A very simple way to create a flavorful rice that’s a great accompaniment to many of the dishes in this book—particularly coconut curries, like the Keralan vegetable istoo and the pumpkin and black-eyed pea curry. It is also an absolute hit with dogs, judging by how quickly mine wolfed down an entire bowl of it when I accidentally left it out on the side. Dogs are less fussy about what’s served with the rice.
NOTE: As tamarind pastes varies from brand to brand, add it gradually, adding more if need be, until the sweetness of the onions and the sourness of the tamarind are balanced.

Serves 4 as a side

1½ cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
3 tablespoons coconut or canola oil
10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or to taste)
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground red chile

Wash the rice in a few changes of cold water. When the water runs clear, leave to soak in cold water for 20 minutes, or in warm water for 10 minutes if you can’t wait that long.

In the meantime, place a large frying pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the sesame seeds. Toast for a couple of minutes until golden brown, then tip into a small bowl. Put the oil into the same pan. When hot, add the curry leaves. When the curry leaves crackle, add the red onions and cumin and cook for 15 minutes, until the onions are really soft, golden, and sweet. Stir through the black pepper, tamarind paste, salt, and ground red chile, then take off the heat and leave to one side.

Drain the rice and transfer to a deep saucepan. Cover with plenty of cold water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a fast simmer and cook for 10 minutes or until the rice is tender and not chalky. Drain, then cover with a clean tea towel and leave to steam for 5 minutes, until lovely and fluffy.

Using a fork, transfer the rice into the pan with the onions. Put the pan back on the heat and fold the rice into the onions until it’s fully mixed and hot. Mix in the sesame seeds, take off the heat, and serve.