Anna Jones A Biryani and pi­laf of dreams

The mas­ter­ful prepa­ra­tion of bas­mati rice has eluded our colum­nist, un­til now. Here, the side dish she has so of­ten over­looked be­comes the star of the show in a saf­fron in­fused biryani and a speedy, but satisfying, lemon pi­laf

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Anna Jones

There seems to be a rice dish to suit ev­ery mood and soothe any ill. Rice has a moth­er­ing qual­ity, from the stodgy re­as­sur­ance of a Thai sticky side­kick to a calm­ing bowl of risotto. As starches go, how­ever, rice has al­ways lagged be­hind bread, pota­toes, pasta and even noo­dles in my kitchen.

Re­cently, though, there has been a rice re­nais­sance in our house thanks to my brother-in-law, Phil. He makes the kind of fluffy bas­mati rice that has al­ways eluded me: ten­der within, but with a light bite on the out­side; fluffy, but with a tooth­some stick­i­ness. I’ve spent the past year try­ing to per­fect it and I think I might fi­nally be there.

This but­tered lemon bas­mati pi­laf is my new com­fort food. It’s the kind of rice you can put be­side any­thing

– a curry, a win­ter stew – although some­times I need noth­ing more than a bowl on its own. Gen­tle and sim­ple.

The other rea­son for my re­dis­cov­ery of rice was my yearn­ing for warm­ing spices as au­tumn kicks in; rice is quite the ve­hi­cle for the likes of cin­na­mon, saf­fron and clove. Last week, I cooked this biryani – one of the most strat­i­fied dishes I can re­mem­ber eat­ing. The rice is only par­tially cooked be­fore it’s lay­ered with veg­eta­bles, herbs and fried onions in a pot, then cov­ered and baked in the oven un­til just the right side of crunchy. A biryani feels cel­e­bra­tory, I al­ways think.

Th­ese dishes were the yin and yang of my kitchen this week – and both from the same lit­tle grain I’ve been all but ig­nor­ing.

Biryani with saf­fron and golden veg

This may seem like a long in­gre­di­ent list and a lot of stages, but it ac­tu­ally comes to­gether quickly. The spices are needed to layer the flavours in a sub­tle yet gen­er­ous way. The next day, you can saute its left­overs and eat them with a fried egg. I have kept the rose wa­ter op­tional as it splits opin­ion.

Serves 4

8 car­damom pods

A small stick of cin­na­mon

4 cloves

A few grat­ings of nut­meg

1 tsp fen­nel seeds

3 bay leaves

A large pinch of saf­fron

1-2 tsp rose wa­ter (op­tional)

4 tbsp ghee or but­ter

3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced

A small thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 gar­lic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp garam masala

500g root veg­eta­bles, such as car­rots, but­ter­nut squash and potato, grated Salt and black pep­per

300g bas­mati rice

A small bunch of mint leaves

A small bunch of co­rian­der

A small hand­ful of flaked al­monds

1 Set the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7. Put 4 car­damom pods, the cin­na­mon, cloves, nut­meg, fen­nel seeds and bay into a pan with 500ml wa­ter. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat, then cover.

2 Crush the other car­damom pods, re­move the seeds and finely grind, dis­card­ing the pods. Mix the pow­der with 4 tbsp warm wa­ter, the saf­fron and rose­wa­ter, if us­ing.

3 Fry the onions in 1 tbsp of ghee un­til light brown and be­gin­ning to crisp. Set aside half. Add the ginger and gar­lic to the pan and fry the rest for 2 min­utes.

4 Add the ground spices and grated veg. Fry for 3 min­utes and sea­son well.

5 Heat the re­main­ing ghee in another

pan and fry the rice over a high heat for a few min­utes, un­til shiny. Strain half the spice-and-bay liq­uid into the pan. Bring to a boil, re­duce the heat, cover and cook for about 6 min­utes, or un­til the liq­uid has evap­o­rated.

6 Now, as­sem­ble your biryani. Put a layer of rice in an oven­proof dish. Sprin­kle over the re­main­ing strained spice-and-bay liq­uid and some of the saf­fron-rose­wa­ter liq­uid. Add a layer of the grated veg­etable mix. Sprin­kle over some of the fried onions, mint leaves and co­rian­der. Re­peat with another layer of rice and pour over the re­main­ing saf­fron liq­uid. Dot the al­monds on top. Cover the dish tightly with tin foil. Put in the oven for 40 min­utes, re­duc­ing the heat to 190C/375F/gas 5 af­ter 20 min­utes. Fluff and mix with a fork be­fore serv­ing and top with ex­tra fried onions and herbs.

Ev­ery­day but­tered lemon pi­laf

I use cup ra­tios here as I find it much eas­ier when cook­ing rice to mea­sure vol­ume. If you don’t have a cup mea­sure, a stan­dard mug two-thirds full will be about the same. If you have time, soak the rice in cold wa­ter first, for up to an hour – this will knock two min­utes off the cook­ing time. You’ll need a clean tea towel.

Serves 4-6

2 cups bas­mati rice

25g but­ter, ghee or co­conut oil 1 tsp salt

1 lemon

1 Put the rice in a sieve, then run it un­der cold wa­ter for 30 sec­onds – un­til the wa­ter com­ing from the bot­tom of the sieve to look clear.

2 Fill and boil the ket­tle. Get a medium saucepan with a tight-fit­ting lid. Put it on a medium heat, add the but­ter or oil and al­low to melt and warm up a lit­tle. Add the rice. Cook for 2-3 min­utes, stir­ring all the time, un­til it looks shiny.

3 Next, add 2 cups of boil­ing wa­ter, the salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to the boil and sim­mer for 4 min­utes with the lid off.

4 For best re­sults, wrap your lid with a tea towel to ab­sorb ex­tra mois­ture. (Be very care­ful to tie it tightly over the lid as you don’t want it to fall off and catch fire.) I do this by ty­ing op­po­site cor­ners in a tight knot around the han­dle then re­peat­ing with the other two.

5 Once the rice has had 4 min­utes, put the cov­ered lid on top and leave the rice to cook on the very low­est heat for a fur­ther 8 min­utes. Then turn it off and leave for at least 5 min­utes, avoid­ing the temp­ta­tion to peek. When you do take your lid off, you should see lit­tle puck­ered air holes in the rice and should be light and fluffy with no liq­uid at the bot­tom.

Last week I cooked this biryani - one of the most strat­i­fied dishes I can re­mem­ber eat­ing ...


Anna Jones is a chef, writer and au­thor of A Mod­ern Way to Eat and A Mod­ern Way to Cook (Fourth Es­tate); an­na­; @we_are_­food

Cook’s tip A note on rose­wa­ter. Rose­wa­ter varies in strength wildly, so al­ways start by us­ing a small amount, adding as you go.

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