Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani (Pakki Dum Biryani)

My husband and I love Biryani. Recently, we visited our cousin for the long weekend. Our cousin's wife has been an inspiration to me in more than one ways, one of the reason being she cooks amazing food which is tasty, healthy and marries the best of eastern and western world. She is a working woman, hands-on mom, plus she dishes out the tastiest meals and is a bundle of energy. She'd made Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani for our evening supper. I loved the flavour and she gladly shared the recipe. I've made few changes to suit our palate, but the end result was the best and very easy to cook as well. Of all the Chicken Biryani version's I've made this one is the easiest and the best tasting. This recipe is a common go-to recipe for Biryani now. The cooking style suits anyone who is learning to cook Chicken and Biryani together. Since the meat gets cooked earlier, this is known as Pakki Dum Ki Biryani. Original Biryani version's par-cook and cook them for longer periods. I've changed that to reduce the Dum cooking time. The best is chicken in marinade gets all squished up in a large giant zip lock bag. Less cleaning, lesser sanitizing chores and even lesser post-cooking mess!

The secret ingredient here is meat tenderizer powder which has a profound impact on the texture and softness of the meat. I also added oil to the chicken marinade. This keeps the meat moist and prevents dryness, both result in soft and juicy meat upon cooking. This also takes away my apprehension while cooking meat, primarily because at times its difficult to know if the meat is done or not especially while cooking biryani's in large quantities. This powder is available in India in select grocery stores, if not, one could also use raw papaya paste which can be made in advance, stored in refrigerator and used as per convenience.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 35-45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

Onions (sliced) - 3 cups
Tomato (chopped) [optional] - 1 cup
Bay leaf - 1
Cinnamon - 2 of 2" stick
Nutmeg - 1/2 teaspoon
Saffron water (a pinch of saffron in 3 tbsp of water or milk)
Biryani Masala - 1 tablespoon of masala for 1 cup of rice: 1 and 1/2 tablespoon used here

Chicken in marinade -
Chicken (thighs chopped into chunks) - 1.5 pound
Coriander leaves (finely chopped) - 1 cup
Mint leaves (finely chopped) - 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder - 1 teaspoon
Red Chilli powder - 1 tablespoon
Coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Cumin powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Mace (Javitri) [crushed] - 1 teaspoon
Whole black pepper corns - 10
Meat tenderizer (I use Shan brand) - 1 tablespoon for a pound of meat
Garam Masala - 1 tablespoon for 1 pound of Chicken
Yogurt - 2 cups for a pound of meat

Cooking Rice -
Rice - 1 and 1/2 cups
Star Anise - 1
Bay leaf - 1
Cloves - 4
Cinnamon - 2 of 2" sticks

Marinating Chicken - Clean the chicken and trim off the fat and skin. Cut into bite sized chunks. Add all the ingredients of the marinade and set aside in refrigerator for overnight/ 2 hours or at least 30 minutes minimum. I use a zip lock bag for this purpose.
Cooking Rice - Cook rice with oil, salt and the whole spices (1 rice:1 and 1/2 water proportion). Half cook the rice and once done, fork the rice gently, if possible spread on a plate and allow to cool. Set aside.
Cooking Chicken - Heat oil/ghee in a wide mouthed deep bottomed vessel. Once oil is heated and coats the bottom of vessel evenly, add sliced onions. Allow them to sweat, which implies you need not stir it often. Save about 1/2 cup of fried onions and set aside. Once the onions turn to a soft pale hue, add the chicken in marinade. Do not add water. The Chicken packs in lot of water to cook. Bring to a boil, simmer on low flame. Add grated nutmeg & Biryani Masala now. This process takes around 20-30 minutes. Cover with a lid. Check if chicken is fork tender. The gravy will be dry with very less cooking liquor. Once done, add the rice and mix gently. Garnish with saffron water, chopped herbs (optional) and fried onions (optional). Cover with a lid and place heavy weight on top. Seal the sides with a Chapati dough else use an aluminum foil. Cook for 5-8 minutes.

