The Kitchen Silk Road

Biryani – a kingly dish for the Indian chef. It is rice dish layered with flavours and achieved through a complex process of adding ingredients. It is rather like the Italian Timballo di Scripple that I wrote about. It can be meat based or vegetarian. Today we will construct Lamb Biryani along with a Tadka Dal and Cucumber Raita. The recipes are all from Chef Sean Mendoca’s Indian Cooking class at George Brown

We begin with a lamb curry. As I learned from Chef Sean, there is a misconception about curry. It is not heating lamb in curry powder. Curries are layered flavours that we build before adding the meat. Then the meat marinates in those flavours.

Heat ghee in a pot. When hot, add the cumin seeds so they crackle in the pan. This creates a cumin oil. Add cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom seeds. Allow them to crackle. Then add Garam Masala – a spice mixture of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Allow to powder to heat for just a little time so it does not burn. Then add onions and sauté to a golden brown – usually takes about 5 minutes. Lower the flame and add garlic paste and ginger paste.

Now, be ready. You have that pungent garlic and ginger scent. Add our spice powders turmeric and coriander and you kitchen blossoms into a Spice Road caravan.

Stir the powders quickly. Add tomatoes allowing another 5 minutes to cook. Add the lamb and simmer for 40 minutes. Allow it to cool down (you can have a little bowl to tide you over until the Biryani is ready).

I use Basmati rice for the Biryani. It is an Indian rice and is easy to work with. Give the rice a gentle wash by moving two fingers through it then let sit for about 10 minutes before draining.

Bring a pot of water and add the salt, whole cardmom, whole cinnamon, whole cloves. Add the drained rice. Cook until it is 3/4 done then strain.

Put the meat, along with the sauce, into a pot. Add the warm rice over it. You need to keep the heat in the pot so a heavy lid is needed. Otherwise, you can make a dough rope and circle it around the lid to seal it. Bake at 450 degrees for 40 minutes.

Toast saffron in a pan. Add milk and stir the saffron. When the Biryani is ready, open the lid and add the milk. Garnish with your choice of chopped coriander leaves and stems, fried onions, roasted cashews, or raisins.

I made a cucumber raita to go with it. Yogurt, lemon juice, cumin seeds, Kashmiri chili powder and coriander leaves.

The next day, I did a Tadka Dal to go with the leftover biryani. Dal is the Indian word for lentil. There is quite a range of lentil to choose from – red, brown, green, yellow, black. I used red lentil for this dish.

Wash and drain the lentils. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 15 mintues. Heat about 30 g of ghee and crackle cumin seeds. Onions, garlic and ginger paste. Add tumeric, Kashmiri chili powder. Add tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the mixture to the lentils and mix.

Finally we temper the mixture with hot fat. In a pan heat ghee. Crackle mustard seed. Add curry leaves and slit green chilies. The last ingredient is hing. It is a flavour enhancer and can be purchased in an Indian grocery store. Hing is a compound of Asafoetida.

Slowly add the tempered ghee to the lentil mixture, straining out the ingredients. Stir in about 5 g of Garam Masala and garnish with coriander leaves.

To achieve complex flavours requires a methodical process. Preparing everything in advance and following a process of building. Each step provides a taste sensation culminating in a presentation you will be proud of.

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