From the finest collection of the Royal Nawabs and Mughals of India comes the ever exquisite “Biryani”; a dish that presents itself in all its royalty.
Johnny Luzzini very accurately once said, “cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table” and Biryani is exactly that. Indigenous to India, Biryani has a lot of history concerning it’s actual origin. It is believed to have originated from Persia with the traders travelling to the subcontinent, introducing and fusing their food customs with Indian spices to give birth to the infamous dish Biryani. This theory is understood by many to be very accurate because the word “Biryani” is said to be derived from the Persian word “Birian” which means “fried before cooking”. It is also believed that the first Mughal Emperor Babar is said to have introduced it. However, there are other speculations concerning it’s origin where Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal inspiring queen of Shah Jahan, is believed to have invented the rice dish while visiting army barracks and upon viewing the deplorable health conditions of the soldiers ordered the chefs to cook meat curry and rice together as a source of a wholesome complete meal that is also comforting and cooked in one pot. The dish that came to being was so delectable, the Mughals made it a royal feastly dish and hence passed down generations with tweaks and variations to the original recipe, we are blessed with this absolutely divine of a dish called Biryani. Further, among other floating theories out there regarding this regal dish, comes another with Al-bairuni, Master astronomer and Muslim scholar of the eleventh century, who spent time with the Sultans of that time ruling over the Sub-continent and his description of the feastly food gestures in his books highlights one dish cooked in Ghee (clarified butter), meat of mutton or beef, Basmati Rice and Asian spices, very similar to that of Biryani. Hence, many believe Biryani was known to the natives of India in the Muslim cuisine way before the Mughals. Today there are various versions of one Biryani dish all cooked and prepared throughout the Indo-Pak.
No matter what the origin I say, this is one dish the world is grateful for. Biryani is no longer a dish of East Asia, the fragrant rice has proliferated it’s charm over the world. Biryani is a dish in the Indo-Pak culture that is absolute royal. It adds glamour, poise, sophistication and regal essence to the dinner table. The dish is the heart of any special occasion feast and in Pakistan or India it’s just not a feast if Biryani is not on the table.
The dish is made with so many variations, sometimes it is made all in one pot where the rice is cooked with the curry altogether but the authentic version includes cooking the curry and the rice separately and then layering it together to make one dish. My preference is always the latter one because I love the autumn colours of the rice once it is mixed with some, white, yellow, orange, caramel and browns of the layered rice mixed with the curry. The curry is cooked in a fried onion, tomato and yogurt base and flavoured with earthy Indian spices including, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, chilli powder, star anis, all spice, cardamoms and black peppercorns. The list of spice ingredients may seem exhausting but each spice spurs it’s own unique smack in the flavour of the dish. Out of all the spices, Green Cardamom and Nutmeg is the essence of it all. If you are skipping these two spices out, you are actually taking the heart of the dish out. Conversely, Mint is the soul of the dish and if you are taking mint out of the Biryani equation, it’s not the right equation no longer. These three are not to be missed in the dish.
This version is the simplest version I know. The dish is not complicated at all once you prep the dish before hand. I take a bowl and add chopped tomatoes and all the spices and green chillies to it and set it aside. In another bowl, whip up the yogurt and set aside. Dice the onions, wash and soak the rice and you are good to go. After all the prep, it takes about 30-40 minutes. The dish though apparently complicated is in reality extremely simple to make.
The best thing about this gorgeous monarchical dish is that it tastes even better in flavour and taste the next day. In my house, the leftover is my next morning breakfast.
A dish fit for a king.
1. Chicken on the bone — 1kg
2. Rice — 2 cups
1. Oil — ½ cup
2. Tomato tin — 1
3. Green chillies — 6
4. Salt — 2 tsp
5. Red Chilli Flakes — 1 tsp
6. Cumin seeds — 1 tsp
7. Cloves — 6
8. Green Cardamom — 8
9. Black peppercorns — 8
10. Ginger and Garlic Paste — 1 tsp
11. Cinnamon sticks — 1
12. Onion — 2
13. Garam Masala Powder — ½ tsp
14. Nutmeg powder — ½ tsp
15. Mint — 1 bunch
16. Yellow Food colour dissolved in water — 1 tbsp
17. Yogurt — 1/2 cup
a. In a cooking pot, add the rice and wash thoroughly until the water runs clear.
b. Soak in water for 20 minutes before boiling.
c. Boil the rice with a little salt until its 95% cooked, which means the grain will be longer and when you break it in half it will break easily with a little crunch.
d. Once boiled, drain the rice and set aside.
Prepare the Masala
a. In a cooking pot, heat oil.
b. Slice the onions and add to the oil.
c. Add the entire whole spices i.e. cumin, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and green cardamom to the oil and fry until the onions become light golden in colour.
d. Add the ginger and garlic paste and sauté for 30 seconds.
e. Add the washed chicken to the oil and fry for 2 minutes.
f. Add the tomatoes, salt, red chilli flakes and half of the chopped mint.
g. Add the green chillies whole without slitting them open or cutting them (less spicy this way and only adds flavour).
h. Stir to mix and cover and cook for 8-10 minutes on medium high heat until the water evaporates and oil separates from the gravy.
i. After 8-10 minutes, stir the gravy on high heat for 2 minutes and add the garam masala and nutmeg powder and mix.
j. Add the yogurt and mix. Cover the pot and cook on medium flame for 6-8 minutes and stir in between to make sure the gravy doesn’t burn at the bottom.
k. After 6-8 minutes, turn the flame to low and leave to cook on steam for 15 minutes.
l. Once the gravy has thickened, add the rice layer on top and top with the rest of the chopped mint.
m. Sprinkle yellow food colouring.
n. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and place the lid on top sealing in the steam.
o. Let steam for 5-10 minutes and turn off the flame.
p. Leave the rice for 5 minutes before opening the lid.
q. Mix and serve with yogurt and any salad.
Yogurt Dip ~
- Yogurt — 1 cup
- Cucumber — 1/2 cup
- Tomatoes — 1
- Red Onion — 1
- Salt — 1/2 tsp
- Red Chilli Powder– 1/4 tsp
- Cumin Powder — 1/2 tsp
a. Chop the onions, cucumbers and tomatoes (remove the seeds of the tomato before you chop them)
b. Mix, salt, red chilli powder and cumin powder in the yogurt and mix.
c. Add the chopped items and mix.