Hyderabad is the capital of two states in Southern India and is known as a center for India's pearl and diamond trade. And, biryani. Hyderabadi Biryani is known throughout India and beyond, made special by the mix of spices including mace, dried fruit, and nuts.
Traditionally, there are two ways to cook this one-pot meal. One is to place your raw, marinated meat and other ingredients in a clay pot and seal it - opening only when perfectly cooked (this takes some serious practice).
The other is to cook your ingredients partially and then put them together to finish up in the oven. For my events and classes, I lean towards the partially cooked method - rather than dealing with surprises later. Some restaurants like Naan on Devon in Chicago do offer up biryani made in the first manner, but often only on the weekends, when foot traffic is higher. Call ahead and ask for it.
This recipe of mine, however, is absolutely delicious. The ingredient list seems long, but persevere. You'll make it again and again - your spices will not go to waste. Also, try my idea of tart cherries. It takes the taste profile to a whole new level. Even my kids who are not used to the sweet notes in their traditional Punjabi dishes are starting to warm up to it. Though, my 11-year-old notes that the caramelized onions add a little 'too much sweetness' for her. Well, who asked her, anyway?
I beg to differ, and cannot get enough of them, especially in this recipe!
Hyderabadi Vegetarian Biryani
3 pinches saffron
¼ cup milk or milk alternative, warmed
2 cups basmati rice, washed
4 black cardamom pods, 2 whole and 2 slightly crushed
4 bay leaves
3 cups water
4 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon Ghee or vegetable oil, divided
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, roughly chopped
½ cup golden raisins
1/2 cup tart, dried cherries
4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced in rings
5 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
5 cloves, slightly crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon shah jeera or caraway seed
½ teaspoon anise seed
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated or minced
6 cloves garlic, grated or minced
8 oz. paneer or baked tofu
1 medium cauliflower, trimmed and cut in bite-sized pieces
2 large carrots, diced
12 string beans, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium Russet potato, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen peas
4 green Thai chiles, stems removed and sliced lengthwise
12 mint leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup cilantro
1 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
½ teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons red chile powder or cayenne
2 tablespoons garam masala
1 tablespoon salt
Equipment Needed: One saucepan for the rice and a 6-quart saute pan for the biryani. My goal was minimal dishes on the backend. You're welcome!
1. Place your oven rack second from the top and pre-heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Put the saffron strands in the milk and set aside.
3. In a saucepan add the rice, 2 whole black cardamom pods, 2 bay leaves, and water. Simmer over medium-high heat just until the water evaporates. The rice should be al dente. Set aside. The spices help flavor the rice a bit, though they are not absolutely necessary.
4. Heat 1 teaspoon of ghee or oil in a 6-quart sauté pan. Saute the cashews, raisins, and cherries together until they are slightly brown, about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Get creative with your nuts and/or dried fruit. I use everything from almonds and cranberries to pistachios and dried apricots.
5. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in the same pan. Add sliced onions and a pinch of salt, and fry over medium-high heat until brown and slightly crispy, about 10-12 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside. The key here is not to crowd the onions, so use a wide sauté pan, and don’t mix the onions too much – mix once they start to brown to avoid them getting mushy.
6. Add another 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil. Add slightly crushed green and black cardamom pods, cloves, 2 bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, shah jeera, and anise. Cook about a minute until the spices start to bloom and become fragrant.
7. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook about a minute, mixing.
8. Add paneer. Cook 1 minute, mixing.
9. Add vegetables (including the chiles). You should have about 9 cups of veggies in total. Cook a total of about 10 minutes, adding about ¼ cup of water in the middle and placing the lid on the pot so that the vegetables cook a bit; though, they should be al dente.
10. Add the mint, cilantro, yogurt, mace, turmeric, red chile, garam masala, and salt. Cook another minute, mixing well.
11. Transfer the cooked vegetable mixture to a 6-quart oven-safe sauté pan or casserole dish. The key is to use something with a lid or that you can cover tightly with aluminum foil. If you don't have a pan this large, or if you have a smaller oven, use more than one smaller pan, aluminum tray, or casserole dish, or alternatively, add double up your layers.
12. Place half the cashews mixture from Step 4 into the vegetables in your pan along with half the onions from Step 5. Add the rice and press down gently.
13. Add the remaining cashew mixture and onions on top of the rice.
14. Pour the milk-saffron mixture over top. Seal your container with a lid or aluminum foil.
15. Place in the oven and cook 40-45 minutes. If you pull the biryani out and the rice is slightly undercooked, put it back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately with a dollop of plain, unsweetened yogurt.
Tips: To make with chicken, use 1 pound, bite sized pieces of boneless chicken instead of paneer. Cook for 2 minutes then add the vegetables and proceed. Make and construct ahead of time and throw into the oven 1 hour before eating, though if refrigerating remember to pull it out of the fridge and sit for about 30 minutes to warm up. Otherwise, you'll have to cook it longer in the oven.