Growing up in an Indian household, I hated Indian food. All I wanted to eat was mac & cheese (out of a box, with loads of the powdered, flourescent orange "cheese") and hotdogs; you know, the kind of food I envisioned my American counterparts eating at every meal. I guess eating boxed, processed foods was my idea of assimilation. It took going away to college where I ate 3 bland, flavorless meals a day at the cafeteria for me to develop an appreciation for the complexities of spices and taste involved in Indian cooking. This dish I'm sharing with you is a traditional Indian meal that both my parents continue to make on special occasions. Biriyani is a layered casserole-style dish of rice, meat, (I've used lamb, but chicken is also very popular), and vegetables. I've tweaked this recipe over the years, and I hope that I took the best from both my parent's recipes. Indian food, initially, is time consuming, with the chopping of garlic, onions, ginger, serrano peppers, etc, but once it goes in the cooking pot, you can forget about it while it simmers itself into a cohesive bounty of deliciousness. Please don't let my lack of photography skills deter you from making this great dish!
Step 1: Make marinade for lamb
2 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into chunks, excess fat cut away
Marinade (directions follow):
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground tumeric
In a large bowl, combine lamb with marinade ingredients. Stir well to coat lamb with marinade. Refrigerate anywhere from 3 to 24 hours.
Step 2: Make Biriyani
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch ginger knob, minced
2 serrano chili peppers, sliced very thin (optional)
Salt to taste
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp garam masala * see note below
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups rice, preferably basmati rice, nearly cooked (see step 2 for clarification)
Garnish: cilantro, cashews or sliced almonds
To prepare Biriyani:
1. In a large, heavy pan, over low heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add onion and fry until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, and serrano peppers and fry an additional 5 minutes. Add lamb and marinade to onion-garlic-ginger mixture. Add salt (I used approx 2 tsp). Reduce heat to low and simmer until lamb is tender, approx 45 minutes. If liquid level gets too low during cooking, add water to pot in 1/2 cup amounts.
2. Prepare rice, using whatever method you favor. I use the microwave for fool-proof rice: 2 cups of basmati rice(rinsed), 3 cups of water, a large pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil into a covered dish x 12 minutes. For the biriyani, aim for nearly cooked rice because the rice will finish off in the pot with the lamb mixture.
3. Add 1/2 cup of water to lamb mix, add mushrooms, mostly cooked rice, and frozen peas.
4. In a coffee mug, heat up 1/2 cup whole milk to boiling in microwave. Add pinch saffron. Steep x 15 minutes. Add this hot milk mixture to lamb (I poured it through a sieve because of the "skin" which formed after heating the milk). Add garam masala.
5. Stir everything together, and simmer for approx 15 additional minutes. Make sure the rice, peas, and mushrooms are soft. Garnish with nuts, cilantro.
**store bought garam masala is fine to use. However, if you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own mixture. The garam masala I've used is made from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.
In a spice grinder, grind into a powder:
1 tablespoon Cardamom seeds (I use less, approx 1.5 tsp)
1 (2 inch) piece cimmamon stick, broken into pieces
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
3/4 tsp black peppercorns