January 13th, 2014
The title of this post is a little bit of a cheat because, truthfully, biryani is simple by nature. I can’t lay claim to making it so, but I also have to call it out. There’s something just so great about a bowl of rice and vegetables that satisfies for dinner. And biryani certainly does.
The term biryani refers to a wide variety of spiced rice dishes from South Asia where the rice is cooked and flavored separately from a sauce made with meat, fish or vegetables, that are then mixed together. Though the sauce is traditionally thick on its own, the high volume of rice in the final dish ultimately gives biryani a dry texture. The rice is plentiful enough to soak up the sauce, leaving bits of veggies, meat or fish embedded in richly flavored rice that I, for one, can eat forever.
If you’re familiar with biryani, you might know it from your local Indian restaurants, but the dish is also popular in Southwest Asia around Iraq and Pakistan. The specific spice combinations used to flavor the rice and the sauce vary based on the country of origin. You can find biryani made with anything from saffron to cumin seeds, cinnamon to coriander. Or all of the above. It’s also not uncommon to find raisins, sultanas, and nuts mixed into biryani.
Are you sold yet? If not, take a closer look. Feast your eyes:
I developed this biryani recipe drawing mostly on Indian flavors since they are familiar to my kids. As expected, they gobble this up. Even the little one, Mr. Picky Pants, ate every last bite, cauliflower included. I’ve been feeding him Indian currys since his first bites and I can’t help saying that it goes to show: flavors served over and over are eventually accepted by our little eaters, even when they’ve rejected them at first, even when they are naturally picky.
My sauce, as it’s typically called, isn’t as saucy as you might get from a traditional biryani recipe. In fact, it’s not saucy at all, but it does the job well. This is delicious and, frankly, healthier without the ladles full of melted butter that typically make a biryani sauce saucy.
I finish this off with cashews. Salted, roasted will do, but I have to tell you that I’m currently obsessed with Yumnuts. Allow me to be clear: I have never been in touch with the folks at Yumnuts, I have never received Yumnuts for free, I do not work for Yumnuts. I just love (love) them and both their honey roasted and coconut roasted cashews go ridiculously well in this dish.
I also like mixing in golden raisins, but was pleasantly surprised by the results when I recently used dried cranberries. They were all I had on hand, and they were super.
This dish is very versatile. Feel free to swap out the veggies I use for whatever you have on hand. Cook the veggies with chicken or shrimp if you want to add lean animal protein. Use currants or slivered almonds. You really can’t go wrong with this simple—and simply delicious—recipe.
(can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
For the rice:
1 cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 teaspoon curry powder (mild or hot)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon corinader seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins, you can substitute sultanas or dried cranberries
1 3/4 cup water or vegetable broth
For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into small florets
1/2 lb string beans, washed, trimmed and cut in half or thirds
1-2 carrots, washed, trimmed and diced
2/3 cup vegetable broth
Cilantro, washed, for garnish (optional)
Plain Greek-style yogurt, for garnish (optional)
Roasted cashews, chopped, for garnish (optional)
1. Make the rice: Place rice in a bowl and fill with room temperature water. Swirl your hand through the water making the water cloudy with starch. Pour the cloudy water out and repeat this process 3 or 4 times until the water remains clear. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in a high sided pan over medium-high heat. Add curry powder, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds. Toast the spices until they are fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring all the while to keep the spices from burning. Add rice and raisins and stir, coasting both with the butter and spices; toast one more minute.
3. Stir in water or broth and add a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to bring to a simmer, cover, and allow the rice to cook 15-20 minutes. Once cooked through, quickly fluff the rice, cover again, and allow to sit, unattended, for another 5-10 minutes.
4. Make the vegetables: In another high sided pan or large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic and onion until soft and translucent. Add cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and ginger. Toast the spices until they are fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring all the while to keep the spices from burning. Add cauliflower, string beans, and carrots, and stir to coat; sauté for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add vegetable broth, cover, and cook vegetables for 7-10 minutes, until fork tender.
6. Add vegetables to rice and stir to combine well. Taste and season with salt. Serve topped with cilantro, a dollop of yogurt and/or roasted cashews.
*Note: This is a wonderful dish to share with your little eaters, from their very first bites. Other than keeping the salt to a minimum in baby’s portion (by salting at the very end, after you’ve removed their serving), this dish can be shared as is. Packed with flavor and veggies, simply puree or pulse your little one’s portion—with cilantro and yogurt, too, if you want!—into an age-appropriate consistency and serve.