Lemon Rice Pilaf from the Instant Pot™, A Quick Delicious Side
Lemon rice pilaf (nimbu bhath) at it’s best is just the right balance of salty, tart and spicy. Prepared in the Instant Pot™, it’s a quick, delicious, vegan dish that’s packed with healthy protein. It’s perfect as a snack, a satisfying light meal, or an elegant side.
When I was growing up, vegetarianism (or veganism) was an outlier. It existed on the fringes of “normal” society. This unusual lifestyle seemed to me to be the domain of hippies and beatniks. In fact, it was so alien that I remember vividly the first time I heard that people lived on (gasp!) vegetables alone.
I was eight years old when someone announced this obscure fact over supper one evening. It made me laugh out loud — literally. I couldn’t imagine a single dinner without meat — let alone an entire diet! Pictures of stodgy platters of boiled carrots, whole grains, and overcooked green beans floated in my head. Needless to say, it was distinctly unappealing.
So, years later, when I discovered the full range of Indian cuisine, it was a revelation. I immediately understood that, not only could a pure vegetarian diet (or even a vegan one) be satisfying, it could also be incredibly varied and delicious.
In fact, living in Bangalore and New Delhi during my second pregnancy, I followed a strict vegetarian diet — and enjoyed every minute of it. Who would have guessed?!
One of the vegan foods I fell in love with in Bangalore was this lemon rice pilaf (nimbu bhath). It was a Sunday staple at home, mainly because it’s easy, and it’s every bit as delicious cold as it is hot. Till this day, a bite of this simple rice sends me into ecstasies.
Protein and the vegan diet
Now that my husband and I are pursuing a vegan diet, it occurs to me that this simple lemon rice pilaf is a treasure in more ways than one. In addition to being delicious, it’s packed with healthy vegan proteins that are an important part of a balanced diet.
Inevitably, when the topic of veganism comes up in conversation, the subject of protein also comes up. Many people are concerned that a vegan diet couldn’t possible contain enough protein to sustain optimal human health.
Fortunately, this is a misnomer! Elephants, rhinos, hippos, bison, and the world’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian, are all vegans. They’re thriving, and so can we!
The key to getting adequate protein is simply ensuring that you include a variety of vegetarian protein sources in your diet. These include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried beans
- Wild rice
- Amaranth and quinoa
- Green peas
- Hempseed, and
- Nutritional yeast
This lemon rice pilaf contains nuts, and two types of dried beans (dal). So, it’s the perfect addition to a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s also delicious! So, even if you’re not a full time vegetarian or vegan, this is a terrific side for a meatless day.
About this recipe
This is a very quick and easy recipe. However, there are a couple of ingredients that may be unfamiliar if you’ve never prepared South Indian food. These are:
White urad dal
White urad dal is actually split black gram (a member of the mung bean family) whose skins have been removed, revealing their pearly white interior. These beans are commonly toasted and used as a seasoning or fermented and used as an ingredient in batters for idlis, dosas, and the like. They are readily available at many health food stores and at Indian grocers.
Asafoetida is made from the rhizome of a plant in the celery family. It is sold in powdered form, and is commonly used, both as a flavouring and as a replacement for garlic and onion (which are believed by some to inflame the passions). Asafoetida is a common ingredient in South Indian cuisine, and is readily available at any Indian market. This ingredient is an excellent digestive aid, and it’s critical to achieve an authentic flavour profile.
Not to be confused with curry powder, curry leaves are a staple of South Indian cuisine. The plant is actually a member of the citrus family, and its fragrant leaves add a distinctive flavour to most savoury dishes in South India.
Although they are an acquired taste for some, these fragrant leaves also tout a number of powerful health benefits. They can improve heart function, fight infections, and are excellent for the skin and hair. In fact, curry leaves have long been credited for delaying the onset of grey hair.
In South Africa, curry leaves are widely available at local supermarkets. However, in other countries they are easily found at Indian markets. The leaves freeze well. So, don’t be daunted by buying a packet — even if you’ll just use them once in a while.
Finally, lemon rice pilaf contains peanuts. To me, this is a critical component of the dish. However, it’s entirely optional. Should you, or a loved one, have a peanut allergy, feel free to eliminate the nuts entirely or use cashews instead. Your rice will still be authentic and tasty!
I hope your family enjoys this delicious dish every bit as much as mine does. Bon appétit!