Gilding the Table!

Cultural Perspectives
By Tim Hazell

Mughal Biryani

Indian food can be hot and pungent, but many dishes are delicately flavored. Recipes derive their unique characteristics from as few as five, or as many as 50 spices and herbs. Fresh-cut vegetables, hearty lentil soups (dahl), relishes such as chutneys for sweet and cool accents, and pickles for sour and hot, gild the Indian table.

The following recipe is a personal favorite and never fails to make a grand entrance. This dish serves four to six guests. It takes time to prepare but the results are well worth the effort!

Mughal Biryani (with a meatless variation)
4 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 inches peeled ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
Dash Oriental sesame oil (optional)
1 tsp. ground cardamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 /2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Good pinch black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper or 2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 level tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 chicken breast fillets, cubed, or
(meatless version) substitute 1 cup of whole unsalted cashew nuts and 1 cup raisins
6 tbsp. natural yogurt
2 cups basmati rice

Heat oil in a large saucepan until hot, add the cumin seeds, sizzle and brown. Add chopped onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, half the coriander, and sesame oil. Reduce heat to medium low, sautéing until golden. Add cardamon, cloves, nutmeg, black and cayenne pepper or fresh chillies. Add sugar and salt. Stir to combine spices with the other ingredients. Increase heat to medium and add cubed chicken breast, stirring until the pieces lose their pink color. At this stage, one cup of cashew nuts and one cup of raisins may be added as a substitute for the chicken, if meatless is preferred. Add yogurt, one tablespoon at a time, stirring to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. The mixture should have sufficient liquid to permeate the rice. Fold in the reserved chopped coriander. Turn off the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. When contents are at a rolling boil add the two cups of basmati rice. As the water returns to boil, stir the rice grains with a wooden spoon. The grains will “jump” to the surface as the water boils. After four minutes of cooking, pour the rice directly into a colander and allow to drain. Place the rice at the bottom of an ovenproof casserole. Add the biryani mixture, folding gently together until evenly distributed. Seal the casserole with a layer of aluminum foil. This is called a “dum.” Cover and place in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let stand a further half hour.

The biryani is ready to serve garnished with caramelized onion slices, raisins, slivered almonds, and garlic lightly sauteed and drained on paper towels. Add side dishes and condiments of choice.


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