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
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.
Serves: 10 people buffet style, as a main
Prep and cooking time: about 60-90 minutes
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 green cardamoms
1 large black cardamom
1 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp peppercorn
A handful of pistachios, pomegranate, coriander leaves and rose petals.
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