It’s almost so obvious, it’s easy to forget: For more flavorful rice, start with more flavorful cooking liquid.
That’s the lesson we took from India’s palak pulao, a vividly green and richly spiced spinach-packed rice dish. It’s just one of a myriad of pulaos (rice preparations that can be made with anything from chicken to chickpeas) that are mealtime staples throughout India.
Particularly appealing was that many versions of palak pulao call for cooking the rice in a boldly seasoned puree that often includes spinach, ginger and chilies—rather than just plain water—ensuring the grains soak up tons of flavor (and color).
We liked this flavorful approach so much, we decided to double down on it by adding the spinach puree twice, first at the beginning of cooking, where it serves as the cooking liquid, then again at the end, for a final flourish of bright, fresh flavor.
This ensured that our pulao had particularly well-seasoned rice while keeping the dish weeknight-friendly—as pulaos should be. “They’re one of the quickest ways to cook rice,” says author Chetna Makan, who features a recipe for a spinach-based pulao in her cookbook “Chetna’s 30-Minute Indian” and recommends serving it as a light meal accompanied by a spoonful of yogurt—its brightness an ideal foil for the savory depth of the rice.
For our puree, we blitz the spinach with the garlic, chili and ginger, using just enough water to bring the mixture together. This guarantees the rice cooks up in the right amount of liquid for perfectly fluffy grains.
As an additional boost, we bloom our spices in ghee, infusing it with their essential oils, then cook chopped onion until just caramelized—creating layers of flavor that mingle with the rice. For a finishing touch, we take Makan’s lead and stir together a quick sauce of yogurt, mint and lemon juice. Dolloped on top, it completes the dish, balancing it with tangy, cooling notes.