Quick Tamarind Pulao with Curry leaves

If we want to put a flavored rice on the table and are working in “last-minute” mode, this inviting tamarind-flavored pulao from Tamil Nadu, made with leftover plain rice, is a good place to turn. The yellow-tinted mound of rice is dotted with curry leaves and chopped green chile. We like to serve it with an intensely colored vegetable dish, say, a Shredded Green Bean Mallum (page 76) or Pea Shoots for a Crowd (page 161), perhaps with some grilled yogurt-marinated meat alongside and a sweet or fresh chutney. It also makes a good meal-in-one for two or three people, topped, if you wish, with a fried or poached egg each, and accompanied by a fresh salad.

Traditionally this quick pulao has a fair amount of heat from the combination of crumbled dried chiles and chopped fresh green chiles. Somehow the tamarind makes the chiles’ heat a little more intense; it’s a wonderful combination. Textures are soft, with a little crisp bite from the toasted dal used as a seasoning.


  • Scant 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon urad dal (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or raw sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 pinches asafoetida powder
  • 4 dried red chiles, stemmed and crumbled
  • 2 green cayenne chiles, or substitute 3 jalapeños, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 8 to 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • About 4 cups cooked rice, chilled or at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ¼ cup coriander leaves or 2 tablespoons dry-roasted cashews for garnish


  1. Cut the tamarind pulp into pieces, place in a bowl, and pour over the hot water.
  2. Use a fork to mash the tamarind into the water, then set aside for several minutes to soak.
  3. If using the urad dal, wash it well, drain it, and set it aside.
  4. Place a sieve or strainer over a bowl.
  5. Use your fingers or a fork to mash and squeeze the tamarind again, helping loosen the pulp in the water.
  6. Pour the mixture into the strainer.
  7. Use the back of a spoon to press and mash the pulp against the strainer to extract as much flavor as possible.
  8. Discard the tamarind pulp and set the tamarind liquid aside.
  9. Place a wok or karhai (see Glossary) or a wide pot over medium-high heat.
  10. Add the oil, and when it is hot, add the mustard seeds.
  11. Cover loosely until the seeds have sputtered and popped for 10 to 15 seconds, then toss in the drained urad dal, if using, the asafoetida, and crumbled dried chiles.
  12. Lower the heat to medium and stir-fry for about a minute.
  13. Add the green chiles and turmeric.
  14. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until the chiles are starting to soften, then toss in the curry leaves and give them a stir.
  15. Add the rice, crumbling it into the pan to break up lumps.
  16. Add the salt, raise heat to high, and stir-fry for several minutes, until the rice is softened, then pour in the tamarind liquid.
  17. Continue to stir-fry for a few minutes, tossing the mixture to keep it from clumping, until the liquid is absorbed and flavors are blended.
  18. Turn out into a shallow bowl or onto a platter, and serve topped with the coriander leaves or dry-roasted cashews.


  • Serve accompanied by a fresh salad or a sweet chutney such as Fresh Bean Sprout Salad (page 55) or Hot Sweet Date-Onion Chutney (page 28), and see headnote.
  • SUMMER VEGETABLE PULAO: You can add 1 cup of tender vegetables to this, if you wish. We like to include corn cut from the cob or green beans chopped into small pieces. Their sweetness is nicely set off by the tamarind. Increase the oil by 1 tablespoon. Add the vegetables after the dried chiles have been briefly stir-fried, and stir-fry them for about 1 minute before you add the fresh green chiles.


Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent


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Quick Tamarind Pulao with Curry leaves