1. Meat tenderizer powder and oil keep the meat chunks in good shape both in terms of taste and texture.
2. Instead of layering the Biryani, I mixed the rice and chicken in gravy, the taste is fabulous. I add Tomatoes to cut through the spices, in addition they also add moisture to the Biryani texture. This is purely optional.
3. Chicken and Yogurt pack in lot of water, so do not add water while cooking chicken.
4. Cook Biryani in a wide mouthed vessel. Cooking process is better and faster for large quantities with meat.
5. Meat with bone has more flavour than boneless, but personally I prefer boneless meat. Pick your choice as per preference.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Edible Silver Leaf | Chaandi Ka Varq

I was introduced to this delicate as a damsel, thin leafy edible goodness as a kid. The leaf was nicely attached to multi colored mithais we got for Diwali or Dussehra from local sweet shop vendors. I wondered how easy or difficult (?) it was to put these tiny leaves on confectionery items. Both my parents adore Paan; if we visit restaurants for lunches or dinners, its considered an unpardonable aberration if we forget to chomp a delicious juicy Paan from the vendors who typically own a quiet pigeon hole sized shop right outside the corner of restaurants. Seeing both my folks chomping away Paan, I got into the habit of savouring my Paan Bidaa and now my husband also enjoys a Paan if we have one within accessible limits.

Before I digress, whether its occasional festive platter of Mithais or Paan, the silvery leaves enamoured me to bits. I hunted down some local vendors in India to procure my book of silver leaves much opposing the protest of my family, aunts and uncles who believe they are all contaminated and banned for health reasons. Use your discretion as per your preferred dietary choice. I was delighted to discover this rectangular pack which has a book of silver square cut paper. Each time you lift a sheet of paper, you are exposed to the tiny, thin, delicate and uber special - Chaandi Ka Varq. One can also find edible gold leaves or Sone Ka Varq but are quite rare and prized owing to the rarity and exquisiteness. I use them to decorate mithais, desserts which require that something extra to spruce up the presentation.

I was amused when one of our american friends causally asked me during one of the dinners if Indians consume silver as part of regular food? I laughed my heart out and explained the history and delicateness of this leaf which we all either proudly consume or detest or plainly disregard but is an inherent part of out culinary culture and has been so for many many decades now beginning from the royal families who used them in abundance to the contemporary weddings and festive cuisines where a bit of bling just adds to the overall ambience.

If you wish to use the silver leaf as embellishment for desserts or sweet items, just invert the paper on the portion of item desired. The silver leaf immediately clings to the surface. The leaves have a tendency to stick to any of kind of surface in contact so avoid using hands or fingers while transferring to the edible item of choice. The silver as such does not have a flavour or taste, it is just used as garnish cum decor item.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Raw Jackfruit Biryani (Kadgi Biryani/ Kathal Biryani) - 1.0

Recently, I bought a small bag of precooked raw jackfruit (young and tender) on a whim from the Indian grocery store and made an impromptu Biryani out of it. My husband loves the meaty texture of jackfruit and I love jackfruit in any form! I added lot of ingredients to the precooked jackfruit as a marinade which took the jackfruit taste few notches up.

This recipe is inspired from our cousin's wife's Chicken Biryani recipe which I will be posting soon. Taking inspiration from her I added little bit of tenderiser powder to soften the jackfruit pieces, not required for vegetables as much for meat, the flavour was nice, succulent and soft. Instead of layering the rice and gravy curry, I mixed them to mingle the delicate flavours and we both liked the change. Not to mention, Mace and Nutmeg add the extra zing which every Biryani dish requires. This is a good Biryani for vegetarians who do not eat meat yet wish to relish the flavour of Biryani.

~ Kadgi Biryani ~
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 mnts (rice) + 30 mnts (assembly)

Onions (sliced) - 2 cups
Bay leaf - 2
Tomatoes (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Nutmeg (grated) - 1/2 tsp
Saffron water - 2 tbsp

For Raw Jackfruit marinade -
(Precook Raw Jackfruit with salt and turmeric water, cool and then use with marinade)
Yoghurt - 1 cup
Mint leaves (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Coriander leaves (chopped) - 1 cup
Red Chilli powder - 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp
Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder - 1/2 tsp
Mace (Javithri crushed) - 1 teaspoon
Garam Masala powder - 1 tbsp
Biryani Masala powder - 1 tbsp
Meat tenderiser powder - 1 tsp
Mix all of it and refrigerate till use.

For cooking rice -
Basmati rice - 1 and 1/2 cup
Star Anise - 1
Black Cardamom - 1
Cinnamon sticks - 2 of 2"
Cloves - 2
Cook rice with 1: 1 and 1/2 water, 1 tbsp oil and salt

