Attempting to block out the madness on the train back from work today, I popped in my headphones and something made me click on songs sung by a famous Pakistani rock band I idolized growing up, called Junoon and in a sudden spirit of nationalism I listened to their song ‘Jazba-e-Junoon‘ which was the ‘anthem’ when Pakistan won the cricket World Cup, the meaning of the song is ‘spirit of passion‘…I was suddenly seemingly and embarrassingly tearful…I found myself thinking of how Pakistan is now always in the light of negative media and that in reality too, it isn’t the Pakistan I grew up in. Hearing the song’s lyrics, I’m filled with patriotic fervour, reminiscing about a country I still know to be beautiful, blessed and simple in so many ways, yet steeped in history and tradition. Inhabited by a generous and hospitable people. It’s easy to loose sight of your identity when you’re an expat and you’re trying to fit in – but Pakistan is where I will always belong and it belongs to me….
And with that thought, I am here to share this recipe. Biryani is the quintessential Pakistani comfort and celebratory food and this is my mother’s famous recipe. This dish is one that brings Pakistani togetherness to mind. In Pakistan when one thinks of biryani we think of family lunches, colourful festive weddings, religious days and a sense of sharing and being in the company of loved ones. I thought that to feed my sense of home sickness coupled with patriotism I should share a recipe that defines Pakistan in one dish! Oh and did I mention, our flag is green and white – so hence green is our patriotic colour! I am so in a mood
List 1: Main ingredients:
4-6 medium red onions finely sliced, deep fried and browned in an equal mix of vegetable oil and ghee (about 1 cup)
2 cups of natural yoghurt (whipped and the browned onions above are added, the ‘onion yoghurt mix’)
1 medium whole skinless chicken cut into 12 pieces by butcher (Tip: The rice and chicken should always be in equal ‘visual’ quantities)
3-4 medium chopped tomatoes
Whole ‘garam masala’ consisting of: 10 cloves, 2 long cinnamon quills, 10 green cardamom pods, bruised, 15 peppercorns, 2 star anise
2 ½ cups basmati rice (soaked in tap water for about 30 minutes before cooking)
About 1-2 cup each of Vegetable oil and ghee at hand
2 pinches of saffron (soaked in hot milk/water for 15 minutes minimum to release colour/fragrance)
1 tbsp rosewater
List 2:Ingredients for Green masala, grind the following into a fine, smooth paste:
2 inch piece of ginger
4-5 pieces of garlic
1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 cup chopped mint leaves
2 ½ cups of coriander leaves
3-4 de-veined thin green chilli
½ tsp turmeric
½ red chilli powder
Serves about 4-5 people accompanied with my crunchy cucumber and tomato raita. Takes about 1 hour to prepare and 1/2 in the oven
*Chicken can be substituted with paneer for a vegetarian option, please see at end of recipe for hints
1. In a large saucepan on medium heat, add a mix of 2 tbsp ghee and ¼ cup of vegetable oil. Fry the chicken pieces until brown but not cooked through. Take chicken out but keep pan with juices to cook the curry.
2. In a separate medium saucepan boil water with one of the cinnamon quills and 4 bruised cardamom pods and boil the drained rice until half done (el dente).
3. In the large saucepan used to fry the chicken (on medium heat), add ¼ cup of oil and 2 tbsp of ghee and fry the remaining whole garam masalas until they are fragrant but not burnt. Now add chopped tomatoes and fry until a bit cooked through and oil rises to the top. Next add the green masala and cook until the oil rises on top as well.
4. Next add the browned chicken and the ‘onion yoghurt mix’ and fry until the curry is thick and the oil rises to the top. At this point pre-heat the oven to a medium 160-165 degrees C.
5. Once the curry is ready take it off the heat and pour over the half cooked rice and shove lemon slices and mint leaves here and there, pour the saffron milk and a tbsp of melted ghee and sprinkle the rosewater over the rice. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid (we used a dough to seal the lid, you could place some foil and then the lid to create a seal). Place in the oven for about 30 minutes to an hour, until the rice is perfectly cooked through.
6. To serve, give the rice a gentle stir to mix the curry with the rice, careful not to break the rice and dish out into a serving bowl with a sprinkling of coriander and mint leaves. Tuck in with an accompaniment of a cucumber and tomato raita
Make ahead: The chicken curry can be cooked and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat gently before assembling the rice and putting in oven. The green masala can also be prepared up to a day before.
Vegetarian option: Substitute the chicken with paneer – Indian cheese, available in most supermarkets. Fry this in oil and add as you would the chicken.