A taste of the cui­sine of kings

Sumayya Us­mani on how the com­fort foods of the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent are per­fect for a Scots au­tumn

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food + Drink -

Biryani is the ul­ti­mate com­fort food, as well as the most cel­e­bra­tory dish. As I cook it now, I am re­minded of warm, fra­grant, beau­ti­ful Pak­istani houses with mar­ble ve­ran­das and airy rooms with the sin­gu­lar ceil­ing fan which brought a cool breeze to a sti­fling hu­mid af­ter­noon – all so far re­moved from the cold au­tumn days of Scot­land, hud­dled be­fore the log fire. But the sat­is­fac­tion is not any dif­fer­ent.

Cre­at­ing a biryani is as much an art form as an ex­er­cise of love, pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance. With many re­gional recipes found in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, the one I make to­day is a sim­pli­fied one, passed down to my grand­moth­ers.

It is rich in Per­sian and Mughal tech­niques of cook­ing ini­tial flavour en­hancers such as onions, gar­lic, gin­ger, and smok­ing meats, us­ing rich deca­dent spices – all his­tor­i­cally in­her­ited by the royal cui­sine of the Mughal em­per­ors.

Most birya­nis I cooked grow­ing up would be meat based, but us­ing the abun­dance of Scot­land’s au­tumn’s har­vest makes the most deca­dent of birya­nis.

This recipe is based on my grand­moth­ers’ ba­sic biryani. My best mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in Pak­istan are

suf­fused with the aro­mas that fill the room as you open the sa­cred seal of the biryani and the en­tic­ing steams rise out of the saucepan – not only con­firm­ing that the biryani is ready, but that you are in for a sen­sual and sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. My top­ping of pis­ta­chios, rose petals and pome­gran­ate adds an ex­otic ad­di­tion as well – it’s fes­tive but whole­some.

Recipe Biryani

Serves: 10 peo­ple buf­fet style, as a main

Prep and cook­ing time: about 60-90 min­utes

Main in­gre­di­ents

300g rice, washed and soaked in tap water for 30 min­utes, then par-boiled in hot boil­ing salty water for only 2-3 min­utes

2 tbsp veg­etable oil

3 tbsp ghee

2 large onions, peeled and cut into half moons 1½ tsp gar­lic paste

1½ tsp gin­ger paste

4 toma­toes, chopped

300 g full fat nat­u­ral yo­ghurt

1 tsp red chilli pow­der

½ tsp turmeric

1 bunch fresh me­thi (fenu­greek), washed and chopped (you can sub­sti­tute with dried me­thi, but only use about 2-3 tsp) 1 small pat­ty­pan squash, peeled, cut into bite size pieces

1 potato, peeled and chopped into small squares

1 cour­gette, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large red pep­per, de-seeded and chopped into medium squares

Salt to taste

For adding when lay­er­ing: 1 bunch or co­rian­der leaves, chopped 10-12 mint leaves

1 le­mon sliced thinly

1 pinch of saf­fron, soak in hot water for 15 min­utes

3-5 green chillis, chopped finely Spices:

1 cin­na­mon quill

10-12 cloves

10 green car­damoms

1 large black car­damom

1 tsp cumin seeds

1½ tsp co­rian­der seeds

1 tsp pep­per­corn

Gar­nish

A hand­ful of pis­ta­chios, pome­gran­ate, co­rian­der leaves and rose petals.

Method

1. Heat oven to 190C. In a bak­ing dish,

place squash, pota­toes, cour­gettes and bake un­til soft (about 20-25 min). Heat veg­etable oil and 2 tbsp ghee in a saucepan with a tight-fit­ting lid, add all the whole garam masalas un­til fra­grant. Be sure not to burn. Then add onions and cook un­til translu­cent. Add gin­ger and gar­lic and fry un­til the raw smell of gin­ger and gar­lic leaves the pan (about 2-4 min­utes). Do not al­low to get brown. Add a splash of water to en­sure that noth­ing gets burned and keep on medium heat. Add toma­toes and fry un­til they cook down. Add yo­ghurt and keep stir­ring un­til the oil leaves the curry. Add salt, turmeric and red chilli pow­der.

2. Now add all the vegeta­bles and cook un­til mixed well.

3. Top the veg­etable curry with co­rian­der leaves, mint and green chilli and then layer par-boiled rice on top of the veg­etable curry; spread evenly. Top with co­rian­der, mint and green chilli again and also pour in the 1tbsp of ghee (melted), shove in some le­mon slices, pour over saf­fron and cover tightly with foil and then the pan’s lid.

4. Keep on very low heat, and al­low to cook in its own steam for 20-30 min­utes. 5. Once done, open up the biryani, serve in a dish and sprin­kle the gar­nish. Serve hot with raita.

Sumayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Tamarind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­mani.com Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

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