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Red rice payasam (Kuruvai arisi payasam)

One of the joys of travelling for me is about learning about local ingredients. I learned about Wayanad Thondi red rice when I visited recently and am in love with it. This rice is a rare varietal that is making a comeback. The grain is small and very glutenous, However, it packs a lovely subtle flavour. The rice is usually parboiled, which means that the rice is initially cooked within its husk, a process allowing the nutrients in the bran to penetrate the starchy seed, making the rice very healthy. Also, the rice has a 30-40 per cent bran content, adding a lovely colour and nutrition.

Some amazing companies like BioBasics are reviving ancient grains by working directly with the farmers to grow these lost varieties of rice, wheat and millet. These organic growers are finding new markets online and penetrating restaurants and working with famous chefs to get their products recognized and part of our everyday menus. You can buy all these fabulous grains online here.

This South Indian cookbook brings to my shelf the unique cuisine of the Chettinad Tamils in South India. This, now popular cuisine, is known to be extremely spicy, complex and distinct. This book is a wonderful collection of recipes that makes this cuisine accessible to us at home.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.

1 cup red rice, preferably Wayanad Thoni red rice

1/2 cup whole cashew nuts, roasted lightly on a pan

4 cups whole milk

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

Sugar, as needed

Pinch salt

Water, as needed

Soak the rice in water for 2 hours with 6 cashew nuts.

Drain the water and rinse the rice out. Add the soaked rice and cashew nuts to a small blender with 1 cup of water. you want to add enough water to get the mix to form a loose paste. Blend till you have a consistency of your choice, the traditional recipe calls for a very smooth purèe, but I like to leave it a bit textured.

Heat the condensed milk, milk and the rice purèe and mix well. Cook on a low stove till the rice thickens to a consistency of your liking, about 10-15 minutes. During the cooking process, you will need to continuously stir the mix or it will clump. Taste for sugar and make sure the rice is cooked, if not continue cooking for an additional 5-7 minutes till it is done and very soft.

Serve cold or hot garnished with the remaining roasted cashew nuts.

NOTE: The payasam tends to thicken when it sits, dilute with water or milk as needed right before serving.

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