Salad#1 Mint rice salad with fresh coconut milk

Its the beginning of March and it already feels like a 100 degrees in here. Pondicherry is hot and humid starting around this time till pretty much the end of year. I had such a hard time adjusting to the heat last year when I moved to India after living in the United States for almost 10 years.
It was a difficult year (2011) and I was very unhappy about the fact that I was not able to continue writing my blog as I was trying to adjust to a new country. Anyway, now that I am cooking and clicking my way into the summers this year, I am going to do a salad month here on my blog!!
This first recipe in this salad month section is a contribution by a friend Vidhya who is an Urban Designer and works with us (my husband and I). She introduced me to the world of fresh coconut milk which is nothing like the packaged version. The fresh milk is very delicate and mild in flavor and to my surprise is fairly easy and quick to make. I will be experimenting with coconut milk a lot in the future…its almost like a new food doorway has opened up to me.
Pondy has a high growth rate of coconuts (since its tropical), so its flooded with coconut everywhere which should be more or less the same in other tropical regions throughout the world. But if you don’t live in a hot and humid climate then you can try finding it at an Asian or an Indian store, that is if your local grocery store doesn’t  sell coconuts. You don’t want the tender coconut that has a lot of water, we are aiming for the one that is brown in color, much smaller in size and has very little water. And if not, then just use the regular, packaged coconut milk.Just a heads up though- packaged coconut milk might make this dish more coconut-ish than mint, so you might want to use  half the quantity of coconut milk and replace the rest with water, unless of course you don’t might the coconut flavor being prominent.

serving 2 
cooking time 40 min 

Things you will need: 
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup fresh coconut milk (see below) 
1 cup water
2 medium onions chopped
½ carrot cubed
1 small red bell pepper cubed
1 cup fresh mint leaves
4 cloves garlic
2 tbs oil
1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise, 1 bay leaf

fresh coconut milk
Combine half coconut and about 1 cup water in a blender and mix till everything turns into a super fine liquid. Strain through a sieve or cheese cloth. You will get a little over a cup of milk.
mint rice salad
In a blender mix mint leaves and garlic and blend till it turns into a smooth puree- add a little water if you need to. In a wok, heat up the oil on medium high and sauté the onion with some salt till it turns pink. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and star anise…stir for another 30 seconds. Add carrots and bell pepper and continue to cook for a few more minutes, till the veggies start to turn soft. Pour in the coconut milk and continue to cook on low for a minute. Add the rice and the mint puree. Add water and cook covered on low stirring occasionally for about 10 to 15 minutes- or till the rice is cooked through. Serve with your choice of sautéed vegetables- I did a quick stir fry of baby corn and green beans with some freshly grated ginger, low sodium soy sauce and salt.