Monday, April 26, 2010

Cozy for a long Sunday supper: biryani

Biryani is a common rice dish found in Northern India consisting of meat and vegetables. It's India's 'fried rice,' lets say, but it is a little more wet than fried rice and more substantial on its own.

I follow my mom's recipe - her trademark is the dijon mustard - it adds a different level of tartness and spice that's essential, I think. She also adds yogurt, which makes it tart (along with tomatoes) and adds more body to the biryani's thick sauce. I admit there are a lot of spices involved, but the fragrance of all of them in this dish is part of its charm.

In the past when I've cooked it, the rice has suffered overcooking and turned mushy, which is a big No No for a biryani. The thing that makes a biryani a biryani are the separate delicate Basmati rice grains that are perfectly tender.  And I've achieved that now with careful attention.

Potatoes and carrots are good in this, but so is paneer (Indian cheese made from milk), and the trademark is adding dried fruits and nuts, along with saffron and caramelized onions, to make this really special and appropriately a Sunday meal. I thank my man for taking pictures of the numerous steps to this dish. We did it together, which is what ultimately makes our food delicious.

Serves 4

1 tbs butter
1 tbs canola oil

Whole spices:
1 cinnamon stick (3 inchess by one inch stick)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1/4 tsp cumin seeds (if you don't have this you can use 1/2 tsp cumin powder after the onions have browned)

3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 medium potatoes, cubed into 2 inch cubes
1 medium carrot, cut in 1/2 inch circles
1/2 tbs garlic, minced in a fine grater
1/2 tbs ginger, minced in a fine grater
1 serrano chili, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/8 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp dijon mustard
4 plum tomatoes from a can with 1/4 cup of its juices
1/2 cup yogurt
Salt & pepper
Fresh cilantro for garnishing
Sliced red onion with a squirt of lemon also served as an accompaniment
1/2 cup of paneer, cut in one-inch cubes (optional)
1/4 tsp saffron in 2 tbs warm milk (optional)
Caramelized onions (3/4 cup) cut lengthwise (optional)
2 tbs currants or raisins (optional)
2 tbs flaked almonds or cashews (optional)

1 1/2 cups Basmati rice
3 cups water
1 tsp salt

1.  In a heavy bottom pan, heat butter and oil, then add the whole spices, chopped onion, potatoes and carrots and cook until the onion is golden, stirring occasionally.

2.  Add turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder, ginger, garlic and chilies, mustard and cook for a minute or two.

3.  Add tomatoes and cook until they have completely broken up, about 5 - 8 minutes. Add yogurt and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the potatoes have cooked. Add paneer now if you have it.

4.  In a separate pan, in a tablespoon of oil, add onions and cook until golden, then add currants and nuts until toasty. Leave to the side.

5.  On medium heat, in a saucepan, add rice and water and salt and once it starts boiling, cook for 5 minutes. Drain any remaining water.

6.  In a deep heavy bottom dish (with a lid), add 1 tbs butter and melt on medium low. Add a 2-inch layer of rice, then disperse a third of the saffron milk, then a third of the caramelized onion nut/currant mixture, then a third of the vegetable sauce layer. Don't be meticulous about getting the gravy to every corner - you want some refreshing spots of the rice. Then repeat again with rice, then saffron milk, then onion mixture, then the sauce layer. Repeat one more time, then end with a layer of rice, saffron milk and onion mixture.

7.  Cover the dish with foil, then a lid and place on top of a pan so that the bottom doesn't burn. Cook for 20 - 25 minutes on low heat. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, remove the pan from the bottom and cook so that the bottom develops a crusty layer.

8.  If you're serving guests, fish out the whole spices as they can be unpleasant when bitten. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with onion and lemon mixture and also yogurt. Eat with your fingers, mashing up the potato into the rice before devouring it.

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