Tag Archives: brown rice

A Biryani (almost) fit for the Nizam

Chicken biryani with brown basmati rice

The last Nizam of the former princely state of Hyderabad in South India was the richest man in the world in his time. Accounting for inflation, his fortune still ranks as one of the world’s all time highest. The Nizam was no mere ‘His Highness’ but rather ‘His Exalted Highness’. For all his wealth, the last Nizam is said to be a miser, eccentric in many ways. He was even on the cover of Time magazine in 1937.

As the Nizams before him, he too expected only the best food to be served at his royal table. These rulers of Hyderabad, had between the 15th and 19th century, perfected the art of cooking. They took the princely Mughlai cuisine and blended it with the spicier South Indian fare. Their rendition of the Persian dish really resulted in the birth of biryani as we know it today. While most of the restaurant biryanis on offer all taste more or less the same, there are in fact many kinds of biryanis. The chefs of the Nizam are reputed to have 49 biryani dishes, the recipes for which were closely guarded.

With this historical background in mind, I felt audacious taking this popular dish and remaking it to fit my dietary needs (brown rice instead of white) and to ease the prep work in my decidedly non-royal kitchen. I also used chicken instead of the more authentic goat meat just because it is so much easier to find. The method that I used to cook biryani is a mash-up of the slow cooking Hyderabad style and the get-it-done already Lucknow style, another place in India famous for its biryani. Even still, this is likely one of the more complicated recipes on my blog. If you have questions, please post them as comments. I’ll try my best to answer them.

One layer each of chicken, rice and garnishes later

Preparing the saffron

I'm hungry!

Recipe – serves 6

Rice

  • 2 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed (Please use Indian/Pakistani brown basmati rice. American Lundburg Basmati or Texmati don’t behave like true Basmati rice)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To marinate

  • 2 lbs chicken breast, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp garam masala (tandoori + saag)
  • 1 tsp coriander pwd
  • 1 tsp cumin pwd
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint, chopped

Garnish

  • 2 large yellow or sweet onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • ¼ cup water

Base

  • 3 tablespoons ghee or high heat oil
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Put rice to soak in a steel pot for at least 1 hour. Don’t forget to add the salt.

Mix the marinade ingredients together except for the chicken. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Mix in the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes till ready to use.

Prepare the onion garnish. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet (or wok). Saute onion over medium-low heat till brown and nicely caramelized. Adding a big pinch of salt with the onions helps reduce the cooking time. Stir occasionally to prevent uneven cooking. This whole process should take about 20 minutes. The longer the time the onions take to cook, the better the flavor. Place the cooked onion in a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

When the rice has soaked for an hour, heat the pot over high heat. Once the water starts coming to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 8 minutes. Cover the pot while simmering. Once the timer goes off, remove from heat, strain the rice and put aside. The rice should be half cooked. You could also start the next step in parallel while waiting for the rice to cook.

Next prepare the base. Heat the ghee or oil in a large thick bottomed pot over medium high heat till a cumin seed thrown in the oil sizzles. (You can use the same pot to bring the whole dish together at the end and reduce your cleaning!) Fry all the whole spices for 10 seconds or till you smell the aroma of the cumin seeds. Immediately add the chicken with all the marinade. Give everything a quick stir and reduce heat to medium. Have a lid handy in case of splattering.

Let the chicken sauté for 3 minutes or till all the pieces are slightly cooked (opaque) on the outside. If you cut open a piece, it should still be pink on the inside. Remove from heat immediately.

At the point, you should have a pot of half cooked brown rice and a pot of half cooked chicken. Now comes the fun part! Remove 1/3 of the chicken and put aside. Into the same pot as the chicken, add half the rice as a layer above the chicken. On top of the rice, sprinkle part of the cilantro, mint and caramelized onion. Add the rest of the chicken as a fourth layer. Make a second layer of rice on top of the chicken. For the last layer, add the rest of the onion, cilantro and mint, saving a little bit to use as fresh garnish before serving.

Now your pot with all the layers is ready for its final step. Cover the pot immediately with a tight fitting lid. If you don’t have a tight fitting lid, cover the pot with a thin towel and then with the lid to form a tighter seal. This is important since the chicken and rice need steam to finish cooking.

Turn on the heat to a very low setting. I use ‘1’. Let your stove come up to heat and then place the pot on it. Turn on the timer to 30 minutes. Both the chicken and the rice should be perfectly cooked.

