Tomato rice

I love this spicy tomato rice and can sit in a corner and eat a bowl of it all by myself. It is a dish that originated in southern India. When I was a child it was barely known in the north. But today, with TV cooking shows and cookery books coming into every home, it has become a much-loved dish throughout India, with subtle additions and subtractions made by every regional cook. Sometimes I just serve it with Bhuni gobi (browned spiced cauliflower, see below), a yoghurt dish and some pickle.

Do all your chopping and cutting before you start cooking.

Serves 4
best quality basmati rice 190g
peanut or vegetable oil 3 tbsp
green cardamom 3
cloves 3
black mustard seeds ½ tsp
fresh curry leaves 15
peeled and finely chopped onion 70g
fresh ginger chunky 5cm piece, peeled and finely grated
garlic 2 cloves, peeled and finely grated or crushed
ground coriander seeds 1 tsp
ground turmeric ¼ tsp
chilli powder (or Kashmiri chilli powder) ¼–½ tsp
fresh, hot green chillies (such as bird’s eye), 1-2, cut across into thin rounds
tomatoes 200g finely chopped
salt 1 tsp
water 350ml

Put the rice in a bowl and wash it in several changes of water until the water runs almost clear. Cover well with ample fresh water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain and leave in a sieve for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 150C fan/gas mark 3½.

Put the oil into a heavy, medium-sized non-stick pan (with a good lid) that can go into the oven, or else use a heavy medium-sized casserole dish. Set it over a medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cardamom, cloves and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start popping – a matter of seconds – put in the curry leaves (stand back as they will splatter) and a second later, put in the onion. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir and sauté the onion until it turns brown at the edges. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir for a minute. Add the coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and green chillies. Stir for a minute. Add the tomatoes. Stir and cook over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and the oil can be seen on the edges and starts beading on top.

Add the drained rice and stir very gently over a medium heat for 1 minute. Do not damage the grains of rice as they are very breakable at this point. Add the salt and measured water. Stir gently and bring to the boil. Cover tightly, first with aluminium foil and then the lid. Place the pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Remove the foil and the lid. Fluff up the rice with a fork to separate the grains. Cover tightly again until you are ready to serve. Covering the pot with a heavy towel will keep the rice hot for 30 minutes or more.

Browned, spiced cauliflower
Bhuni gobi

Madhur Jaffrey’s browned, spiced cauliflower. Photograph: Liz Seabrook

Here, cauliflower florets are browned in a very heavy frying or sauté pan until they turn deep blackish-brown in spots. Then the heat is eased and the cauliflower showered with ginger, a few spices and lime juice. The florets stay a bit crunchy. It is delicious. I often serve this with tomato rice (see page 25) and minced meat with peas. You could also serve it with a roast chicken.

The cauliflower head I bought weighed about 870g. The florets should be cut so they are 5-6cm long and 4-5cm across. Each should have an elegant head and a stalk. If washed, they should be dried off thoroughly and then left to air-dry some more. They should not hit the oil with any drops of water on them.

Serves 4
peanut, olive or other vegetable oil 3 tbsp
cauliflower florets 870g (see recipe introduction)
fresh ginger 1 tbsp, peeled and cut into fine, smallish julienne strips
cumin seeds ½ tsp
water 115ml
salt 1 tsp
black pepper freshly ground
Kashmiri chilli powder or cayenne pepper ½ tsp
hot green chilli such as bird’s eye cut into very fine rounds (optional)
lime juice 2 tsp, or to taste
fresh coriander leaves a generous handful

Put the oil in a very heavy, large frying pan, sauté pan or wok and set over a medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cauliflower. Stir and fry for 8-10 minutes, reducing the heat just a little if needed, until all the pieces are covered with dark brown-black spots.
Add the ginger and stir a few times. Add the cumin seeds and stir a few times. Quickly pour in the measured water, cover and bring to a simmer. After 2 minutes, lift the cover and add the salt, lots of black pepper, the chilli powder, the fresh green chilli, if you like their heat, and the lime juice. Stir gently to mix and adjust the seasonings as desired.
Shower with the fresh green coriander and mix, just before serving.

