Here in Yangon, I follow a simple shopping rule: if you spot something you may possibly need, just grab it. Yyou never know if you will see it on supermarket shelves again. So when I spotted risotto rice (“ideale per risotti” on the box label) at the neighbourhood CityMart last month, I couldn’t let it go. Now I have never cooked risotto before. In fact, S and I aren’t even really risotto fans. But since I like to fiddle around a bit in the kitchen, I thought, “Why not give it a try?”
I rushed home and looked around the kitchen shelf for what herbs and spices I had. A small bottle of smoked paprika! I had pounced on that a while ago because I can never seem to find it in Mumbai and a lot of interesting Italian and Mediterranean recipes feature this intriguing ingredient (wow, an unavoidable alliteration). Anyways I googled smoked paprika + risotto and came across a couple of delightful recipes (such as this one). Some had wine, some didn’t. Some had additional seasonings… it was all very confusing so I made a mishmash of the “best” recipes and set about making risotto the next afternoon. For the first time ever.
At the risk of sounding immodest, it turned out to be a great risotto debut. Even as non-fans, S and I enjoyed the dish. It tasted great, was extremely filling and was a wholesome meal. So S put it on the “repeat foods” list. Yes, such a list exists in our household. Anyways, now that I can make risotto, I believe anyone can. Here’s the recipe. Remember that you can tweak some of the seasonings to your taste, but you can’t skip the smoked paprika. It’s the ingredient that brings this wonderful risotto together. The smoky fragrance and flavor of the paprika is what made it a magical dish for us.
PS—I made two variations of risotto in separate pots: one vegetarian, the other with chicken. You can use whichever variant you like!
Debutante Smoked Paprika Risotto (with chicken and vegan versions)
1 cup corn kernels (1 de-cobbed corn should be fine)
Half tablespoon butter (lesser the better- use oil if you want a vegan version)
Pinch of black pepper powder
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 finely chopped onion
1 to 2 tbsp smoked paprika (based on your taste)
1 to 2 tsp red chilli flakes
A pinch of mustard powder (see recipe notes)
1 cup risotto rice
4 to 5 cups (approximate 1 litre) chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe notes below)
A large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Salt to taste
1 tbsp cheddar or parmesan cheese (optional, skip for vegan)
For chicken version: 300 grams chopped boneless chicken breast
Serves 3-4 people
- In a bowl, toss the corn kernels with butter, salt and pepper. Then spread the kernels on an oven tray and bake at 200 degrees C for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn and stir the corn halfway through so they are cooked evenly. The kernels should be a lovely golden brown when they’re roasted.
- Meanwhile, prepare your stock (see recipe notes below), prep the vegetables and herbs, and wash the rice thoroughly.
- Time to begin the risotto! Heat some oil in a pan, and add onion and garlic. Stir on low flame for a couple of minutes, then add the smoked paprika, mustard, red chilli flakes, salt and half of the basil leaves.
- Mix well and cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the washed rice, and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Now it’s time to add the stock. You need to pour just 100 ml at a time while allowing the rice to cook. As the rice cooks off and absorbs the liquid you will need to add more stock, so keep the bottle or bowl handy by your stove.
- If you’re making the chicken version of the risotto, add it now.
- Keep the rice on low heat and stir often, keeping an eye out for the rice and the stock. Pour in the stock as required, a little at a time. Continue till the rice is cooked. This may take around 20-30 minutes.
- When the rice is almost done, add the remaining basil leaves, coriander and corn. Adjust the seasoning if you like. Then cook for couple more minutes and take off the flame. The risotto is ready!
- Garnish with grated cheese if you like. Dig in as soon as possible.
Accompaniments for serving:
Olive oil, red chilli flakes.
The risotto is a great one-pot dish, and a meal by itself. But if you’d like a dish to go with this, choose something light and not as rich, so pasta is ruled out. You could toss a salad or serve baguette pieces with an olive dip.
- Tbsp: tablespoon; Tsp: teaspoon
- For the stock, you can use chicken or vegetable stock made at home or with store-bought cubes. Boil up to 1.5 – 2 litres of water in a large pot with assorted vegetables or chicken. I made vegetable stock at home with roughly chopped garlic, onion, carrot, cabbage and celery along with salt. Cook for a good 20-25 minutes. As the water evaporates, you will be left with 1 to 1.5 litres of water. You can throw away the veggies as they will be limp and mostly stripped of the nutrients. It’s all in the stock, baby!
- There are usually two things said about risotto preparation. First, it has to be prepared with wine. Secondly, you have to eat it immediately. I broke both the rules. 😛 If you want to use wine, choose a dry white option and add it while cooking the rice. And yes, it’s better if you have the risotto immediately. But if you are keeping it for later, you could keep aside some of the stock and add it to the risotto when re-heating it in the microwave or on the stove.
- If you don’t have mustard powder at home, you can dry roast mustard seeds then grind in your spice blender or with a mortar and pestle.