rice

Demystifying rice 

Rice, broadbeans & parsley(6)
Rice with broad beans and braised tofu

Rice is simple!  In my view Persians cook rice to perfection! The treat it with the utmost respect and some special rice dishes are prepared with great ceremony.  My mother’s side of the family is from Iran and no one cooked rice like my grandmother and her mother before her and so on……

In my experience, for those who don’t do it regularly, cooking rice is a challenge but it needn’t be.   In Pakistan where I come from people don’t cook rice using exact measurements – in fact most people don’t use exact measurements for cooking anything other than dishes prepared in huge quantities for special occasions!  For everyday cooking women mostly rely on judgment, experience and the ‘eye’ to measure ingredients.  I remember when asking my mother for a recipe she would say put in a ‘muthi’ (fistful) of this or a ‘chutki’ (pinch) of that!

I decided to jot down some facts to demystify rice for those who have either never attempted to cook rice or those who have and not got it quite right and never looked back.  If you follow some simple rules and learn to use your ‘eye’, it’s as easy as pie.

There are literally thousands of varieties of rice grown around the world but we are going to talk about white long grain rice generally known as Basmati.

Cooking methods

To confuse the newcomer, there is no one way to cook rice.  Most commonly used are the following basic methods:

  • Boiled rice: boil and strain
  • Steamed rice: boil, strain and steam
  • Biryani: boiled rice layered with vegetables, lentils or beans
  • Pilau rice: cooked in broth and requires no straining

When cooking rice which is to be strained you need to use a lot of water to keep the rice grains separate, just as you would for pasta and this is simple.

Rice cooked in stock or a sauce is slightly trickier.  This method is used when you add vegetables or stock to the rice and wish to retain the flavours of the stock, for example all pilaus are cooked in stock or sauce.

How much water should I use?

Boiled or steamed rice is best cooked in a lot of water in a large pan to give the rice room to expand and fluff out.

Biryani is rice boiled to al dente, strained and then steamed with a layer of vegetable curry, lentils or beans sandwiched in the middle

Pilau rice is not strained but cooked in a stock usually with vegetables or pulses e.g. pilau rice.   As a rule of thumb I use 1½ -2 times of water for one measure of rice which has been soaked for 1 hour.  There is no exact rule; some people use a little more water and you may find that works for you; much depends on the type of rice you are using and the soaking time – read on!


All good quality rice should be pre-soaked in cold water for at least 1 hour.  Sometimes I have soaked rice for as much as 2-3 hours and all it does is fatten the grain and reduce the cooking time.  However, this does not mean that you can’t cook rice if you forget to soak it or simply don’t have the time – you need to use more water as it will take longer to cook and the grains won’t be as plump.   I try to buy the best long grain white rice which is generally known as Basmati (but beware, there are many grades of Basmati too)

Cooking time

Whether you are simply boiling rice or cooking in stock as in pilau rice, the cooking time will depend on:

  • quality and type of rice, and
  • soaking time

Generally, pre-soaked good quality Basmati will cook in less than 3 minutes once it has come to the boil. Brown rice takes a lot longer to cook.

Boiled rice

  • Soak the rice for at least 1 hour
  • Rinse rice 4-5 times until the water runs clear to get rid of most of the starch
  • Use a large deep pan
  • Cover the rice in cold water about 3 inches above the level of the rice – always boil rice in lots of water
  • Add a little salt and rapidly bring to the boil, stirring with a flat spatula to keep the grains separate
  • Once it comes to the boil, lower the heat a little to keep it from boiling over.  If it has been soaked and the rice is good quality, it should take about 3-4 minutes to cook
  • Strain in a colander and serve

