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Biryani - one pot Indian meals
The one pot Indian meal
The Biryani is a one pot Indian meal that is delicious, mouth watering and a complete meal in itself. The Biryani is believed to have originated in Persia and arrived by different routes to India. The word Biryani is derived from the Farsi word ‘birian‘ which means ‘fried before cooking’. The Biryani is a complete meal of long grain rice cooked with meat and spices. The numerous invasions of India had brought into the country various cuisines and Biryani is supposedly associated with the Moguls cuisine. There are several ways of cooking Biryani and Biryani is made from meat, fish, vegetables, prawns, etc. Although a dish of the Nawabs (royals) it is now a popular meal in every Indian home. It is the spices and herbs added to the Biryani that give this dish its unique flavor.
The origin of Biryani
As early as 2 AD, there is a mention of ‘oon soru’ in Tamil literature. It appears that Biryani may not after all be a Mogul delicacy. The Oon soru was made of rice, ghee, meat, turmeric, pepper, coriander and bay leaf and this was apparently used to feed warriors. This simple recipe seems to have been made more spicy in the later versions of the Biryani.
Another legend has it that Mumtaz Mahal of the great Taj Mahal fame once visited the army barracks and found that her soldiers were undernourished. It is said that she provided the special recipe to prepare a balanced diet for her army personnel - thus, the Biryani was born.
Although the origin of Biryani is a little hazy, it seems like the recipe reached this major sub-continent through various routes. Today, this dish has its own regional variations and differences. It is difficult to say that a particular region’s Biryani is the most authentic.
History of Biryani in India
The Biryani is the signature dish of the Muslim community in India no matter where they live. Today there are different styles of cooking Biryani and the Hyderabadi style cooks the meat and the rice separately and assembles them together for the final steaming. Though not considered authentic Biryani, it is one of the most popular and delicious varieties that can be found in the country. Food connoisseurs say this is is the humble pulav/pilaf with great pretensions.
The coastal regions specialise in prawn and seer fish or king fish Biryani, while lamb and chicken remain eternal favourites throughout the land. The Anglo-Indian version of Biryani is however the beef Biryani which is popular among the Muslim and the Anglo Indian community. Since the rest of the Hindu population does not consume beef this is not so popular as the other variations. The Kashmiri ghosht (tender lamb) Biryani flavoured with saffron, bay leaves and variety of different Indian spices is an experience in itself. The Lucknowi or the Abhadi Biryani is often touted to be the authentic Mughal dish. The Hyderabadi Biryani is often accompanied by delicacies like mirch ka salam (chilly gravi), dhanshak (made from lentils and meat)and baghare baingan (eggplant gravy).
The vegetable Biryani (tahiri biryani) was supposedly innovated for the Hindu high officials like the cashiers and financiers of the Nawabs (kings). Today Biryani is not just the food of the Nawabs and the royals, but it is cooked in every kitchen of India.
To simplify the mystery of Biryani, it is curry and rice cooked together into a perfect blend of superlative quality. The dum Biryani or Biryani which is cooked in a slow coal fire, has always been considered more authentic. The Dum Biryani is cooked in a pot covered with a lid that is sealed with wheat dough, so that the flavours of the meat and the spices are completely sealed into the dish. The bay leaf is an integral part of the Biryani and gets all its importance from this singular dish.
Here is a simple recipe that I use because of its ease of preparation and it is quick to prepare. No more coals and slow cooking, it is delicious and equally flavourful. My boys just love it.
Half kg of chicken cut into medium sized pieces
Half a kg of basmati rice. Soak in water for 30 mts and strain it.
3 to 4 big tomatoes
1 cup curd
3 big onions
2 tsps of ginger garlic paste
1/2 tsp of red chili powder
5 cloves, 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon, 4 black cardamoms, 2 to 3 bay leaves
A pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds, 6 pepper corns, half a tsp of coriander powder, quarter tsp of Jeera or cumin seeds lightly roasted and powdered.
2 green chillies, one bunch of cilantro leaves, half bunch of mint leaves, Half a lemon, 2 tblsp of oil or ghee
A few strands of saffron soaked in a tsp of warm milk.
Slice onions thinly, dice tomatoes into tiny bits.
Wash and prepare the cilantro and the mint leaves and chop them fine.
In a bowl, marinate the meat with curds, lemon juice, salt and chilly powder for about 30 minutes. In a cooking pot with a tight lid or pressure cooker pour 2 tsps of oil or ghee, add the whole spices and sauté the onions and ginger garlic paste until the onions change color and become slightly brown. Add in the bay leaves.
Stir in the tomatoes and let them become pulpy. Now add the powdered spices.
Now add the green chillies split slightly in the middle for flavour and add the chopped cilantro and mint leaves.
After the leaves wilt add the meat, reserving the marinade and cook the meat until it absorbs the spices and the flavours for about 5 minutes on low heat making sure that it does not burn.
Add the strained rice into the pot and mix thoroughly with the gravy. Add salt to taste, 7 cups of boiled water and the reserved marinade, the saffron soaked in milk and cook on a low flame for about 7 minutes in a pressure cooker or whatever time it may take in your cooking pot. Take care to see that the rice does not get over cooked or soggy; the grains should be separate. When the pressure in your pressure cooker goes down, transfer the contents into a serving dish, taking care to mix it well taking care not to mush up the rice.
The Biryani could be served with raitha or a salad made with curd, finely chopped onions, cilantro, green chillies chopped (optional), finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and salt.
With a little practice, this dish will take you only about half an hour including preparation time. The Biryani is a nutritious and complete meal that can be served at any mealtime.
Lamb, fish and Vegetable variations of Biryani
You could use lamb instead of chicken. Lamb needs to be cooked in a pressure cooker for about 5 to 7 minutes before the rice is added in.
While making a vegetable version, you could use potatoes, French beans, butter beans and carrots sliced lengthwise into half inch pieces.
Fish Biryani is usually cooked with the fish being marinated in a tablespoon of curd, juice of half a lemon, salt, chilly powder, ginger garlic paste and fried golden brown in a shallow pan. This is carefully added into the dish when the rice is almost ready. Remove the rice from the pressure cooker into your serving dish. Stir well, now layer the same cooker with one inch rice, add a few pieces of fish add another layer of rice until all the fish and rice is over. Now cover the cooker on leave it on a lowest flame possible, Your pot really has to be heavy bottomed so that the food does not burn. Leave for five to seven minutes.
When you serve Biryani always take care to serve a piece of the meat with the rice. The meat tends to get to the bottom of the dish.