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coconut rice
It is the first week of December and already I feel behind. Since November, newspaper supplements have practically dripped with all of the food that editors breathlessly extoll us to make; and my heart involuntarily races at the sight of those excruciatingly detailed checklists that will ‘make Christmas effortless.’ And then there are the actual presents. It is enough to make a sane person go into meltdown.   
Normally by this time most of the presents I intend to buy are stashed haphazardly around the house. Such is the pre-maturity of my usual present buying (July) that I have sometimes even popped little notes in my diary with clues as to where these presents are secreted. But not this year.
coconut rice
Alarmingly slowly I am getting into gear for Christmas. Some of this entails trying my hardest to resist the siren call of Amazon, and all of those other Internet sites that make gift-buying so easy. But, with the encouragement of my good friend Niki, who wrote very subtly but effectively about trying to keep afloat smaller, local retailers and crafts people, I am aiming to keep my buying footprint as small as possible. But it ain’t easy. 

It is not easy when tippy tapping on my laptop at 11 pm in my dressing gown and fleecy pjs is more than enticing, it is almost irresistible  – think of the money saved! think of the time saved! think of the ever-expanding choice! think about not having to get dressed!

But I am determined not to succumb. It just doesn’t feel right anymore. At least for most of the presents: online shops like etsy, and the less glitzy zibbet, are the acceptable faces of online shopping – sites full of real people, with unique products. And for those of us shopping for folk in other countries the Internet is a godsend. So I am not being snobby. Just choosey.

Maybe the older I get the more I want to talk to a real person, touch real goods, hand over real money (okay, plastic money), and – best of all – not have to go to the post office with one of those wretched ‘sorry we missed you’ cards when you know you were in the house the whole time – grrr. We are lucky in Edinburgh to still have several shopping areas not blighted by swathes of chain stores, as well as more than enough galleries and shops featuring original and affordable art to make buying easy. If only I would get dressed. Must. Try. Harder.
Anyway, my festive malaise has crept into my recipes too. Just being honest. I am not a Scrooge or anything – I love Christmas. But just as I don’t get Christmas decorations in November, I’m not keen on a month of holiday recipes either. It is a fine balance between looking for new ideas and planning ahead (all for that), and getting tired and jaded with Christmas trimmings, carols, food and hangovers before the Big Day itself. So, I am resisting posting my wee list of recipes that I hope give you ideas for holiday cooking. At least until the end of the week 😀
I also just want to give one more non-festive recipe before I go all Martha Stewart on you. But I have just realised that it is in fact a festive recipe. Just not a Christmas festive recipe. All of a sudden I am feeling my anti pre-festive overkill stance wavering. Pass the mince pies…coconut ricecoconut ricecoconut rice
About the recipe: Coconut rice is an incredibly popular dish, with many variations, across southern India, southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Although it has religious significance in India– as a temple offering on Chitra pournami – it is eaten widely and enjoyed year round. My version, a pick and mix of what I happen to like and have to hand, is as easy as it is delicious. The contrasts of the salty, sweet and ever so slightly hot – and the juxtaposition of crunchy with soft – had me hooked from the get go. I was inspired by a recipe from Tahmina on, who sadly no longer blogs but to whom I am grateful for her many beautiful recipes and stories.
Traditionally, fresh coconut flakes are used in southern Indian coconut rice, but for ease I have suggested flaked or the horribly-monikered, desiccated (a word that for some reason reminds me of Egyptian mummies). You could even use – and I have, with smooth and delicious results – coconut powder; about 3 tablespoons of coconut powder will flavour without overwhelming. I don’t think my inclusion of extra lentils in this ostensibly rice-centric dish would pass muster in an Indian kitchen, but I like the extra heft of protein and the cooling, legumey back note. Skip it if you like, but I find the lentils turn this dish from side to main in the tear of a packet. Equally you can skip the curry leaves if you don’t have them (I used dried ones), but they give a pleasing earthy scent.
I like to have this on its own for a nutritious and selfish lunch for one plus leftovers, but you may like it as a side for a curry dish, or with grilled or roasted fish. Just be sure and include the yogurt and turmeric onions.coconut rice 