Steamed rice

  • Soak the rice for at least 1 hour
  • Rinse rice 4-5 times until the water runs clear
  • Use a large deep pan
  • Cover the rice in cold water about 3 inches above the level of the rice – always boil rice in lots of water
  • Add a little salt and rapidly bring to the boil, stirring with a flat spatula to keep the grains separate
  • Once it comes to the boil, lower the heat a little to keep it from boiling over.  If it has been soaked and the rice is good quality, it should take no more than 2-3 minutes to get to the al dente stage with a tiny bit of bite
  • Strain in a colander
  • In the saucepan add a ‘splash’ of water, about 3-4 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon oil
  • Put the rice back in the pan
  • Cover the lid with a teacloth and place firmly on the saucepan
  • Steam for 15 minutes on lowest heat – the rice should be ready if steam pours out when you lift the lid


Follow the steps in my Step by step Biryani and see pictures below

Veggie biryani(4)

Vegetables cooked in curry sauce ready for layering with the rice


One layer of rice in the bottom of the pan topped with the vegetable curry

Veggie biryani(7)

Vegetable curry sandwiched between another layer of rice
Veggie biryani(8)

Lid covered with tea cloth, steaming on the hob

Pilau / rice cooked in broth

In this method, rice is added to vegetables or beans usually in a broth.  The broth will have been prepared and some vegetables or beans added.  In this case you will already have the liquid in the pan, either by way of stock or a sauce.  It is not possible to measure the sauce in the pan with vegetables!  Here is where  ‘eye balling’ is useful means of ensuring you don’t have too much liquid – if you do, dry it off a bit.  We are aiming to get a rough ratio of 1½  times liquid to one portion of rice.

Some points to bear in mind –

  • Soak the rice for at least 1 hour
  • For pilau rice, use a large pan to cook the vegetables/pulses – you will be adding the rice to this mixture
  • Rinse rice 4-5 times until the water runs clear
  • Add the rice to the vegetables/pulses cooked in stock or sauce
  • There should be enough liquid to just cover the rice (see picture below).  If it looks too dry add a little water so the liquid is skimming the surface of the rice and vegetables – eye ball!
  • Bring to the boil on high
  • Lower the heat to lowest.  Cover the lid with a teacloth and place firmly on the saucepan.  Steam for 15-20 minutes
  • Lift the lid carefully as it will be steaming.  There should be no liquid left and the rice should be cooked.  However, if the rice is still al dente, add a little boiling water and put the lid back on and continue to steam for a further 5 minutes

Cooking rice in broth is where people usually come unstuck.  If you follow the rule of the ‘eye’ to judge the level of the water in the saucepan, you will be fine.

Troubleshooting pilau rice

When cooking rice in stock it is all about the ratio of liquid to rice.  However, we need not panic – it is easily remedied.

If there is too much water, all you need to do is boil it rapidly to reduce the liquid before covering it with the lid to steam.  If there isn’t enough liquid, simply add a splash of boiling water – keep the kettle on.  Boiling water can be added at any stage if required.

Generally, if you don’t soak the rice or it isn’t the best quality, you will need to use more water.  Once you’ve done this a few times you will sail through it and wonder what the fuss is about.

Below is a picture of rice with broad beans in tomato sauce.  I usually use this large wide saucepan for rice with vegetables.  As you will see the liquid is skimming the surface – this rice required less water due to the tomato sauce.  Bring rapidly to the boil and then steam on lowest heat for 15-20 minutes – can’t go wrong!

Rice with broad beans Rice with broad beans(2)

Rice is a very versatile grain and a staple diet in many parts of the world. It is gluten free and perfect for those who are sensitive to gluten.   Pilau rice or rice cooked in stock can be slightly tricky but once you’ve tried it, you will get the ‘feel’ for it very quickly.  In any event, what is the worst that could happen? It would go a bit soggy maybe? a tad mushy?  it would still taste beautiful so why not give it a go.

If you get stuck or have any questions I am happy to help.  Let me know how you get on!


Rice, tomatoes & broad beans

Rice with broad beans(2)

I love this rice in a rich tomato sauce.  It is a wonderful comfort food when you just need an all-in-one dish and don’t need to buy special ingredients.  Rice, tomatoes and beans is pretty much what you need with just turmeric and cinnamon to perk it up. At a pinch you could use a tin of broad beans! or peas if you are really stuck!

