Whenever I make challaw, Afghanistan’s traditional white basmati rice, I imagine Humaira’s mom Jeja peering over my shoulder, tisk tisking my every wrong move. Jeja takes her rice cooking seriously and nobody’s quite measures up. This recipe is hers.
I have to admit that mastering Afghan rice was more challenging than expected. Handmade dumplings? No problem. Pumpkin turnovers with cilantro chutney? Piece of cake. But the rice kind of threw me. It’s not difficult. It just requires a few extra, methodical steps -- never my strong suit.
Each grain of rice should be independent from the next; never sticky. It should be lightly salted and gently flavored with cardamom. Although it’s tempting to serve Afghan dishes with ordinary steamed rice, making challaw is worth the effort.
3 cups good quality basmati rice (not processed or par-cooked)
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
5 green cardamom pods
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Immerse the rice in a bowl of water. Drain. Repeat this step three times. Immerse the rice again in water and soak for 1 to 2 hours. Fill a medium (5 quart) pot with water and bring to a boil (if you use a pot that is too large, you won't get the desired result -- unless you are doubling or tripling the recipe).
Add the rice to the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes until it is al dente. There should be a slight crunch if you bite into the rice. Don't overcook it.
Scoop out 1/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Pour the rice into a colander to drain off the water. Quickly return the rice back to the pot. Add the ¼ cup of cooking water, oil, salt, and cardamom and stir thoroughly but gently so the rice doesn't break. Cover the pot with aluminum foil and set the lid on top of that.
Put the pot in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.Drop the heat to 250 degrees and cook for an additional 25 minutes. Serve on a large, shallow platter.
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