Green Masala Chicken Biryani

chicken-biryani

I will be making this again this weekend…can almost taste it!

Eid is almost here, and I asked my mother-in-law what I should make. She had two words: chicken biryani.

Of course. I don’t even know why I asked.

Quick biryani lesson: the dish came by way of Persia (thanks Wikipedia) and is basically a rice dish where the rice is partially cooked, then layered with the other ingredients to steam the rest of the way (as opposed to cooking everything together as in a pulao). There are countless variations, which on one hand means there is room for innovation and creativity but on the other hand means everyone says everyone else is doing it wrong.

Pukka Paki’s My Tamarind Kitchen’s Green Masala Chicken Biryani is my favorite recipe that I’ve tried, because it is fresh and bright thanks to the handfuls of fresh herbs, and the whole garam masalas lightly spice the dish without weighing it down.

I’ve made it several times and have made just a few small adjustments – first, the masala is awesome as is, but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple extra Thai chilies. Second, this makes a LOT of curry – which is normally a good thing because you don’t want to be stingy on the curry, but where she lists 2.5 cups of rice I have gradually upped this to 3.5, and 4 would probably be ok. Last, before baking she says to stick lemon wedges here and there, but I forgo this because the first time I made it, it was overpoweringly lemony. I guess I could just stick less/thinner wedges, but I err on the side of caution and just serve with lemon wedges for a fresh spritz before eating.

A few helpful tips and musings:

  • The list of ingredients and steps is dauntingly long, but if you break it down into components its seems more manageable (Onions + yogurt, chicken + spices, tomatoes + green masala, mix mix finish and layer with rice).
  • I don’t have a good heavy-bottomed pot, but have found a nonstick wok is fantastic – you can crank up the heat and not worry too much about it sticking, so it works well for the onion and curry components.
  • Once you get your onions started, you will have plenty of time to prep your other ingredients (I’m usually a  “furiously multitask” type, not a “serenely mise” type, but I can be the latter in this situation because I am doing something productive on the side).
  • You may be scandalized by the amount of oil/ghee used. Just breathe into a bag for a minute or perhaps take a long walk or soothing bubble bath and then get on with it.
  • Lots of Pakistani recipes give you the instruction to “cook until the oil rises to the top” – including this recipe, several times. What does that even mean? I used to stare wistfully into my pot, wondering if I’d know the moment it happened. Now I realize that this is not that ambiguous. If you don’t see it, keep cooking. You’ll know.
  • I rarely have saffron on hand but I always have safflowers (from the Arabic market. Just as yellow, way less expensive), so I use these instead. You are going for several colors running through the rice, and this will achieve the pretty yellow part of that. The flavor is different, but as this is not a delicately-spiced bouillabaisse I don’t think it matters much. Some people actually use food coloring (bleh no thanks).
  • Lots of recipes have you finish the dish on the stove, but I like the oven versions such as this because you don’t have to worry about stuff burning to the bottom – plus although she has you put it in a serving dish, I think that’s unnecessary because the baking dish presentation is lovely.

Green Masala Chicken Biryani

Recipe from My Tamarind Kitchen

For the onion yogurt mixture

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 4-6 medium red onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cups yogurt

Heat oil and ghee in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot and deep-fry onions until very brown (this will take awhile so in the meantime you can prep the rest of the ingredients). Stir occasionally and be careful not to burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Whip yogurt, then add onions and mix.

For the half done rice

  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 green cardamom pods (bruised)
  • salt
  • 3 1/2 cups basmati rice

Rinse rice thoroughly and soak for 30 minutes before cooking. Boil a large pot of lightly salted water with the cinnamon and green cardamom pods. Add rice, rapidly boil until al dente (approximately 4 minutes). Drain and set aside.

For the green masala

  • 2 inch piece of ginger
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup mint, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups cilantro, chopped
  • 3-4 Thai chilies (a couple extra if you like more spice)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder

Grind all to a paste.

For the biryani

  • 1/2 cup oil (divided)
  • 5 tbsp ghee (divided)
  • 1 medium whole skinless chicken cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces by butcher
  • Whole garam masala: 10 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 6 green cardamom pods (bruised), 15 peppercorns, 2 star anise
  • 3-4 medium chopped tomatoes
  • salt
  • green masala (above)
  • yogurt mixture (above)
  • half done rice (above)
  • 2 pinches of safflower or saffron (crumbled and soaked in hot milk for 15 minutes minimum to release color/fragrance)
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • lemon wedges, coriander leaves, yogurt or cucumber raita for serving

For the curry, heat 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee in a large saucepan or wok. Brown chicken and remove. Add another 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee, along with the whole garam masala, and heat until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and a good sprinkle of salt, and cook, stirring, until the oil rises to the top. Add the green masala, cook until the oil rises to the top, then add the browned chicken and the onion-yogurt mix, cook until the oil rises to the top.

