Biryani for Beginners

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It is still the Easter School Holidays. The kids are at home and so there isn’t much time for a finely honed blog post.

I thought I might try the quick post function.

I cannot profess to be an authority when it comes to making curry. Friends and family seem to own books on the subject with words in the title like ‘Bible’. The only curry recipe book I have at home features in the picture above and is called ‘Let’s eat Indian at home’! For ages I thought it was more snappily entitled ‘Let eat Indian tonight!’ It’s in a series; one could be eating Italian, Mexican or Chinese instead. I can’t say I even follow the recipes that closely, just absorbing a feel for what ingredients and spices are necessary to distinguish my saags from my bhunas. I don’t seem to have the time for the full recipes either so usually invent and as usual that is what happened last night.

My Biryani worked out very well though, I knew what I was aiming for in principle but in the end I don’t think this is authentic in any way as I went entirely off-piste in construction. Like with all these things it is a bit of a effort, a 2-stage process, but surprisingly quick as well. This serves 4.

So there are 2 parts to this, a tomato and spinach sauce and the biryani. I will list the ingredients out as we go along but the biryani can optionally include 30g each of soaked sultanas and toasted flaked almonds. Therefore, if using, before you even get to the tomato sauce you need to soak the sultanas in a bowl of boiling water.

Stage One – The Tomato Sauce

¼ medium Onion, chopped, 1 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, good pinch Chilli flakes, ½ tsp ground Ginger, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, pinch of Asafoetida, 1 red pepper, sliced, 1 tin of Tomatoes, chopped, or ½ tin of Passata, a handful of Spinach leaves, roughly chopped, 1 tsp chopped Mint, salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion, fry over a moderate heat until transparent and tinged brown round the edges, add the garlic, stir round for 30 seconds or so, add all the spices and stir again for another 30 seconds. Add the pepper, coat with the oil and spices and then add the tomatoes or passata, season, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally whist you make the biyani. If using passata you may need to slacken the sauce with recently boiled water from the kettle to prevent it from drying out.

Stage Two – The Biryani

350g Basmati rice, 800ml just boiled water, some left over roast lamb or chicken if you wish, chopped, ¾ Onion, sliced, 2 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, 1 tsp finely chopped Ginger or ½ tsp of ground, pinch of Chilli flakes to taste, 1 tsp ground Coriander, 2 tsp Cumin, 1 tsp Turmeric, pinch of Garam Masala, 4 or 5 Mushrooms, sliced, juice of 1 Lemon, good handful of frozen Peas, salt and pepper, optionally 30g each of flaked Almonds, toasted and the soaked Sultanas, fresh Coriander to serve if you have it.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 165°C. In something like a Le Creuset casserole, heat the oil and fry the onion again gently until tinged brown round the edges, then add the garlic, ginger and spices except the Garam Masala and fry again for a minute or so, add the meat, if using, and mushrooms and coat in the spices. Then add the rice and again coat in the spices and cook for a minute stirring continuously. Add 600ml of the boiled water, stir again to combine and once the liquid is bubbling, season, cover and pop into the oven for 15 minutes. Whilst that is cooking, toast the flaked almonds in a frying pan without oil over a moderate heat, shaking the pan frequently. This only takes a minute or so then remove from the heat and set aside. Drain the sultanas and set aside too.

Once the 15 minutes is up take the casserole out of the oven, stir the rice mixture which should look pretty much cooked, add the peas, lemon juice, Garam Masala and remaining 200ml of recently boiled water, stir through and return, covered, to the oven for 5 more minutes.

Add the mint and spinach to the tomato sauce and stir through until the spinach is wilted. Check the seasoning.

Once the 5 minutes is up, remove biryani from oven, fork through and add the almonds and sultanas if using. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.

Serve a bed of the biryani with a garnish of tomato sauce on top.

The kids coped fairly well with this, obviously you can tailor the chilli heat to suit and leave out almonds and sultanas to give a more child-friendly spicy rice dish which would be enjoyable on its own. Ours really liked the rice; the tomato/spinach sauce – not so much!

