the ingredient: sri lankan red rice

red basmati and red samba kakalu rice

Today is New Year’s Day for Sri Lankans and many other South Asians. To celebrate, Sri Lankans make kiri bath for breakfast and have all kinds of feasts all week long. I think kiri bath is made even more special when it’s made with red rice. Red rice is similar to other varieties that you might be more familiar with–there are long and short grains, varieties that cook up quite sticky and some that are partly milled and par-boiled.

The two in the picture above are special to Sri Lanka, and as far as I know, are so far grown there exclusively. On the left is red basmati rice and on the right is samba or red kakalu rice. This red, whole grain basmati cooks up more like other red rice (like cargo rice), than basmati. It’s not as fragrant as white or even brown basmati, and when cooked, it’s one of the most delicate kernels I’ve had–it doesn’t break but it almost curls up on itself. I found out this week that it fries up better than any other whole grain rice I’ve tried to make fried rice with before. The samba rice is equally unique, but it cooks up fluffier than many other varieties so it has a higher yield and I find it very filling. It has a strong aroma that matches its milky and nutty flavour. I’ve read that it’s sometimes cooked with rampe (pandan leaves) so that that aroma is masked. Hmmm. Maybe it’s strange that I enjoy the aroma of it cooking?

If you have the chance to try these rice varieties, they both pair nicely with South-Asian curries, and I imagine they would be really nice with tagines, grilled food, or anything else that can stand up to a strong-flavoured grain.

To anyone celebrating it at this time, Happy New Year! I hope it’s auspicious and peaceful for all of you.