Biryani is one of India's oldest dishes, first eaten at the courts of the Mughal emperors in the 1600's. Biryanis were traditionally lavish, full of meats, dried fruit and nuts, the best rice, saffron and silver leaf. My mum's mum made an incredible biryani on days of celebration in our family, and mum continues the tradition. I feel lucky to be able to make it myself, and hope my children will also learn one day.
The recipe below is for an easy version of biryani - one that takes an hour or two (depending on whether you use a pressure cooker - my mum does, I don't) rather than several. Don't be put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients, it's actually not too hard to put together. Perfect for a winter weekend feast.
For 6 people you will need:
750 grams of diced lamb (forequarters, chops... it needs to be a bit bony)
3 medium onions, sliced finely
1 cup of oil
1 cup of yoghurt
1 tablespoon each of crushed garlic and ginger
1 chopped tomato
1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 teaspoons of chilli powder
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
3-4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of whole cloves
3 large black cardamom
1 teaspoon of peppercorns
1 teaspoon of shah jeera (black cumin)
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups of basmati rice, rinsed and soaked for half an hour in 6 cups of water
1/2 a teaspoon of saffron
1 tablespoon of ghee
salt and sugar
Start by marinating your meat in a large, non-reactive bowl: add the yoghurt, turmeric, chilli, ground coriander and cumin powders, ginger and garlic, mix and leave aside (if you have time you can marinate this the night before).
The next and one of the most important steps in biryani making is the onions. You need to basically deep fry them crisp and golden brown, don't worry about the oil you can drain a lot of it once they are fried. This onion mix is called birista, see the photo below.
To fry the onions, heat the cup of oil in a large, heavy pot, add the sliced onions and fry well, stirring often until they are crispy and golden. With a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and drain them on kitchen roll or newspaper... this gets a lot of the oil out.
If you are using the same pot to cook the lamb, drain it of most of the oil, turn the heat back on, add the onions back in and then the marinated lamb. Next add the chopped tomato and all the whole spices (bay, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and shah jeera), a heaped teaspoon of salt and a spoon of sugar, a little bit of water (like a quarter of a cup) and cook on low for 1.5 to 2 hours until the lamb is tender, stirring occasionally to ensure a nice thick, dark brown gravy is developing. If you are using a pressure cooker (which takes the least time), you need to cook it for 30 minutes only.
Once the lamb is on, cook the rice. You should have 3 cups soaked in 6 cups of water, add a teaspoon of salt, a glug of oil and bring it to boil. Turn down the heat to low and cover, then cook for 10-12 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Once it is cooked, add a tablespoon of ghee and stir in.
Once the rice and lamb is cooked, the next step is to assemble the biryani. Layer the meat in a large oven dish, and follow with the rice. You can do one layer of each, or a few layers, but always end with the rice.
Take your saffron and put it in a tiny bowl with a couple of tablespoons of hot water, which will turn orange. Swirl this on the top of the rice to give it lovely yellow streaks.
Cover the dish with a lid or foil, and put this in the oven on medium heat - around 180 degrees celsius, for about half an hour. When it is ready, you can serve it topped with silver leaf, or fried onion, or some toasted slivered almonds or other nuts.
Serve with raita or kachumber.