Coconut Rice with Sweet Potato and Black Lentils 

Miss R’s Track of the Week: Tessellate, by Alt-J
This deceptively easy recipe has a lot going on. Sweet nuts and sweet potato marry well with the subtle spicing and delightful crunch of raw urad dal and mustard seeds. It is quick-as if you already have cooked rice and brown lentils (or use pouched of both as I have done). Although you could eat it as a side dish to a southern Indian curry – this dry lamb curry from UK-based Indian chef Maunika Gowardhan looks stunning – I like it as a light and quick lunch that fills me up without slowing me down. Add a fried or poached egg for more filling power, and be sure to dollop on some cool creamy thick yogurt. I can’t overstate how much I love this recipe. 
2 tsp coconut oil
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp urad dal –a type of Asian black bean available in Asian stores and larger supermarkets, usually split (I use TRS’s “Urad Dal Chilka)
handful of raw cashew nuts or peanuts
4 small dried red chillies (or to taste)
1 tsp freshly grated ginger (or frozen grated)
a few dried or fresh curry leaves – optional
200g (1 cup) cooked basmati or other long-grain rice (I use a pouch of Tilda brand brown basmati)
150g (3/4 cup) cooked brown or green lentils (I often use a pouch of Merchant Gourmet brand)
1 small sweet potato, peeled (about 175g)
100g (3/4 cup) desiccated or flaked coconut
Turmeric Onions
1 red or brown onion, finely chopped or sliced
1 tsp coconut oil + 1 small knob butter/vegan spread
½ tsp ground turmeric
pinch of salt and sugar
Heat the coconut oil in a wok over a medium-high heat, and add the mustard, cumin seeds, salt, urad dal and cashews. When the mustard pops add the dried chillies, ginger, curry leaves, cooked rice and lentils; give it a toss around with some wooden spatulas for a minute. Grate in the sweet potato and stir fry for a minute before adding the coconut. Saute for a further minute or two, just until the coconut smells fragrant and browns ever so slightly. Decant the cooked dish into a serving bowl or on a plate and keep covered until the onions are cooked. Or do them concurrently in separate pans.
For the onions, heat the oil and butter over a medium flame and add the remaining ingredients. Saute until the onions are very soft and slightly sticky. To serve, add a dollop of thick plain yogurt over the coconut rice, then top with the turmeric onions.
Serves 1-2 generously

coconut rice

34 thoughts on “Coconut Rice with Sweet Potato and Black Lentils – a taste of southern India

  1. lemoncake says:

    I want to cook all your recipes!! Tomorrow will be the chickpea and vegetable tagine. Maybe this amazing concoction next week! Thanks for this 🙂

    1. Yay! Thanks for the uplifting comment. I am sitting here looking through all of my spam (ugh) and you have put a smile on my face. Thank you! I hope you enjoy the tagine.

  2. Shannon says:

    Though these days, that is way too much work for me to do in the kitchen, my taste bud was struck with the combos here! Perhaps I’ll try a “quickie” version. Coconut rice (nasi lemak, in Bahasa Malaysia) and other coconut-enhanced dishes are a particular favorite for me — it was Thai veggie green curry for lunch today, in fact!

    I just love your recipes. That borscht still needs to happen in my kitchen. Perhaps when I pull my beets from the garden…

    1. Oh, but this is quite easy & quick. My instructions ramble & i should probably do less ‘hand holding’ sometimes. It can be done all at once, without the ‘stages’ I’m sure. It’s basically a dry stir fry. Very similar to nasi lemak. Love all rice dishes!

