Chennai Vibes Coconut Rice

I've been perfecting this one for years. The combination of buttery rice, sweet toasted coconut, caramelised onions and magical curry leaves is undeniably perfect. This rice is also tempered with black mustard seeds and cinnamon giving it a distinctly South Asian taste, and brings back loads of sensory memories for me from some incredible times spent in Chennai Madras. 


  • At least 1 cup of basmati rice (1 cup should yield about 4 side-portions)
  • Curry leaves (dried are easy to find but FRESH are worth the quest!)
  • Up to 1 cup of Grated fresh coconut (I thoroughly encourage finding, smashing, hulling and grating a fresh coconut; if this option is not available to you, you can look for frozen fresh grated coconut from an Indian grocery store, or last resort, dried desiccated coconut.)
  • 5-10 banana shallots thinly sliced (regular onions are fine if you can’t find shallots
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (I like to use Chinese cinnamon bark it's more subtle in flavour than regular cinnamon sticks, but a lot more dramatic visually)  
  • 1 tablespoon of channa dal, raw, rinsed (optional)
  • Black mustard seeds
  • Ginger
  • A couple generous handfuls of unsalted cashew nuts (if you can only find salted, just rinse the salt off them in a sieve and let them dry)




First, rinse the rice really well until the water runs clear. This will remove all the starch and help you end up with perfectly separated rice grains.

Then cook the rice according to the way you normally do it. If you don’t normally do it any particular way, I suggest googling “how to cook perfect basmati rice” and follow those instructions.

While the rice is cooking, toast the grated coconut and cashews without oil in your largest frying pan. Toast on medium-high heat but supervise constantly. Let the coconut and cashews warm and toast but careful not to burn. Once the coconut starts to become intoxicatingly fragrant and magical keep stirring until everything starts to brown, and then remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.

The rice should still be cooking (or just steaming) now.

In the same frying pan you toasted the coconut in, add a bit of oil (coconut, rapeseed, vegetable or ghee!) warm up and toss in the mustard seeds, curry leaves and channa dhal and fry for a couple minutes, then add the cinnamon stick, the shallots and some grated ginger.

Cook down the shallots in the spices for 5-10 minutes on medium-high heat until the onions have softened, cooked down and browned.

When the onions are ready, slowly start to incorporate the rice, and cashew/coconut mixture, gently, until everything is beautifully mixed together.

Serve with some fish, a delicious daal or curry!