Amy Scattergood's Poached Pears with Poached Spiced Figs
Regina Schrambling's Pizzocheri

Mark Bittman's Stuck-Pot Rice


Oh, Minimalist, how thou hast redeemed thyself. Remember when I said I might never try another of Mark Bittman's recipes again? Well, I am a generous and forgiving blogger and I decided that perhaps my blanket statement of refusal might not be wise, not when there were alluring recipes of his winking their little eyes at me, beckoning me over with their promises of simplicity and crunchy rice and aromas of curry and yogurt wafting through my kitchen. Thank goodness I saw the light, or at least chose well this time around.

The recipe for this rice dish is the kind of recipe you clip and save and then recopy because your clipped copy has gotten illegible with use, and then email to yourself (and all your friends) so you have a cyber copy of it, and then finally laminate and glue into a book so that you will never ever ever lose it. It isn't the world's finest rice, but it's simple and comforting, and interesting too, and very tasty and nice to look at and slightly exotic, but not too much so for a weeknight dinner. So maybe, yes, on second thought, it does deserve a spot in at least the top five of rice dishes (in which this one is included, of course).

You don't need to go very far for ingredients (though I suggest you search out Liberte 2% plain yogurt because as far as I'm concerned, this is the yogurt we've been waiting for to finally have something to measure up to the gorgeousness of yaourt veloute that the French have had all these years) and although I wish I could be more specific about what "good" curry powder means exactly, I had delicious success with the bottled curry powder from my D'Agostino's. You need a good solid pot (I made it in a cast-iron soup pot) and the ability to control a very low flame, but once those are in place, you can let it all sizzle away while you watch Meg Ryan's tragically enhanced lips (why, Meg, why?) on "Oprah" and have dinner on your plate by the time the anchorman of your dreams comes on.

My tips? Really do follow the instructions exactly (though I didn't find the towel to be necessary) and remember to salt liberally. When I make this again, I'll try it with half the oil, but that's just because I'm feeling tight in the waist these days (is that the expression I'm looking for?) and not because the rice becomes greasy (it doesn't). I ate this with a pile of steamed broccoli, and reveled in the nutty rice, the faint heat from the curry, the pleasing sour note from the yogurt. And even though I'd much rather have Ben back again to eat dinner with me, I'm kind of thrilled that I have enough leftovers for lunch and dinner today.

Stuck-Pot Rice with Yogurt and Spices
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 cups basmati rice, well rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup peanut oil, or neutral oil like grape seed or corn oil
1/4 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon good curry powder

1. Fill a medium pot with lightly salted water, and bring to boil. Stir in rice, return to boil and lower heat so water is at a lively simmer. Cook undisturbed 5 minutes; drain, and set aside. Rice will be only partly done. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons oil, the yogurt, lime juice and curry powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Add rice, and toss gently to coat with yogurt mixture.

3. Put 2 remaining tablespoons oil in a large heavy-bottom pot with tight-fitting lid, and turn heat to medium-high. Add rice mixture, pressing it down in pan with fork. Wrap clean kitchen towel around lid of pot so it completely covers inside of lid; gather corners on top so they do not fall anywhere near stove. Place lid on pot, sealing tightly. Mixture will sizzle immediately.

4. When rice and spices are fragrant -- in 3-5 minutes -- turn heat down very low. Cook undisturbed about 30 minutes; rice should smell toasty but not burned. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes more.

5. Carefully remove lid and cloth, and turn pot upside down over a platter. If rice comes out in a single crust, terrific. If not, use a spatula to scrape crisp pieces out of pan and onto remaining rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.