Why I Mix Rice with Everything Else on my Plate – and Make Others Want it Too!

How you eat anything is dictated by many things.  The taste you are used to, or fancy; the time you want to take to eat and ingredients in certain dishes that you like.  I have seen that how people eat rice with Indian entrees is very different from person to person.  If you have 3-4 entrees with your rice – do you eat each of them separately with rice?  Do you just mix a couple and then others?  Or do you mix everything together?

I still remember as a kid, when my mom would make rajma (red kidney beans) with rice and also.. say, cauliflower with potatoes.  Additionally, curd or yogurt would also be there on the table.  Along with the Indian pickles of course.  I would take the rice and mix it up with Rajma (not much gravy though) and the cauliflower sabzi plus the dahi (curd) and pickles.  And then rush to the kitchen and get some namkeen (crunchy salty Indian munchies) and mix them up as well.  That would complete the type of taste I wanted.

I would then expertly mix everything together – taking care that nothing falls off my plate while I do so.  And all the while my Mom and sisters would be looking over with emotions ranging from disapproval to horror!  Mom would want me to taste every ingredient – Rajma or Cauliflower sabzi – separately.  So I know how well she has made each one of them.  By mixing not only would they lose their individuality but one can’t distinctly get the taste of any!  My sisters would find the “mix” all jumbled up and look horrific at times.

But then – with my distinct “mix” in place, I would start eating.  As I ate my rice mix, the new aroma that wasn’t there hitherto on the table would start flowing.  And slowly one by one – both my sisters would beg for one spoon of my mix as well.  Most of the times, they would want more than one spoon after they tasted how amazing the new taste was now!

This initial disapproval and then asking for a sample and falling in love with the taste process has continued with my wife, Archana.  Today, a friend – Bharat – also tried the “mix” style and liked it.

Needless to say that what seems like a bad move for the purist does actually look quite tempting when done well.  And, contrary to what my Mom would believe, I do get the taste of every ingredient.  In fact, for the mix to taste exactly the way I want it, every ingredient’s individual brilliance has to be playing a role.  Even if one ingredient is bad tasting, the whole mix goes for a toss.  So, no ingredient on my plate can hide.  Either they all swim or they all sink – even when one is not upto the mark.

Now a word about what do I want in my mix.  For me it is important to have the right spices in the food.  Am not talking pepper-spicy but herb-spicy.  The Indian spices.  And also have some crunchy feel to the whole thing.  Indian namkeen – or salty crunchies – do the trick.  As do peanuts and even cashews!  Talking of cashews, I remember how my American colleagues would laugh when I would tell the hostesses at the Chinese restaurants we would go for lunch to “add cashews” with my Buddha Delight favorite!  Of course, I would have all that with a more-than-a-hint of hot chilli sauce!  By the way, in any meal – ketchup and Indian yogurt (Dahi) are eternal wild cards!  They get along extremely well with any combo of ingredients.

I have seen that the way I eat rice, is also the way I make my pulao or biryani.  Many things go into it.  Its a mix with peanuts, mixed veggies, biryani masala, even chaat masala, lots of onions, cardamoms at times, a hint of tomato sauce, coriander, and kasoori methi.  A few bay leaves and kadipatta leaves enhance the flavor in their own Lucknowi-Chennai way.  Go figure!  As weird as this mix sounds – often to complete horror of most purists – those who have been subjected to it on the lunch or dinner table – wife and friends – have attested to it being great.  Since my lovely wifey – who eats things selectively – has pushed me to do my pulao mix so many times, I am assuming that she more than likes my pulao mix.  A pulao/biryani that is an extension of my plate I make when I have multiple ingredients with rice.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say therefore that because of what I did on our small dinner table with my Mom’s food, I got my recipe for the pulao later in life.  My “mixing instincts” made me experiment with the ingredients that went into the pulao.  There are times I add things that no one will even dream of or approve of.  Along with the above recipe of pulao, it is not uncommon that I may add some sesame seeds or throw in some garlic paste or some teriyaki sauce when I am in that kinda mood!  That is why I am never able to tell my recipe ingredients to anyone.  I use what I see in front of me.  Sometimes, the biryani masala may be missing in the house.  So Tava Fry masala will do.  Or even Achari Aloo masala.  Actually, the Achari Aloo masala is turning out to be my new favorite!  As long as I can get that right tasting mix in place, anything and everything goes in!

Mixing, my friends, is actually a great way to eat and cook rice when you have lots of interesting ingredients around.  Try it sometime and let me know it fares!

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