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Spring Risotto to Warm the Toes

I promised a risotto recipe about a month ago I think when the temperatures were barmy and there were thoughts that Summer must be just around the corner. Well that all changed about 48 hours ago when an arctic front swept across the country just in time for Child 1’s birthday Camp Out. I am typing today in a sleep deprived state, (so apologies if I lose my train of thought or this piece is peppered with worse than usual spelling) as the Camp Out turned into a Camp In. We live in a cottage and consequently ceilings are low, noise travels well and despite the ripe old age my elder son has reached it appears that if you administer food there is still a requirement to ‘let off steam’ immediately afterwards else furniture and/or breakables will be broken. Thankfully I spotted the cabin fever early, sent everyone to bounce on the trampoline and my meager collection of knick-knacks lives on. So with all that out the way, the cake pops issued as take home gifts and guitar cake consumed (not my finest creation for some reason), I have the Easter Weekend to look forward to.

Generally leg of Lamb is popular at such moments and, as I have mentioned before, Greek cooking springs (!) to mind at this time. One of my favourite roasts would be Lamb with Orzo pasta. This pasta is rice shaped, so the dish comprises of a kind of tomato-y risotto with caramelised onions, carrots and slices of delicious garlic studded roast lamb on top. Fantastic. The Orzo pasta can be a little tricky to get hold of and I have no idea how the origins of this Greek dish has pasta at the heart of it, but the Venetians invaded Crete at some point so maybe that fact is relevant. I’ve had a surf about and can’t find the exact recipe (I need to have a search through my Mother’s recipe book shelves to offer something here) but greek lamb with orzo from the bbc/food website will provide something similar.

So authentic risotto it is instead. The whole point of this dish is to use up leftovers. I love this type of cooking. The Italians have lots of dishes which have origins addressing this domestic issue. Salads, pasta sauces, pizza and risottos merely scratch the surface. I am assuming you have some left over roast lamb lying around for this.

  • Pick off some of the meat, to be honest you don’t need loads as the flavour is strong, and shred/chop into bite size pieces or smaller.
  • If you have any lamb gravy left over, pour/spoon into a saucepan and top up with water to give 600ml or 1 pint of stock. A vegetable stock cube will work here too. Get the stock simmering gently on the back of the hob.
  • In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, fry a chopped onion in a slug of olive oil. Cook gently to the transparent stage and then add a finely chopped stick of celery and included some chopped leafy parts too, cook that for a minute or two and add a crushed clove of garlic.
  • Then add 200g of risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli and stir continuously until the rice is coated well with the oil. Now you can add a slug of white wine or Vermouth at this stage or just start adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladles full at a time. Stir continuously and once the liquid has been absorbed, add a couple more, stir continuously and continue in this fashion for about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add your lamb, a good handful of frozen peas or so and a grating of parmesan, continue cooking in the gently simmering state for another 5 minutes or so until the rice, when sampled still has a little bite but appears to be almost done, the lamb is piping hot and the peas are tender.
  • At this point check for seasoning and add salt and pepper  to taste, a knob of unsalted butter, a good grating of parmesan if you wish, and a good tablespoon of fresh and finely chopped mint. Stir all that round for a minute or two and then ladle into bowls. This serves 2 adults.
  • Present the bowls with a little more grated parmesan and black pepper.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked just continue with recently boiled water from the kettle. This would also be good with ham from the Ham up and try it post! I will post more risotto recipes soon as I still haven’t brought you ‘Running Buddy 2 s’ ‘ yet.

Veg Box Fruit Salad

So one of those food marriages I’d never stopped to think about until was pointed out to me by the fabulous Rachel Allen, she gives a great fruit salad recipe with a herby twist in her wonderful book on which the following is based.

 

Veg/fruit boxes at this time of year are groaning under the weight of a curious mixture of pears and oranges (amongst other things).

 Therefore try the following: peel and chop a pear, slice the ends and the peel and pith from a couple of oranges (stand the oranges, once the tops and bottoms have been removed, on a chopping board and using a sharp knife cut down round the orange flesh removing just the peel and pith). Remove the segments of flesh with the knife by cutting adjacent to the segment membranes. This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is. Alternatively, peel oranges, separate segments and cut each segment in half. Add to the pear, add a little fruit juice or the juice released from the cut up oranges, or both and then add a small amount of finely chopped fresh mint. Either you are lucky enough to have some in the garden, or like me you bought some for a curry a week ago and the rest of the packet is languishing in the fridge. Mix together and eat at any time of day but particularly good at breakfast.

The first time I tried this I also added grapefruit and grapes. Citrus seems to be the key here, but also tropical either juice or actual fruit.

Rachel Allen’s book is still in print (Collins, 2009), and if you hang around here long enough you will see I refer to her often. She has a fantastically, simple style often needing few ingredients to pack a punch. A true food hero of mine.

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