Assam's black beauty

Updated: May 29, 2019, 07:17 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi

City foodies are taking to a nutritious variant of rice from the hilly state. Chefs speak to us about the many renditions of the ingredient

Assam's black beauty
The Pantry Vegan Pudding

They say, a prophet is not honoured in his own country, but maybe its a little far-fetched to apply the adage to Assamese black rice. The point is, the ingredient — a rage among city chefs and foodies at the moment — is ironically not as popular in the homes of the natives of the hilly state.

"My mother is shocked that people here are so interested in it, because most people from Assam and Manipur [another major state that produces black sticky rice] predominantly consume white sticky rice. Since its an agrarian community, they need a high-calorie diet to power through the day," shares Mumbai-based home chef Gitika Saikia. "I remember my family sustaining on just 3 kg of black rice the whole year, as we only used it for peetha [a form on pancake popular in the Northeast, Bengal and Bangladesh]. But its nice to see Mumbaikars take an interest because earlier, wed grow it in our backyard paddy fields. Now, its being grown on a commercial level. So, its creating economic opportunities," she adds.

This might be the reason why most chefs we spoke to recall trying black rice for the first time either in far-off countries or at least in different parts of India, but not in the Northeast. "I tried it in a black rice and coconut pudding in Singapore. My curiosity grew from there, and when I came back, I happened to meet an acquaintance who was working with farmers in Assam. They shared a few samples and I was amazed to see a similar quality being delivered here," says chef Kedar Bobde of Indigo Deli.

Gitika Saikia
Gitika Saikia

But there are multiple reasons as to why this staple is finding its way onto the plate. For example, Anuroopa Banerjee, head chef at a Latin-American restaurant, says, "As a chef, theres always curiosity around new ingredients. But it is also important to curate a menu that supports sustainability and small-scale farmers." Whereas for chef Subhashree Basu, who runs a catering business, the ingredients USP lies in its versatility.

"When cooked correctly, the al dente quality of the rice lends itself well to dishes like risottos or paellas with a twist. You can also make rice pudding and other desserts with it. So, the possibilities are many," she explains. And then there are the health benefits. Extolling the ingredients nutritional value, Avinash Naha, chef at an Asian eatery, tells us, "Eating healthy is now a trend. This variant of black rice is so popular today because its unique and organically grown and has multiple health benefits at the same time." A staple that has many facets is likely to be served in different avatars, too. Take your pick from some of the coolest renditions on offer in city restaurants.

Healthy is tasty
"Black rice has more nutritional benefits than its white counterpart. Its high on antioxidants, too," says chef Subhash Shirke, who whips up a decadent pudding at this Kala Ghoda eatery. The Pantry vegan pudding (R295) makes use of homemade coconut cream, coconut milk and jaggery. "Its a take on the Thai sweet sticky rice. But ours gets added nutrients from the black rice, while adding a bite and nutty flavours to the pudding. The freshly cut fruits make it a power-packed indulgence," he adds.

Chef Subhash Shirke

At The Pantry, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Time 8.30 am to 11.30 pm
Call 22678901

Cantonese fried rice

Fried rice with a twist
Chef Naha chanced upon Assamese black rice while researching for a healthy biryani recipe in Chennai. Now, he is using it in the superfood Cantonese fried rice (R595) comprising edamame, corn, broccoli and mixed grains. "This dish features in a special category of our menu that pays homage to royal staples. It is an adaptation of the regular fried rice, but in a healthier avatar and with unique flavours," he explains.

Chef Avinash Naha

At Typhoon Shelter, Tulsi Pipe Road, Lower Parel.
Time 12 pm to 4pm; 7 pm to 1 am
Call 49193100

Prawn and Mango Salad

A tropical fiesta
Chef Basu uses the staple in a salad that comprises prawn, ripe mango, Assamese black rice, greens and peanuts. "When I tried to make the Asian prawn and mango salad [R450] with blanched prawns and mango, the sharp dressing kept running off to the edge of the plate. Adding Assamese black rice solved this problem, because it soaks in all the beautiful flavours and aromas of the dressing," she shares.

Chef Basu

At Hungry Cat Kitchen, Mori Cross Road, Mahim.
Time 11 am to 4:30 pm
Call 9820928658 (dish available on pre-order; minimum order of four portions)

Time for brekkie

Time for brekkie
The humble semolina upma gets an upgrade at this eatery to become the ancient grain upma (R300) featuring grains, seeds and nuts served with sweet and sour chunky tomato chutney. Speaking about it, chef Bobde says, "All other ingredients in this dish are high on starch, so the black rice helps bind them together, giving the dish structure. To attain this, we soak the rice overnight and cook it on a slow fire before mixing it with the other ingredients."

Chef Kedar Bobde

At Indigo Deli (all outlets).
Time 9 am to 12.30 am
Call 26438100 (Bandra)

Arroz Meloso

A Latin affair
The arroz meloso (R525) is a Latin risotto made with short-grain black rice sourced from West Bengal, which is slow-cooked with seafood stock and peppers and topped with a seasonal seafood tempura. "The inspiration behind this dish is a Spanish rice version I learnt in Valladolid," shares chef Banerjee.

Chef Anuroopa Banerjee

At Oi — Kitchen & Bar,Gabbana House, Khar West.
Time 12 pm to 1 am
Call 7400087785

Also check out
Black rice wok.
At Wok This Way, Oshiwara. Call 7304852807
Hipster Waffles.
At The Bandra Project, Pali Hill. Call 62506800
Dosa square.
At Arth, Bandra West. Call 9594060038

Sayhadri black rice

The rice plate
. Ambemohar, which translates to mango blossom, is a fragrant short-grain rice available in Maharashtra. It is perfect for varan bhaat.
. Another variant is Indrayani, considered a hybrid of Ambemohar. Though long-grained, it breaks easily when cooked and lends a sticky texture. Best enjoyed in the form of metkut rice.
. Gobindhobog is a hit among Bengalis. The grains are fat and short and the fragrant rice is used for pulao, khichdi and for sweet dishes like payesh, too.

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