  3. laura_howtocook says:

    I think I would love this dish as much as you do looking at all the fantastic ingredients. I am obsessed by rice in all forms and it is my staple food of choice. Of all the brown rices, brown basmati is my favourite. This is a good one for lunch and dinner and I pretty well have all the ingredients to hand. I am off to check out your site recommendations now for presents!

    1. Rice lovers unite! I’m glad this recipe takes your fancy. And I hope you find something on Etsy. I am hitting the local shops on Thursday evening. Probs in the snow 😉

  4. This dish is right up my alley. But I have never heard of or seen curry “leaves”. I thought curry was a combo of turmeric, garlic, cumin, and fenugreek…Please enlighten me.

    1. There are such things as curry leaves but curry is a generic term for the dish itself. The leaves smell remarkably like a finished curry. In Indian cookbooks and sites they use the term curry leaves but of course it will have a different name depending on the language spoken. Just leave them out of the coconut rice. They are completely optional. You could even strip out the spice and it would still be delicious.

  5. Wow – first of all I am all over those turmeric onions!! I love how the sweet potato is shredded. Really, I am loving everything about this dish!

    1. The shredding makes it super quick, but you could use leftover steamed or roasted sweet potato pieces. Mmm, turmeric onions….

  6. Yum, Kellie, this looks amazing! Just the sort of thing I’d like for lunch today on this cold snowy day (leaving the house in a snow storm to get the ingredients is another story altogether…). I’m with you on Christmas presents. This is the first year we’ve actually done Christmas in 4 years, the Hus and I have escaped the Swedish winters for tropical beach vacations the last 3 in a row, but this year we’re heading back to rainy Vancouver for some time with our families. It seems both of our families have now opted for time together rather than gifts, so other than a few bits and pieces for gift stealing games, I’m off the hook for holiday shopping. Lucky me.

    1. Yes, lucky you! But it is nice buying just that perfect present, isn’t it? Have a great time in Vancouver. That’s quite a hike from Sweden!

  7. Hey! Thank you so much for the lovely shout out there 🙂 I am feeling very smug about Christmas because I have bought fab all British things ranging from Mary Portas knickers, Hendricks Gin, Neals Yard smellies, local jewellery, horn egg spoons and more! Its been lovely meting the makers and visiting shops 🙂 (I know I am lucky to have time to do this though).

    I would LOVE to tuck into this very recipe right now, looks so flavoursome and earthy and the colour is just right for this sub zero day – I am warmed just by looking at the warm ochres in your photos.

    1. Your mention of Hendricks has inspired me (again). I think I will buy some Sipsmiths for some near and dears on my list. Love their bottles! I thought you might like the colours of this recipe – very earthy, just like the taste. If I wasn’t giving you groundnut stew for your lunch on Monday, this is what you would get. May still do! See you Sunday too. Wrap up the warmest you have ever wrapped up. Any battery powered socks?

  8. I agree, I love the holidays, but not for three months!! Ugh, it makes it less special when it’s drawn out for so long.
    This recipe sounds so amazing. Thanks for sharing! I also love finding new ways to use turmeric. It’s one of my favorite spices.

    1. I can almost always find a space for turmeric in a recipe, as you may have noticed ;D

  9. wow Kellie, I love this recipe. I love coconut in rice, and the spices and lentils sound wonderful. Interesting addition of sweet potato. I am definitely going to be making this. I am with you on holding the festive cheer at least till December … hold on it is December… 😉 hope all well with you x

    1. Things are great here, Nazima, although once it actually snows instead of just rains I will feel much more festive! So glad you like the recipe. I was quite pleased with the lightbulb moment that made me grate in a spare sweet potato. All best to you and your family. Settling in okay?