Heat the oven to 320° F. In a large baking dish, spread the curry on the bottom and layer the half cooked rice on the top. Sprinkle the safflower milk, a tbsp of ghee, and the rosewater over the top. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes to an hour (this has always taken me an hour) until the rice is perfectly cooked through.

To serve, stir the rice and curry gently to mix, being careful not to break the rice. Serve with lemon wedges, chopped cilantro, and yogurt or cucumber raita.

It was a full month after my mother-in-law came before I made it for her because I was so nervous, but when I finally made this for her she ate plateful after plateful, and all but licked plate.


final-eid-eats

Flour and Spice and Chocolate and Chilis, two gorgeous cooking blogs I’ve been perusing lately for more recipes to try, are hosting a virtual Eid party, so of course I want to play :) Here’s my contribution to the potluck, looking forward to seeing what the other participates are cooking up!


Rosemary Iced Tea

rosemary-iced-tea

As this posts, I am in sunny Pakistan – visiting family, wearing salwar kameez, playing with cute babies, trying to keep up with the conversation using my 101 Urdu, piercing my nose (maybe?), drinking copious amounts of tea, vacationing in the beautiful mountains near Osama bin Laden’s house, eating biryanis and dancing to Bollywood songs.

PS I am not trying to sound like some annoying swanky jet setter – the last time we made this trip was over three years ago.

Rosemary Iced Tea

Time for another Secret Recipe Club! I was so happy to be matched this month with Devon from deli-cute-tessen.com, because I am always on the lookout for new vegan recipes to try. Deli-cute-tessen has tons and they look just delicious.

Besides cooking, Devon also loves crafting. She is from Montreal, and works for a non-profit called Apathy is Boring (isn’t it?), which is an organization that encourages youth to be more active in their communities and in their governments, which I think is just awesome.

For reasons of not having a lot of time to cook (as running around like a crazy person preparing to be gone half the month), as well as not wanting to cook a big pot of something that we wouldn’t be able to finish before we left, I chose one of the simpler recipes. However, the rosemary iced tea was just the perfect thing to calm my frazzled nerves and to sip sweetly whilst packing. I love herbs that are normally used in savory dishes used in a sweet way, it makes for a perfect balance.

Rosemary Iced Tea

4 sprigs fresh rosemary
handful of fresh mint
2 litres water
2 green tea bags
4 Tbsp agave nectar
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Boil 2 cups of water with tea bags, remove from heat and add 2 sprigs rosemary and the mint, roughly chopped, plus agave and lemon juice. Cool, strain into a picture and top with the rest of the cool water. Taste and adjust agave/lemon juice if necessary.

Serve in glasses with ice and a rosemary sprig garnish.

This was lovely, thanks so much for the recipe, Devon! I have my eye set on some more involved ones for when we come back, particularly this Vegan Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake – yes please!

Prelude to Valentine’s Day with Red Food: Harissa; and Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

quinoa-fennel-pomegranate-salad

This Saturday, the weekend before the much loved/dreaded Valentine’s Day, my sister had a potluck with her work friends. As she is aware of my enthusiasm for potlucks, she invited Zoeya and me. The theme was Red Food. (Sidenote: this was not my first Red Food potluck). She made a delicious baked spaghetti and one of her friends brought an amazing red velvet, white chocolate and raspberry trifle – no beef, we asked. My contribution was a harissa-esque dip served over hummus, and a quinoa salad.


I tried to shape the harissa into a heart!

Here’s something spicy you can make for your lovah: harissa. I use the term “harissa” loosely – this was more of a dip than a sauce or paste, and I made it not-too-spicy lest there be wimpy tongues at the party, but honestly the heat could have been to be turned up a notch (next time!). The other silly thing I did was that after I blitzed it the first time I decided that in color it wasn’t red enough for a red food party so I added some tandoori masala thinking that spices were spices. Mistake! Although it still tasted good, it starting smelling distinctly Indian instead of a North African…so next time, paprika.

This is very versatile! Use as a dip, condiment on salads or sandwiches, or as a wet rub or part of a marinade. I served it over hummus.

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Harissa

3 red peppers
heaping tsp each cumin and coriander seeds
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
5 cloves
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes (minus the several I ate)
heaping tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1/2 – 2 tbsp red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you want it (maybe a little less for a dip and more for a condiment or wet rub)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 450° Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on the oven rack and roast until blacked, turning once. Remove to a glass bowl and cover to sweat them (so it will be easier to take the skins off). Once cool, remove stems, seeds, and skins.

