Palak Pulao – Buttery Basmati Rice with Spinach and Onions

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Found in the depths of 660 Curries, in the section called Curry Cohorts, on page 713,  is the most sublime subtly layered and buttery rice you’ll ever taste. The recipe was created by Chef Iyer’s friend Jeff Mandel and results in “fluffy long grain rice, drenched with spinach and onions that have been slow roasted in clarified bugger and cumin seeds.” Nutty, fragrant, savory all at once, this is my new favorite rice side dish which pairs beautifully with my curry and the leftovers played very nicely with roasted salmon.

To better understand and taste the authenticity of this cuisine I restrained myself from any diversions or additions and followed the directions to the letter. (No small feat for me.) Soaking the rice for 30 minutes, rinsing again and again until the water runs clear and draining before adding to the buttery cumin, onion and spinach. Chef Iyer’s narrative is so descriptive and precise, you can just see how each step evolves without requiring step by step photos, “Add the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish brown, and smell aromatic, 5 to 10 seconds.” You can hear it, see it, smell it and know exactly how long it should take in one brilliant sentence.  I cannot improve on this recipe in any way. No wonder Chef was named IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Teacher of the Year.

Can you tell I am loving this adventure?

Buttery Basmati Rice with spinach and onions
Palak Pulao

Just look how pretty the onions and spinach are! The aromatics are amazing.

Buttery Basmati Rice prep
Onions and spinach in butter and cumin seeds.

Buttery Basmati Rice with Spinach and Onion | Palak Pulao
From 660 Curries* by Raghavan Iyer

1 cup Indian or Pakistani white basmati rice
2 tablespoons Ghee (there is a recipe how to make in the cookbook) or substitute butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium sized red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 cups firmly packed fresh spinach leaves, well rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cold water

1. Place the rice in a medium-sized bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water, to cover the rice. Gently rub the slender grains through your fingers, without breaking them, to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks), which will float to the surface. The water will become cloudy. Drain the water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; now drain. Now fill the bowl halfway with cold water and let it sit at room temperature until the grains soften, 20 20 30 minutes, drain.

2. Heat the ghee in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish brown, and smell aromatic, 5 to 10 seconds. Then stir in the onion and add a handful of spinach. Lower the heat to medium and stir until the greens wilt, about 1 minute. Repeat until all the spinach has been added. Then cook the onion-spinach mixture until all the liquid has evaporated and the onion has turned soft and honey-brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Add the drained rice and toss it gently with the onion-spinach mixture. Pour in 1 1/2 cups cold water, and add the salt. Stir the rice once to incorporate the ingredients. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the water has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, 5 to 8 minutes. Now (and only now) stir once to bring the partially cooked layer from the bottom of the pan to the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes (8 for electric burner, 10 for a gas burner). Then turn off the heat and let the pan stand on that burner undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Information about Chef Raghavan Iyer at

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2 Responses to Palak Pulao – Buttery Basmati Rice with Spinach and Onions

  1. Lyndsey says:

    This looks and sounds wonderful. Your writing is so descriptive I can almost taste how good it is! I have a few recipes that I follow to a T otherwise…I’m like you, add my own touch!

  2. Robin says:

    Thanks for the lovely compliment Lyndsey, but really the whole credit goes to Chef!

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