One of the great pilaf-style dishes of India, almost always made with basmati rice. Indian vegetarians would use paneer (firm, fresh, homemade cheese), but tofu is much more convenient. It can also be made with no protein at all, of course.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes
• A few saffron threads or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1½ cups vegetable stock or water, warmed
• 2 tablespoons butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
• 6 cardamom pods or 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
• Pinch ground cloves
• One 3-inch cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 cups chopped onion
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 tablespoon peeled, minced or grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1½ cups long-grain rice, preferably basmati
• 1½ cups yogurt
• 1 pound firm tofu or fresh cheese (optional)
• Minced fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. If you're using saffron, combine it in a pot with the stock. Put the butter or oil in a large, deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When the butter melts or the oil is hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, and turmeric if you're using it. Cook, stirring very frequently, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, along with a large pinch of salt and a sprinkling of pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the rice all at once and stir until the rice is glossy and completely coated with oil or butter, 2 or 3 minutes. Lower the heat, then add the yogurt and stock and stir. Stir in the tofu, adjust the heat so the mixture barely bubbles, and cover the pan.
3. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, then check the rice. When the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, it's done. If not, cook for 2 or 3 minutes and check again. Remove the cinnamon stick, if you're using it, and the bay leaf (the cardamom pods are good to eat), taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish and serve.