In my opinion, biryani is the king of rice dishes. They are complex, they burst with flavour and come in countless variations, from heavy Mughal meat biryanis to coastal seafood and prawn biryanis, and vegetable and lentil superstars.
The definition of biryani is that it is cooked in layers, unlike pulaos which are cooked with rice and masala mixed in. Today, most restaurants pass off pulaos as biryanis because of the ease of cooking, but I am a stickler for these small details. A biryani is a layer of rice layered with the meat or vegetable "korma" followed by rice, and in some more complex versions, the layers are repeated several additional times. This is important because of how a biryani should be eaten, the top lightly flavoured rice is used to calm the palate from the "korma" spices, acting like a palate cleanser, while the bottom layer of the rice is soaked in the heavy and spiced gravy.
This is a lovely biryani from the Chettinad community of Southern India. It is unusual in that it used ground mutton, instead of the traditional chunks of meat. The spices are delicate, and the dish has subtle flavours. I loved the tenderness of the meat, and the lovely aroma of saffron and gentle spices. You can serve it with raita and some chutney or a pickle.
This South Indian cookbook brings to my shelf the unique cuisine of the Chettinad Tamils in South India. This, now popular cuisine, is known to be extremely spicy, complex and distinct. This book is a wonderful collection of recipes that makes this cuisine accessible to us at home.
For more recipes from this cookbook click here.
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons ghee
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
3-4 green cardamom pods
1 small bay leaf
2-3 green chillies, chopped into small circles, or to taste
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons ginger paste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1/2 lb ground mutton
Salt, to taste
1 cup cilantro, minced
1 cup mint, minced
1 tablespoon yoghurt
2 cups water
Juice of 1/2-1 lime
4 tablespoon milk
A pinch of saffron threads
Cook the rice in water either in a rice cooker or on the stove. Set aside.
Heat the oil and ghee in a deep pot and add the cinnamon stick and green cardamom. Fry for 20 seconds on low heat and add the bay leaf. Toss in the oil and add the onions and green chillies and sautèe for 3-4 minutes till the onions are cooked and a very light golden colour.
Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds till the ginger no longer smells raw. Add the dry spices, turmeric and chilli powders, and toss well in the pot. Add the tomatoes and cook on low heat for 10 minutes till the tomatoes are soft and have started to break down into a sauce.
Add the ground meat and salt and fry for 15 minutes till the meat is browned. While frying, break down the lumps with a wooden spatula till you have a very small crumble. Add the mint and cilantro and fry for 2 minutes till the herbs are cooked down and well mixed in.
Add the yoghurt and water and mix into the meat. Bring to a boil and simmer with the lid closed for 40 minutes till the meat is very tender. Adjust water if needed towards the end of the cooking time. You are looking for a thick gravy with meat. Add the lime juice starting with half a lime. taste and adjust salt and tartness. The sauce should be bold, spicy and very flavourful.
Heat the milk in a small cup and add the saffron threads. mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes.
Layer half of the rice in the bottom of a pot or oven-safe dish. Pour the ground meat over the rice and tamp it down. Add the remaining rice over the top and tamp down again gently. Pour the milk over the rice. Garnish with green chillies and some fresh cilantro and mint.
You can heat the pot on the stove for 15 minutes on a very low flame till the dish is steaming hot. Alternatively, you can bake the dish sealed for 30 minutes at 375° F.
Serve hot with a raita.