One of the golden rules of cooking rice is to not add too much water as it is always possible to add a splash more if you need it. Always add boiling water once the rice has come to the boil so have the kettle on just in case.  Don’t stick to the exact times in any recipe!  There are many qualities and grades of Basmati rice and cooking time depends on the quality of rice and the soaking time, so keep checking the rice.  Another point to bear in mind is that if there are tomatoes in the recipe, you will need slightly less water. Do let me know how you get on with it and if you get stuck, shout!

4 servings


300 grams Basmati rice, soaked for 1 hour
1 medium onion, sliced
1 stick cinnamon (2 inches long)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 bay leaves
1½ cups broad beans, fresh or frozen
500ml water
1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large wide saucepan, fry the onions and cinnamon stick in oil until golden
  2. Add turmeric, bay leaves, tinned tomatoes and salt. Cover and cook gently for about 15 minutes, stirring intermittently to stop it from sticking to the pan
  3. Add beans and 500ml water and continue to cook gently for another 15 minutes until beans are cooked
  4. Rinse rice and add to tomato and bean mixture – there should be enough liquid in the pan to cover the rice, if not add a little more (see picture below).
  5. Bring to boil; cover the lid with a tea towel, lower the heat and cook on lowest heat for 15 minutes. Check rice, if still al dente, add a little boiling water and continue to steam for a further 5 minutes

Rice with broad beans Tip – you can use peas instead of broad beans or even add a sliced carrot


Rice with peas & sweetcorn

Rice with peas and sweetcorn(1)

This has to be the simplest rice dish ever and for those who are worried about cooking rice, please do try this.  Most of us have some frozen peas and a tin of sweetcorn in the larder.  Simply boil the rice, strain and add to peas and sweetcorn!  You can’t go wrong and it is delicious!  Always happy to answer questions if you get stuck.

4 servings


300 grams Basmati rice (soak for 1 hour at least)
2 cups frozen peas
1 tin sweetcorn (198g)
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large wok, heat the oil and add peas and sweetcorn
  2. Fry gently for about 3 minutes and set aside
  3. Wash the rice 3-4 times in a large deep pan and bring to boil with lots of water and salt
  4. If you have soaked the rice, it should take no longer than 3-4 minutes for the rice to cook once it comes to the boil – watch the pot
  5. Strain immediately in colander and add to the peas and sweetcorn in the wok
  6. Gently mix with a spatula on low heat and serve
  7. Try it with marrow bake

Rice with chickpeas


Rice with chickpeas(1)

I love rice tossed together with any old lentil, bean or vegetable.  Makes a quick all-in-one dish and served with a simple salad is all you need. This is yet another delicious combination of rice with chickpeas.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  If you have any queries about cooking rice please ask and I will do my best to help.  Good quality Basmati rice doesn’t take long to cook (specially if it has been soaked) and needs to be watched – you can’t leave it to look after itself and if you do, you will inevitably end up with a soggy, sticky rice.

4 good servings


300 grams Basmati rice, soak for 1 hour
1 tin chickpeas, drained
6 whole black pepper
6 cloves
4 white cardamoms
2 inch cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon kala zeera (black cumin – click here)
2 large cloves garlic, chopped or grated
2 piece ginger, chopped or grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
600-650ml water


  1. Heat oil and add black pepper, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon and bay leaves. As soon as these swell up, about 1 minute
  2. Take pan off the heat and add shah zeera, garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and chickpeas.
  3. Give it a stir or two and add rinsed rice with 600ml water
  4. Bring to the boil on high then lower heat and simmer until almost all the liquid is absorbed. It should be moist though
  5. Cover with tea cloth and steam on lowest heat for 15 minutes until steam rises from the rice. I use a heat dispenser on my gas hob which works very well. Be careful when you lift the lid as the steam may burn your hand.
  6. Serve with simple avocado salad

Avocado, red onion & tomato salad


Rice with chana dal & meatballs


Rice with chana dal & meatballs(4)

I believe rice with chana dal is a Hyderabadi recipe which my mother used to make.  I never really had her recipe but have tried my best to emulate her creation.  She didn’t use meatballs either but I thought it would make for a more complete one-pot meal so decided to go for it and, guess what, it worked a treat!

