Monday, March 3, 2008


I love cooking Dum Biryani- a traditional Indian melange of rice, spices and either a meat/vegetarian main ingredient, all baked together in a tightly closed utensil . I like to make some about once a month, and have modified the traditional recipe to suit a Southern Californian kitchen. Since I do not like oily food, the recipe is also stripped down to a lighter, fat-free version.

This past weekend, I made a vegetarian (for Dad and Steve) and a chicken Biryani (for Sunil and mom), and here is how the veggie option looked after it came out of the oven:

  • Main ingredient: 1 lb cubed chicken OR beef OR lamb (with or without bones)- OR paneer cheese OR a bunch of vegetables of your choice.
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 huge or 3 regular sized red onions OR use a box of french fried onions
  • 1 cup plain yogurt

  • A teaspoon of saffron threads
  • 1 longish cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 large black cardamoms
  • 6-7 green cardamoms
  • 6-7 cloves
  • 6-7 whole black pepper seeds
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • salt to taste
2 star anise, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 chopped jalapeno.

The rice:
Soak the rice in salted water for about 20 minutes, and get busy with julienning the onions (below).

The onions:
This is probably the hardest part. All the onions get julienned into thin strips. It is then recommended that we deep fry this, which I refuse to do- instead I suggest caramelizing in a large lightly oiled pan on low heat. work in batches, and get other stuff done while the onions turn a deep brown. Add salt to taste. You can do this step in advance and store the onions in the fridge for up to a week. If you are using a box of french-fried onions, you get to skip this step!

The main ingredient:
You can use pretty much any kind of "main" ingredient, but my favorite is lamb, which is the closest I can get to mutton here. What ever it is that you use, try not to mix different main ingredients- that's a paella, not a biryani.

Add all the spices to a pan, and dry roast for about a minute, till the smell of spices begins to hit you. Add your main to the pan with the jalapeno (if using), and brown on all sides. This will take the longest time if you are using lamb, and the shortest if you are using paneer. Spray olive oil to get the brown-iness of your choice. Add salt to taste.

Keep in mind, this step is to add color to the main ingredient, not cook it to death. Once you are happy with how it looks, take it off the heat.

Mix the cup of yogurt with 1 cup water, and the saffron, and microwave for about 30 seconds. This brings out the color of your saffron.

Drain the rice of all water. The rice should have turned opaque by now.

Get a baking dish, or your rice cooker container.

Taste everything for salt, and adjust accordingly.

Start layering: In your baking dish or rice cooker container, add 1 thin layer of rice, sprinkling 1 layer of prepped onions on top, and some of the main ingredient on top of that. Keep repeating layers, and finish with a layer of onions.

Slowly pour in the yogurt-water-saffron mix, evenly all over the surface. The liquid will sink in, and help in steaming. If you are not serving immediately, and the kitchen isn't hot, you can keep the dish at this stage for about 1 hr without issues, until you are ready. It is of course better if it goes directly to cook.


If you are using the oven, tightly cover your baking dish with tin foil, and place in over at about 350 degrees for a good 20 minutes.

If using the rice cooker, put in on "white rice" setting.

In either case, check your rice after 20 minutes, and see if you have enough/liquid or steam.
In the oven: If the rice is getting too moist/done, you have the option of taking off the foil- the top will crust a little, in a nice way, and the liquid will evaporate. If the rice looks under-done (check the bottom of the dish with a fork), add a little water.
In the rice cooker: its a no brainer- the cooker will tell you when it is done. Just make sure you open the lid in about 20 minutes- the rice musn't dry as sand either, which my rice cooker likes to do!

  1. The most crucial part of this dish is the timing on the rice. Keep in mind that the soaking softens the rice somewhat, and therefore you must be exact with your measurements.
  2. The dish feeds 3 hungry people- if you must multiply it, just remember 1 part rice to 2 part liquid (since there are meat/veg in there to steam cook as well).
Its done- Eat!

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