Adapted from Seema Ahmed, who moved from the Maldives to Colombo in Sri Lanka, this dish features large, tender pieces of tuna. Its name literally translates to "fish rice." Traditionally, the coconut milk–cooked, spice-infused rice would be made ahead of time and packed up for beach picnics. Locally, it's served with a concentrated fish paste condiment known as rihaakuru, a byproduct of the region's tuna drying practices.
Lessons from a tropical island in the Indian Ocean where exuberantly spiced dishes have been influenced by centuries of colonization, migration, and commerce
- 2 1⁄2 cups basmati rice, rinsed well
- ⅓ cups unrefined coconut oil
- 1 medium red onion (9 oz.), thinly sliced
- 10 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 8 whole green cardamom pods
- 5 1-inch pieces pandan leaf
- 3 1-inch pieces flat cinnamon
- 2 fresh Thai chiles, stemmed and split lengthwise
- 1⁄4 cup whole black peppercorns
- 1 1⁄2 lb. tuna, cut into 1-inch chunks
- Kosher salt
- 1 1⁄2 cups coconut milk
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric
- Store-bought rihaakuru, coconut sambol, or Mint Sambol (see this page for recipe), for serving (optional)
In a medium bowl, soak the rice in enough cool water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
In a large pot with a lid, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until very soft and lightly browned, 15–20 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cardamom, pandan, and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, 2–3 minutes. Stir in the chiles and peppercorns, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spices turn glossy and aromatic, 4–5 minutes.
Season the tuna lightly with kosher salt. Return the heat on the pot to medium-high, and gently stir in the fish to coat with the onion mixture. Gently stir in the drained rice, season generously with salt, then add the coconut milk, ½ cup water, and turmeric. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and cover the pot. Let cook for 5 minutes, then check the moisture level and the doneness of the rice, adding a splash more water and slightly decreasing the heat if the rice is beginning to stick or smells caramelized. Cover and continue to cook, checking the rice every 5 minutes, until tender, 15–20 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 3–5 minutes.
Serve immediately with the bottled rihaakuru, coconut sambol, or mint sambol if desired.