More than a decade ago during my first visit to Chettinad, an arid belt in Southern Tamil Nadu, I stumbled upon a food discovery that would stay with me. The Nattukottai Chettiars were among the first trading communities from India whose network spread beyond the Indian subcontinent. The community thrived in South East Asia and also brought back unique ingredients that shaped their cuisine. I consider Chettinad cuisine one of India's most evolved cuisines and like Lucknow cuisine, it continued to evolve through the 19th Century. Star aniseed is one of the unique spices used in this cuisine and then there's kavuni arisi or black rice.
Until that first visit to Chettinad, I'd never sampled or come across black rice. If you google forbidden rice, you will find a plethora of information about how black rice occupied a special place in medieval China. Cut to the 21st century, modern dietitians have put this exotic rice varietal under the scanner and declared it a superfood.
The key reason for its superfood status is the presence of anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. Black rice is also rich in fibre and is a source of phytonutrients that cleanse the body. This natural detoxifier also contains significant iron and protein. Apart from the health benefits, I'd recommend this rice for its unique textures. There are a couple of key things to keep in mind while cooking what we call kavuni arisi in Tamil Nadu or chak hao in Manipur. You need to soak this rice for at least six hours (I would recommend 8 hours or overnight) and it takes much longer to cook.
Kavuni Arisi Halwa Recipe
My favourite dish with kavuni arisi is the dish I tried on my first visit to Chettinad. They call it kavuni arisi halwa or just kavuni arisi. This is one of the healthiest desserts or after-meal treats you can possibly eat. It's often served during special occasions or festivals in Chettinad.
- Black rice (Kavuni arisi): 1 cup
- Water: 1 1/2 cups
- Sugar or powdered jaggery: 3/4 cup
- Grated coconut: 3/4 cup
- Cardamom powder: a couple of pinches
- Ghee: 1 teaspoon
- Soak the black rice overnight or for at least 6 hours (this is the critical step).
- Drain the rice.
- Pressure cook it for about 15 minutes after the first whistle when you switch to a low flame.
-Toss in the coconut and stir the rice in a pan as you add the sugar and cardamom powder. If you don't mind it lightly sweet, you can use jaggery or a smaller quantity of sugar. The key is to make sure the rice doesn't turn too mushy and retains the bite.
-Add in the ghee as you turn the flame off and stir. You could add an extra spoon of ghee if you want to make it richer.
Black Rice Idli Recipe
I first tried these idlis at the home of Mrs Latha Natrajan, a homemaker in Chennai who hails from Chettinad and an expert in the region's cuisine. It's a clever tweak to add the extra goodness of black rice to a daily breakfast staple.
- Urad Dal: 1 cup
- Idli rice: 2 cups
- Black rice: 2 cups
- Boiled rice: 1 tablespoon
- Salt: to taste
- Soak the rice for about 6 hours.
- Soak the urad dal separately for about 2 hours.
- Grind the dal and rice separately, then blend them together and add the required amount of salt
- Allow the batter to ferment overnight
- Grease the idli moulds with ghee or sesame oil before you pour the batter and steam the idlis in a cooker on a medium flame without the 'weight'.
Even a few years ago, I struggled to find black rice in supermarkets - I had to hunt it down at rice mandis or stores that stock traditional ingredients in Chennai. Not anymore; you can find black rice at organic stores or even order it online. You can add black rice to your diet by trying these recipes or even explore South East Asian recipes.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.