I should think most of us love the concept of a one dish meal, especially if one is one the kitchen side of things. I know there many kinds of one dish meals across the world, but to me a one-dish meal usually has rice in it. This is probably because I’m from the south of India where rice invariably manages to pop in one form or the other at every meal!
A "Biryani" is one such Indian one-dish meal. I’m sure someone will point out that a biryani is usually served with accompaniments and so not really a one-dish meal. I would like to argue that these accompaniments are generally yogurt (or curds as we refer to it in India), pickles and pappads which are not really dishes which have to be cooked up along with the main dish.
And if you subscribe to the view that one-dish meals should be easy to make, then the biryani is not for you. A biryani is not something you can hurry along but something one cooks when there is enough time on hand to cook as well as savour its nuances.
Last month, Random House India was kind enough to send me a copy of Pratibha Karan’s latest book, very aptly named “Biryani”. The biryani is really a non-vegetarian food preparation, even though there are quite a few vegetarian variations if one looks for them. I’m a bit of biryani novice and the biryanis I can make wouldn’t take up all the fingers on my right hand!
So I was quite interested in going through this particular book.
A former IAS officer in the Indian Government, Pratibha Karan is passionate about food. Interestingly, she happens to be a vegetarian though she cooks and experiments with non-vegetarin cuisines.
In her introduction to the book, Ms. Karan discusses the possible origins of the biryani. She suggests it started out as meal cooked up by cooks for battle weary soldiers of yester years, easily cooked yet nutritious. She also explains how the biryani is cooked by layering it in a pot whereas in a pulao (another well-known Indian rice preparation), all the ingredients are cooked together.
Qabooli Biryani (recipe follows)
The book “Biryani” has 100 different biryani recipes from all across India, some very famous ones as well many lesser known but no less delicious. Pratibha Karan also provides suggestions and advice on which rice to use and also how to cook it for the perfect biryani. The author also includes a chapter on relishes and raitas that could be served with the biryanis.
The book is broadly divided into four chapters dealing with the four main geographic regions of India (the North, South, East and West), with each chapter featuring biryanis typical of that region. While most of the biryanis in the book are understandably non-vegetarian, there are a reasonable number of vegetarian recipes.
The author has also thoughtfully provided two separate listings of the biryanis in her book under “Order of appearance in the book” and “Biryanis by ingredients”.
While this makes it easier to access the particular biryani one would want, I think it would have been better of these “lists” had been put at the beginning of the book rather than tucking it at the back.
The recipes are well presented and very easy to follow. However, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform system for measuring ingredients in the book.
Most of the recipes have the main ingredients presented by weight yet when it comes to some ingredients like oil, one recipe requires “2/3 cup” and another “1/2 cup” while a third one asks for “60 gm” and a fourth recipe for “150 gm”!
Most people associate the biryani with Mughal cuisines of Hyderabad and Awadh. The biryani is more than that and is essentially a Muslim food preparation and so it is natural to find excellent biryanis in any part of India which is home to the Muslim community.
As the author herself points out, in the effort of equitably representing all regions of the country, she has left out some of the more well-known and unusual biryanis.
Perhaps this book should not have focused on being regionally representative but on the actual food it is about. Including those “left out” biryanis in this book could have made it a more complete biryani collection.
In spite of this, I found the book featuring quite a good variety of biryanis and presenting them in a very user friendly manner for the home cook. If you love biryanis and would prefer to savour them in the comfort of your home, then this book is for you.
Aloo Aur Tamatar Ka Pulao
I tried out the “Qabooli Biryani” and the “Aloo Aur Tamatar Ka Pulao" (Potato-Tomato Pulao) and both were very good. I present the Qabooli Biryani here and I quote Pratibha Karan as saying this is….
“A delicious vegetarian biryani, this recipe has come down from the Mughals and is made with split gram lentils. In Hyderabad, it is a celebration dish.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 to 8
Grind these spices to a powder:
1/2” piece cinnamon
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp peppercorns
500 gm long grain rice
250 gm yellow split gram lentils
a pinch of turmeric
3 onions, finely sliced
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1/3 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 cup yogurt, whisked
1/2 cup fresh green coriander, chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves chopped
4 green chillies, chopped
juice of 2-3 limes
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp ghee
2/3 cup oil
Prepare the rice:
Wash and soak the rice in water for 20 minutes, then drain. Boil about 2 1/2 litres of water with a salt. When the water starts to boil, add rice, and cook for about 6 minutes till two thirds done. Drain the water, and transfer the rice to a flat dish and set aside.
Prepare the lentils:
Wash and soak the yellow split lentils for 20 minutes. Boil in just enough water (2-3 cups) with a little salt and turmeric for about 15 minutes till 90% done. Drain any excess water and set aside.
Cook the lentils:
Heat the oil. Fry the onions till golden brown. Remove half and set aside. Add the ginger and garlic and fry till golden. Add the turmeric and red chilli powder followed by the yogurt. Stir briskly till the contents come to a boil and the oil starts to surface. Add the lentils, fry for about 2 minutes, and set aside.
Assemble and serve:
Take a heavy-bottomed pan and smear with oil. Place half the parboiled rice. Spread the lentils over the rice. Sprinkle half of the ground spices. Also spread half of the coriander, mint and green chillies, and the lime juice.
Cover with the balance rice. Sprinkle milk, ghee, the remaining powdered spices, fried onions and remaining coriander, mint and green chillies. Cover with a fitting lid and cook for the first 1-2 minutes on a high flame and then on slow flame for about 10 minutes till the rice starts to steam.
Serve steaming hot.