brown rice

This brown rice, or vagharela chawal, is not the brown rice you get from a health food shop. The brown in this dish comes from caramelised onions and jaggery. But it is not as sweet as you might think.

Even with these caramelised onions and sugar, this rice is not sweet but has just a tinge of it that is perfect with dhansak. Lightly golden in colour, mildly sweet and fragrant from the whole spices that release their aromas into hot ghee, this rice recipe is a must-try. It goes with a lot of dishes.

This dish is a traditional Parsi recipe.

It is simple to make and could well become your go-to recipe when plain rice isn’t enough. There are only two things you need to do well. When you add the rice to the spice mix, make sure you stir it well and cook it a little. This will ensure that each grain is well coated with ghee and spices. The other important thing is to not add too much water, as you do not want this to become an onion flavoured rice pudding.

The recipe features sella rice, which is par-boiled rice. If you cannot get this special rice, good quality basmati rice can be substituted. You will need to reduce the cooking time and the water a little.

the recipe

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  • wide pan with lid



  • Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water remains clear.
  • Cover the rice with luke-warm water and set it aside to soak for 30 minutes. Drain when ready to start preparing the dish.
  • Using a thick-bottomed pot with a tight lid, heat the ghee over medium-low heat. Add the cassia, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, star anise and bay leaf. Fry until they become fragrant.
  • Reduce the heat to low. Add the sliced onions and sprinkle with the salt. Stir and fry the onions until they are golden brown. This may take twenty minutes or longer. Increase the heat and fry until the onions turn a deep brown. Stir frequently as you do not want the onions to burn.
  • Add the jaggery and stir. Continue frying and stirring the onions and jaggery to ensure even browning. The sugar and onions will caramelise and turn a deep brown.
  • Once the onions have browned, remove a tablespoon of them and set these aside on absorbent paper. They will become crisp by the time you use them to garnish the completed dish.
  • Add the drained rice and gently stir to cover the grains with the ghee, onions, and spices. Add the water and stir. Bring the water to a boil, cover tightly, then reduce heat to very low. Cook for 25 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off. Uncover the pot and quickly fluff rice with a fork. Cover the pot with a tea towel and replace the lid. Do this as quickly as possible because you do not want to lose heat or steam. Leave the rice to finish cooking in its own heat for a further ten minutes.

to serve

  • Uncover the pot and fluff the rice if needed. Remove the whole star anise and cassia stick. Garnish with the reserved onions and serve.


  • 400g of uncooked rice is approximately two cups.
  • If sella rice is unobtainable, substitute it with normal basmati rice. You will need to reduce the cooking time to around 15 minutes.
  • Remind your diners that the whole spices are not meant to be eaten.

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Serving: 250 g | Calories: 469 kcal | Carbohydrates: 86 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 10 g | Saturated Fat: 5 g | Cholesterol: 19 mg | Sodium: 298 mg | Potassium: 382 mg | Fiber: 5 g | Sugar: 4 g | Vitamin A: 7 IU | Vitamin C: 5 mg | Calcium: 66 mg | Iron: 2 mg

Dhansak and kachumber served with brown rice make a family favourite meal from the Parsi community. It is their Sunday family lunch. Could become yours, too.

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