Aubergine slices in two sauces
Baigan borani

Madhur Jaffrey’s aubergine slices in two sauces.
Madhur Jaffrey’s aubergine slices in two sauces. Photograph: Liz Seabrook

Boranis are vegetable salads – often made with leafy greens such as spinach, or with aubergine slices, as here – covered with a seasoned yoghurt sauce. They are loved from Turkey to Iran to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Chopped tomatoes or a tomato sauce may be added and that is what I have done. The two sauces make for a gorgeous, mouthwateringly good dish.

You can make the tomato sauce two days ahead, then cover and refrigerate it until needed. Bring it to room temperature before using, adding a teaspoon or so of water to relax it. I like to use good extra virgin olive oil, but you may use any other oil of your choice.

Serve this at room temperature, as a salad/raita.

Serves 4-6
For the tomato sauce
extra virgin olive oil 4 tbsp
fennel seeds ½ tsp
cumin seeds ½ tsp
onion 1 medium, peeled and chopped
fresh ginger 1 tbsp peeled and finely grated
garlic 2 large cloves, peeled and finely grated or crushed
tomatoes 3, each about 200g, peeled (see note opposite) and chopped
chilli powder ½-1 tsp (I like Kashmiri chilli powder here)
salt ½ tsp

For the aubergine
aubergines 2 large, long Chinese/Japanese, about 600g, cut across at a slight diagonal into 7mm slices
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil 3-4 tbsp

For the yoghurt
natural yoghurt 225ml (Indian-style yoghurt is best here)

For the garnishes
cumin seeds ¼ tsp roasted, ground (see below)
chilli powder or Kashmiri chilli powder generous pinch
dill sprigs 1 tbsp
mint leaves 1 tbsp, torn
fresh green coriander 1 tbsp, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Start with the sauce. Put the olive oil into a large, heavy, preferably non-stick frying pan set over a medium-high heat. When hot, put in the fennel and cumin seeds. Stir once or twice and add the onion. Stir and cook for 6-7 minutes, reducing the heat slightly, until the onion is golden. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes.

Now stir and cook, breaking the tomato pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the chilli powder and salt. Keep stirring and cooking, reducing the heat as the liquid decreases. When the sauce is thick and oil shines around the edges and on top, it is done. Turn off the heat.
Spread the aubergine slices in front of you and sprinkle evenly on both sides with about ¼ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Rub the olive oil on both sides. Spread the slices in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven. Turn off the oven. Turn on your grill. When it is hot, grill the slices briefly on both sides until lightly browned.
Put the yoghurt in a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add salt and black pepper and mix it in.

A large, old-fashioned soup plate works well when putting this dish together. Layer the aubergine slices at the bottom, overlapping them slightly. Cover them with the tomato sauce, reserving 1 tablespoon. Just before serving, spread the yoghurt over the top of the tomato sauce. Scatter drops of the reserved tomato sauce over the yoghurt. Sprinkle the roasted ground cumin and chilli powder on top and scatter dill, mint and fresh green coriander over everything. Serve immediately.

Cooking tips

Cumin seeds, roasted and ground Empty freshly roasted seeds quickly on to a sheet of kitchen paper, cool, then grind in an electric coffee-grinder or other spice grinder, or use a pestle and mortar, or put the seeds between two sheets of brown paper and crush with a rolling pin. Store in a tightly lidded jar.

Peeling tomatoes Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently drop in the tomatoes for 15 seconds. Drain, rinse and peel. Now chop the tomatoes, saving all their juice for the dish. In India, we rarely deseed tomatoes. Many people do not even bother to peel them, though I feel it improves the texture of a sauce.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery by Madhur Jaffrey (Bloomsbury, £20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.