Jackfruit marinade - Precook the jackfruit pieces in turmeric powder and salt water and drain water. Do not throw the water away. Keep aside. Allow to cool. Add all the ingredients of the marinade to the jackfruit pieces in a bowl, mix well and refrigerate till use. Add oil as it keeps the jackfruit pieces moist.
Cooking Rice - Wash rice. If possible soak the rice in salt water and oil for 1/2 and hour before use. Cook with whole spices in 1:1 and 1/2 cups of water. Cook till rice is half done. I cook in an electric rice cooker which gives me precise granularity. Once done, spread rice on a plate and allow to cool.
Jackfruit gravy and mixing rice - In a deep bottomed pan (the same will be made to prepare Biryani so use your judgement), heat few spoons of oil/ ghee. Once oil is hot enough, add bay leaves and add onions. Sweat them in oil till they turn light yellow and are fried. Pick half of fried onion and keep aside. In that add the jackfruit marinade and saute till completely cooked and the gravy is thick and not watery. This takes around 20 minutes. Mix the cooked rice now and give a good stir. Sprinkle the other half of cooked onions, garnish with chopped coriander leaves and saffron water. Cook covered for 5 minutes. Serve hot with Raita or Mirchi Ka Saalan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mango Sheera

Today is my Ammama's birthday. Although she is very old, frail and ailing octogenarian, she is very active with her wit, humor and one-liners. When fit and in good health, she fed almost anyone who dropped by our door step. Ammama's favorite fruit is Mango especially the ripe ones which is as sweet as sugar. Her most relished ones being Mundappa and Kalapaadi. Ammama's favorite dish is a konkani one called as Ambe Upkari. Its a dish with ripe mangoes simmered in a spicy tangy sauce cooked on low flame. She loved waiting for the first bout of showers which would mean our vegetable vendor Koraapol would come with the most juiciest mangoes harvested from the nearby villages. Even if it was a small produce she would make sure all of them were sent to her sons and daughters. She has the highest regard for those who cook and share with their loved ones. That being said she has trained both her sons and daughters to cook a decent meal with the aim of making them self-sufficient.

Mom made Sheera for us on festive occasions. All of us like sheera made with fruits so she made Pineapple sheera, Mango sheera and Banana (Nendra Baale) sheera. All of them taste good with the subtle flavour of fruits found in the Semolina underbelly. Sheera being a Marathi/ Goan dish is a common one reserved for warm summer evenings with friends and a hearty jabber session thrown in.

Ammama's love for mangoes makes me nostalgic. I thought of making Mango Sheera keeping her in my thoughts. I only wish USPS could do a express air delivery of my sheera for Ammama. That being a wishful thinking here's wishing my dear Ammama a very Happy Birthday. Its been a privilege to be her grand daughter!

~ Mango Sheera ~
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes


Roasted Upma Sooji/ Semolina - 1 cup
Mango pulp - 1 cup
Sugar - 1 and 1/2 cup
Warm whole milk - 1 and 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder - 1/3 tsp
Cashew nuts (chopped) - 2 tbsp
Golden yellow raisin - 2 tbsp
Ghee/ Unsalted butter (melted) - 1/4 cup

Heat ghee in an non-reactive non-stick deep bottomed pan. Once hot, add the cashew nuts and raisins and saute till they are plump and crisp. Transfer to another dish and add the roasted upma sooji. Stir well till you get a nutty aroma and the mixture becomes crumbly. Add milk and mango pulp now. You will feel the mixture is too pasty, but don't worry. Keep stirring to avoid the mixture sticking to the bottom of vessel. Add the fried dry fruits now and stir well. Once mixture is not raw and cooked, add sugar and keep stirring. The mass will be very pasty, adjust sweet taste as desired. Turn off once completely cooked. Garnish with ground cardamom. Smear ghee on a cookie tray. Spread the mixture while hot and level and cut into squares. Remove and transfer to an air tight container once cooled off.

Note - Replace with different fruits to make variety of Sheera. Add sugar only after mixture gets cooked in milk and pulp. There is a particular variety of semolina available as Roasted Upma Sooji. This one gave me the desired results v/s other brands with no good results.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Traditional Measuring Cup (Tandla Maane)

My Mom is very attached to her kitchen contraptions, containers, utensils and various knick-knacks as she believes there is a story behind each of them. Not to forget the tiny details on how she went about procuring each of the item. I on the other hand ransack our kitchen in India on every given opportunity to locate the traditional ones which in my opinion will dwindle soon from the horizon in some years.

One such measuring cup which I spotted was a traditional one which is known in GSB Konkani as Tandlaa Maane (maane used to measure rice). As much as Mom has the newer standard measuring cups adorning the kitchen shelves, she goes back to her oldie copper battered and wearied down Maane as it was gifted my old and ailing grand mom to my mom many many years back. Mom gifted me one during my last trip to India as I lamented for not having a similar one in my kitchen. Fearing the oxidation of copper cups, I settled for a steel one. Incidentally, my grandmom's home still has the traditional measuring cups which are Padee and Maane. One Maane equals 1 and 1/2 cup of standard cup measurement. I am surprised as the measurement is precise.