Remember that rice must be boiled in a large saucepan with a lot of water, a little like cooking pasta.  As for chana dal, I usually add a pinch of baking soda which reduces the cooking time – do the same when cooking beans.


250 grams Basmati rice, soak for 1 hour
½ cup chana dal, soak for 1 hour
Pinch of baking powder
2 onions, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, grated
2 inch piece ginger, grated
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
3+1 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons dried mint
8-10 meatballs (I used VBites available online and from Holland & Barrett in the chiller)


  1. Cook chana dal with the baking powder until cooked but not soft and mushy
  2. Fry the onion in 3 tablespoons of oil until golden brown
  3. Remove from heat and add turmeric, curry powder, garlic, ginger, ½ teaspoon salt and tomato puree and fry on low heat for about 5 minutes – add small amounts of water to keep it from sticking
  4. Add the chana dal, meatballs and gently fry for a couple of minutes
  5. In a deep saucepan, boil the rice in plenty of water with half teaspoon of salt and cook for about 3-4 minutes once it comes to the boil – you need to keep checking the rice and don’t let it overcook, just cooked or slightly al dente is best
  6. Strain the rice in a colander
  7. Put 1 tablespoon of oil and ¼ cup of water in the pan
  8. With a spatula, put about one-third of the rice in the pan
  9. Layer the rice with the chana dal and meat balls
  10. Top this with the rest of the rice and sprinkle with dried mint
  11. Cover the lid with a tea cloth and steam rice for 5 minutes on medium heat and then 15 minutes on low heat
  12. Carefully lift the lid – if it is steaming the rice is ready to serve
  13. Serve with a simple salad …..or

Avocado, red onion & tomato salad

and/or yogurt and cucumber

Mas o khiar(2)


Rice with green lentils

Rice with green lentils(2)

Rice  with green lentils (you could also use brown lentils) is one of my favourites – it’s light and doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach unlike richer biryanis, and very quick and simple specially if you use tinned lentils.  You could cook the lentils yourself of course but this works fine and is much quicker specially if you find yourself caught short for time.  I have added some soya mince as this enhances the taste and texture but there again you could do without – it’s your choice so feel free to adapt and use the recipe as a basic guideline.

4 servings


250 grams Basmati rice  – soak for an hour
1 tin green lentils
4 tablespoons oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 cup TVP mince (soaked for 15 minutes) or 1½ cup frozen vegan mince eg Linda McCartney’s
2 tablespoons tomato puree

Rice with green lentils(3)


  1. Fry the onion in 3 tablespoons of oil until golden brown
  2. Remove about a third of the onion and set aside
  3. Add 1 teaspoon turmeric and mint to the onion in the frying pan and give it a quick stir – mint burns easily so take off the heat
  4. Add the lentils, tomato puree and mince with ½ cup water and half a teaspoon salt
  5. Cook uncovered over low heat for about 15 minutes until dry – set aside

The rice

  1. Rinse rice and bring to boil with 1 teaspoon salt (always boil rice in a lot of water as this keeps the grains separate & fluffy)
  2. Once it comes to the boil, the rice should be ready in about 3-4 minutes (depending on soaking time). Don’t allow the rice to get soft – it should be just cooked and slightly al dente
  3. Strain the rice in a colander
  4. Put 1 tablespoon oil and 4 tablespoons of water in the pan
  5. Put one-third of the rice into the pan and then lay the lentils and mince on top of it
  6. Spoon rest of the rice on top of the lentil and mince mixture
  7. Wrap lid with a tea cloth and place tightly on the pan
  8. Steam on low heat for 15-20 minutes – carefully lift the lid and if steam is pouring out of the pan, the rice is ready
  9. Sprinkle the fried onions you set aside earlier before serving
  10. Serve with salad and Yogurt with aubergine

Avocado, red onion & tomato salad
Avocado, onion and tomato salad

Yogurt & aubergine_copy

Yogurt with aubergine