Notes

Tue Indian basmati rice means a trek to the Indian or Asian grocery store. You’re probably wondering why you can’t substitute another brown rice or use American brown basmati rice. The true basmati rice has an amazing flavor and when cooked, stays fluffy and elongates. None of this is true of the ‘American’ basmati which really should not be allowed to use the name basmati. So you *can* use a different rice but if you do, please be warned that cooking times will vary. Your biryani will still be edible but it won’t be quite as good. I know because I’ve tried it with brown basmati rice from Whole Foods and Indian brown basmati rice. Huge difference.

I highly recommend using ghee rather than oil in preparing the base. Or at least a mix of the two.

Many recipes call for red coloring. I refuse to use artificial flavors and colors in my cooking (or in my recipe kits) and prefer to make food look pretty with garnishes or natural dyes like turmeric or saffron.

Yummy brown basmati rice Biryani

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Kicchdi for the Soul

The waft of cumin cooking in ghee stirs the soul. The sweet whiff of cinnamon calms it. The spicy clove though adds some excitement.

Kicchdi, food for the soul

Eating kicchdi always brings to mind the 10 days I spent in yoga camp as a 15 year old.

School was out for the summer. My parents were gone for 3 weeks to a yoga school on the outskirts of Bangalore. But they had such a great experience that they decided my brother and I should attend too. We were not too enthusiastic about it but were made to go (sound familiar to anyone?!).  But once we got there and practiced yoga for a couple of days, I started appreciating the experience and how much more energetic and happy it made me feel. We would start at 5 in the morning with stretches and asanas and end with sun salutations just as the sun rose. After a brief meditation, it was time for breakfast followed by a shower. In the afternoon, there were lectures about yogic philosophy before lunch and time for individual exercise after. Pranayama or eye exercises and breathing practice was part of the evening routine. There was plenty of time to read and walk about the beautiful grounds every day.

Part of what made the experience special for me was the variety and colors in the food we ate. It was all vegetarian and very healthy ayurvedic food of course. But it was so tasty! At the buffet, kicchdi was the option I most often went for. It didn’t look like much but the flavor of ghee with the few spices used made each spoonful taste like a happy song on my tongue.

The cares of the day start fading away when I hear the sizzle of the lentils touching hot oil and the hiss of water as it hits the hot steel pot.  The muscles in my neck feel less tight as I cover the pot and let the lentils and rice simmer in warmth.

Here’s my recipe for kicchdi.  I normally use Bhutanese or Himalayan red rice but didn’t have any today and used germinated brown rice instead. I also like to finely dice up a jalapeno and mix it into the cooked kicchdi for a little kick. There are so many recipe twists you can take!

Kicchdi with jalapenos

But try as you may, there is just no way to make boiled lentils and rice look good. So I hope that you will go beyond mere looks and allow the aromas and sounds while cooking this dish make for a sensual meditation.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed (or any other rice)
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed (or other lentils that will cook in roughly the same amount of time as the rice)
  • 2 inch stick of Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 inch stick cassia cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 pods green cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Garam masala
  • Lime (optional), quartered
  • 1 jalapeno (optional), finely chopped
  • Cilantro for garnishing
For the difference between Ceylon cinnamon and cassia, see this post.

Red lentils

Brown rice

Spices for kicchdi (ceylon cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, garam masala)

Recipe

  1. Heat 1.5 tablespoons oil in a thick bottomed pot for about 2 minutes or till a cumin seed thrown in sizzles
  2. Roast all whole spices for 10 seconds
  3. Add the rice, lentils and the garam masala
  4. Let roast for 30 seconds while stirring. The rice should start to clump up.
  5. Add 5.5* cups of water
  6. Add 1 teaspoon salt and mix
  7. Bring to boil
  8. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or till rice and lentils are cooked. The cooking times will vary if you use different rice or lentils. White rice and masoor dal will only take 10 -15 minutes to cook.
  9. Adjust salt to taste and squeeze lime if desired
  10. Garnish with cilantro and serve with vegetables or plain yogurt

*If you’re making this ahead of time, I’d recommend using 6 cups of water as the kicchdi consistency will naturally get thicker once cooked.

When I make kicchdi, I feel like I’m not just cooking but nurturing my body. And I surely hope that you feel just as good eating this kicchdi as I do.

Kicchdi

 

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