FRESH COCONUT RICE WITH CASHEWS + SHALLOTS

This would be one of my desert island dishes, partly because I assume most desert islands have a plentiful coconut supply (and the odd frying pan), but also because it is good enough to eat just by itself. It’s also one of the few dishes where you can’t substitute desiccated coconut for fresh, because there are so few ingredients in the first place you’d notice the difference in texture.

Serves 4 as a side

1½ cups basmati rice
canola oil
generous ½ cup cashews
1½ cups fresh grated coconut
2 teaspoons chana dal (optional)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
12 fresh curry leaves
1¾-inch cinnamon stick
3 banana shallots or other large shallots, finely sliced
¾-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Indian green chile, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt

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, put a teaspoon of oil into a large frying pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the cashews and fresh coconut. It is important to have a watchful eye here, as the coconut catches very easily. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes, until the cashews are burnished and the coconut is flecked golden brown, then tip out into a bowl 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.

Put 3 tablespoons of oil into the same pan and, when hot, add the chana dal (if using), the mustard seeds, curry leaves, and cinnamon stick. When the curry leaves crackle and the mustard seeds pop, add the shallots, ginger, and green chile. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the shallots are caramelized and dark brown. Remove a heaped tablespoonful of cooked shallots and leave to one side to decorate the finished dish, then put the cashews and coconut back into the pan, along with the salt, and stir to mix. Using a wooden spoon, gently fold in the rice. You may need to break up any clumps with your hands beforehand.

Tip onto a serving plate and scatter the reserved shallots over the top.