In the meantime, in a dry skillet toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cloves. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I also made:

I had my Persephone Salad in mind, but was in the mood to make something with quinoa. I found this recipe for Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad online, which looked delicious, but I still wanted to make pomegranate vinaigrette so I combined the two!

Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

For the quinoa
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (red if possible! I couldn’t find it so used tricolored)
olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, sliced (reserve fronds)
4 cloves garlic
tsp cumin seeds
tsp chili powder
handful fennel fronds (removed from stalk), chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
handful mint, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil to medium high and saute fennel and garlic with salt & pepper until fennel is very tender. Add cumin seeds and chili powder and saute for another minute.

Toss warm quinoa with fennel, herbs, and lettuce (I just love tossing warm things with lettuce because it makes it super green and wilts it just slightly).

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt & pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Whisk all together.

Toss quinoa and vinaigrette together, and top the whole thing with 1/4 cup or so pomegranate seeds

Someone enjoyed dinner (although she was more a fan of the spaghetti than the salad).


Zoeya’s favorite thing to say to me nowadays is “I am waiting patiently, but you are taking TOO LONG!”

Greek Pizza with Lamb Meatballs

thumb_greek-pizza

Pizza is a surefire hit at our house. Zoeya is absolutely gleeful when I tell her we’re having pizza for dinner and Shan, although more subdued, usually ends up eating more than his fair share. I love to make pizza at home because it feels like a treat but it’s actually pretty healthy.

This particular pizza made me nervous until the end. I made a whole wheat dough when I usually make white, so I was anxious to see how that would come out. The components themselves weren’t perfect: the meatballs a little in need of salt, the sauce WAY too salty (must remember that happens when you reduce reduce reduce), the salad on top a little too lemony, but when put together a little miracle happened and the flavors melded just right.

Small disclaimer: As much as I love to spend a good chunk of my weekends in the kitchen, making pizza dough from scratch, pizza sauce from scratch, meatballs from scratch, none of them particularly difficult in themselves, was altogether more time-consuming than I would have liked. Luckily, all three of these things are easy to make double and freeze. If I ever get better at planning ahead, that’s going to be my strategy.

To save a little time, instead of making meatballs, you could just saute the ground lamb with the garlic, herbs and spices and top your pizza with the mixture, but I made meatballs so I could have some leftover. We ate them the next night as wraps with yogurt and cucumber. They’d also be great just by themselves with a side of lentils.

So with no further ado:

Greek Pizza with Lamb Meatballs

For the dough:
I used the pizza dough recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance which I wrote about here, substituting a cup of whole wheat flour for a cup of the white flour. I can report that this turned out wholesome and yummy and is my new recipe.

For the pizza sauce:
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
seasoning (you can adjust accordingly for the type of pizza) – 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano
4 good-sized tomatoes (and can I just say that ugly farmer’s market tomatoes brilliantly outshine the perfect-looking yet tasteless grocery store tomatoes), peeled and chopped
salt

Heat olive oil and add garlic, garam masala, paprika, and oregano. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, salt (be conservative! This is going to reduce down quite a bit) and a cup of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t burn, until tomatoes are completely broken down and sauce is nice and thick. If the sauce thickens before your tomatoes break down, add more water and repeat. Makes enough for a thin layer on 2 pizzas.

For the meatballs:
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
salt & pepper
zest of 1 lemon
small handful mint, finely chopped
small handful basil, finely chopped
scant 1/2 c bread crumbs
1 egg
1 lb ground lamb
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir well everything through the egg in a glass bowl, then add lamb and mix until everything is just combined. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Roll medium sized meatballs (about 1 1/2 tbsp) and place in pot. Brown on one side, then turn with spoons to brown on the other. Cover and finish cooking through in oven.

For the pizza
Pizza dough, pizza sauce and meatballs from above (you’ll have leftover meatballs)
Red onion, thinly sliced
Feta, crumbled
Spring lettuce dressed in olive oil and lemon juice

Heat oven to 500 degrees (hot!). Divide dough in half and roll out, toss, etc., then place onto 2 round stones or baking sheets greased with olive oil (or do one by one). Cover with a layer of pizza sauce and sprinkle with quartered meatballs, red onion, and feta (just a good sprinkle, you’re not trying to cover the whole thing like you would with motz). Bake for 12-16 minutes. Remove from oven and top with dressed greens, which will wilt prettily from the heat.

Slice and serve. Opa!

Note: garam masala is obviously not Greek, but I throw it in because it’s always in my kitchen and contains a lot of the same spices used in Greek cooking. You don’t need to run out and buy it if you don’t have it, just use cinnamon, cumin and black pepper, or whatever combination you like.