  10. Oh my goodness – this looks like something I would love and would be so comforting! Will definitly try to give this a go! Agree with you completely about Christmas cheer…i’m holding off for at least another week 🙂

    1. Ooh, don’t know if I can hold on another week. Hubby not around at any useful time over the next few days to get all the decorations from the loft, but as soon as he does…

  11. Natalie Ward says:

    Oh I am soo behind with your blog, sorry! I love the sound of this and the Georgian spinach balls have my name all over them too! It’s good to be busy but I want to cook!! ;D

    1. Even I am behind with my blog! It is a busy time at work (as with everyone else, I’m sure) so I am behind in my reading as well as my blogging. So much to do, so little energy! I need to make me a big ol’ beetroot juice to sort me out. Hope you are well Natalie. You have certainly been making some gorgeous food.

  12. Natalie Ward says:

    PS: Your photos are gorgeous! I can’t get on with this new insert media thing can you? it’s seems so much slower!!

    1. Oh, I know. What a pain in the bahookie. The image insert has a mind of its own. How to tame it, I wonder.

  13. A slightly wide-eyed, fairly panicked…ok…totally desperate plea from someone who has zero kitchen skill or confidence – please keep doing the “hand-holding” and stages of the recipes.

    1. Don’t worry Simon. I will just try and streamline and not waffle so much. I do waffle on. Thank you for your encouragement.

  14. krimkus says:

    I haven’t quite got into the Christmas spirit yet. Instead of buying presents this year, our family is hosting a holiday drive for Treehouse foster children, so that’s getting me into the holiday spirit. This recipe looks delicious. You have all my favorite ingredients in one bowl.

    1. That sounds *much* better than trailing around overheated shops. This year I am sponsoring micro-loans on behalf of all the adult family members. They can choose what businesses to support and then when the loan is due, you just re-loan it to some other small business. It feels good to support those who traditional banks won’t lend to. And it always fits!

  15. eastofedencook says:

    The Coconut Rice is very appealing! I especially like the idea of adding an egg for a protein rich dinner. I am just easing into the holiday season as both my husband and mom’s birthdays are still to arrive this month. I understand the appeal of supporting local commerce, but there are global causes to be supported with our buying power during the holidays and beyond. For example “Fair Trade” chocolate and coffee are consumed throughout the year and would benefit from a change in our buying patterns all year long.

    1. I completely agree with you Deb. I think by default I gift a mixture of local and global, with Fairtrade featuring very highly especially because we have a good selection of shops that carry a wide range of Fairtrade goods, including clothing, jewelery and ‘gifties’ Another thing I am doing this year is supporting a few small businesses in other countries with micro-loans. I am ‘giving’ them as pressies to the adults on my list (I don’t think it would be a popular choice with the kids!). I have heard good things from people who know about such things and they give it the thumbs up. When the loan (usually starts at £25) is due you just re-loan it to another up and coming small business who wouldn’t be eligible for a loan through normal sources. You probs know about this already, but it is quite exciting as a concept. I went through Kiva and

  16. thespicyrd says:

    Making this dish for sure-sounds just fabulous! So, you think you are behind on Christmas preparations?? I’ll definitely join you in the club! We did finally get a tree and put up decorations yesterday, but that was only because I am going on a Girl’s trip later this week through the weekend, so if we didn’t get it yesterday, there would probably be no tree this year :-(. I like to try and shop locally too, but, no doubt, I will need to buy a few things off the Internet to save my sanity this year. Happy, happy holidays!

    1. Hi EA. We put the tree up last night but it has been a bit too hectic to trim it as a family, so my daughter and I will do that tomorrow, with a bit of Michael Buble in the background. Then it will feel properly Christmas. I hope your Christmas is fantastic, with plenty of family fun with your children. I know the food will great! I need to find time to catch up with your blog (and others too). Off out to do some volunteering tonight so hopefully I’ll be able to ‘come over to yours’ tomorrow evening and see what you have been up to. x

  17. Pamela says:

    Great combination 🙂 I love to try Indian recipes. Once I had tried Chicken butter masala and it really satisfied my taste buds 🙂
    Let me try this as you had used sweet potato for coconut rice!

  18. loise says:

    Coconut Rice with Sweet Potato and Black Lentils – a taste of southern’s so delicous…yummi!!.

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