The holiday season is a time to visit family, give gifts, and eat traditional feasts.
The winter holidays are important to Americans of many backgrounds as this time of year of celebration for Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and anyone who uses the lunar or Gregorian calendars.
Viewing American holidays through an immigrant family’s eyes offers a different perspective of their life in the US. I came to America when I had just turned 16 and over the next five years I had not still celebrated any of these festivals in a traditional way – until I got married.
What the holidays meant to us back was a family get-together with not too much emphasis on what it is that we were celebrating – freedom, or the historical or religious significance. Basically it meant that some uncles and aunties could took the day off from work, and older cousins came home from colleges. Road trips were possible and the end result was a good excuse to have the extended family in one place to catch up with.
We gathered in apartments, small ranch homes and even in some rented halls if the day coincided with a new alliance or celebration. Yes, we are notorious for hosting weddings, baby showers, bridal showers etc on these holidays. With such a blend of traditions, it is no surprise that immigration has shaped many of the most beloved American holiday customs, including mine.
Not long after I got married and we settled down in a place of our own, I started observing American holidays and enriched myself with more knowledge than my high school and college education had offered. I learned that American holiday traditions are influenced by cultures around the world. Immigrants change the fabric of a society’s culture. In the beginning we feasted with friends and family in a potluck.
Eventually as we moved into a bigger home and I started accumulating the artillery needed to cook up a storm, we decided to host two holidays as an annual tradition. Insert Thanksgiving and Christmas here.
There was now a spread with traditional dishes with a punch of spice on the table, and presents under a Christmas tree. The best part was that we helped transition our parents into these traditions. Diwali was followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas, celebrated with equal gusto and including holiday recipes with a twist.
Though it does not always get a starring place on the Thanksgiving or Christmas menu, rice has been part of our national meal for generations. It can accompany beans, be the base for risotto or pilaf, substituted in place of bread in stuffing, or be served simply steamed as a side dish.
For my holiday table, I always focused on a lot sides made with vegetables to accommodate all dietary requirements, But as long as I can remember, my curried mac and cheese, this Green Goddess Basmati Risotto, has also been a starchy staple every year. I started making this dish when the children were little and having them choose the green sides for their plate was like going to war. You’ll see how I secretly sneaked in all the healthy ingredients in this one dish.
There are a few things that make my risotto special and not traditionally Italian. Apart from not using the traditional short grain Arborio rice, I infuse mine with a bunch of ingredients using an Indian tadka method and finishing off with ghee, malai and Amul cheese.
A good risotto takes hours to build up the right consistency and flavor. I’m going to show you otherwise. My risotto lacks the technique of Italian grandmothers, but has 100% of the taste and texture of the mother dish. It sounds so complicated but it really isn’t. Check out some of my tips at the end regarding the leftovers. Without more ado, let us dive into the recipe.
GREEN GODDESS BASMATI RISOTTO
- 2 cups long grain Basmati rice, rinsed and drained
- 3 ½ cups of water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil (any high smoke point oil)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon hing (optional, aka asafetida)
- 1 medium white or yellow onion, cut into large cubes
- 4-5 garlic pods (or 2 tablespoons crushed garlic)
- 3 cups spinach leaves (if using frozen ½ cups)
- 1 cup chopped broccoli florets
- 1 cup green peas, thawed
- 1 jalapeno, copped roughly
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon of baking soda (optional but used to preserve the chlorophyll and color)
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- A handful of cilantro leaves
- 1 cup shredded Amul cheese (or any mild white cheddar cheese)
- 4 tablespoons of ghee (or butter)
- ½ cup malai (whipping cream)
- Garnishes (optional)
- Once rice is washed and strained, add all ingredients together and cook in an InstantPot, electric rice cooker or on the stove top. For the InstantPot, cook manual on high for 4 minutes. If using an electric rice cooker, follow your manual. For stove top cooking, bring the mixture to boil and cook for 22 minutes, covered on low simmer after adding an additional ½ cup of water.
- While rice is cooking simultaneously start making the green sauce. The two should be married as soon as rice is done.
The green sauce
- Heat a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat. It is always recommended to heat you pan before adding any fat.
- Add the oil. Once you see it flowing smoothly in the pan, add the hing and cumin seeds. Heat for about 10 seconds till they crackle.
- Immediately add the onions and garlic and fry for 30 seconds.
- Add baking soda, spinach, broccoli, peas, jalapenos and cilantro and cook for 3-5 minutes until the broccoli florets and peas are tender.
- Bland with remaining ingredients to a smooth pulp.
- Take the hot, steaming rice, add the green sauce, and fold gently until well incorporated.
- Add ghee, malai and cheese and fold gently a little more.
- Serve immediately or mold into the shapes you desire.
I usually mold mine in the Christmas tree cake pan and then decorate it to mark the beginning of Christmas. You can serve this straight from the pan to your dinner plate.
Notes and tips
While Arborio is the most common types of rice for risotto, you can use any type of medium- or short-grain rice to make the dish in a pinch. Even sushi rice would work if that is what happens to be in the pantry and you cannot make it to the store. Basmati is my preference when risotto is served with Indian or fusion foods.
This dish is mild in flavor, which makes it a great base for any kind of cuisine. Add extra jalepeno if you want a stronger kick.
By adding baking soda, you make the water slightly alkaline (the opposite of acidic). This preserves a compound called chlorophyll, which gives vegetables like green beans, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and broccoli their vibrant, green color.
The leftovers can be turned into pan-fried rice cakes or deep-fried arancinis (rice balls) by adding extra cream and cheese, coating in a slurry made with AP flour and water, and then dusting it with breadcrumbs.
You can also use the leftovers for a layered biryani by adding additional root vegetables in the center and serving with a makhani sauce.
To mold this into a shape like mine, make sure you used plastic wrap at the bottom of your mold, even if the mold is made of silicone. You will need to make sure you have enough overhang on the sides for the unmolding. Also, pack the risotto in tight, smacking the pan several times to remove air bubbles. Let it sit until completely cool, which can take several hours, before you unmold it.
For more recipes, visit Neelma Patel on Instagram @chefneelma