In a new six-part series, we scour the country and beyond for lesser-known preparations of India’s favourite dish
by Ananya Banerjee
Biryani is a dish with a complex blend of spices, flavours and aromas. The word ‘biryani’ is derived from the Persian word meaning ‘Birian’ meaning ‘fried before cooking’ and ‘Birinj’, the Persian word for rice. Whatever it is that you choose to call it – ‘biriani,’ ‘birani’ or ‘biryani’ – it is going to mesmerize you with its whiff, and the mouth-watering concoction of rice, meat, and fragrant spices.
The dish originated from Persia via Afghanistan and reached Awadh in Lucknow around the 1800s, a period known for the Mughal reign. Theories exist regarding Arabs landing in the southern coasts of India, concocting various variants and mingling with the then local south Indian cuisine.
It is actually mindboggling, as one digs deeper into the various types of biryanis that are found in India.
Each state uses different flavours and different techniques of cooking. Each family has a twist to the favourite cuisine. Every mom has her own secret. With so many disparities and differences, one is spoilt for choice.
Biryani can be prepared with great attentive details, measured ingredients and a practiced technique.
‘Dum Pukht,’ meaning slow-breathing oven in Persian, is predominantly used to make biryani. Here everything is placed in a pot and slow cooked over charcoal, from both top and bottom, so that the ‘dum’ or the steam creates its magic. The pot in which biryani is made is sealed with dough around the edges of the lid. This allows the meat inside to become tender while flavouring the rice.
Spices too play a crucial role in creating a good biryani. Some of the recipes call for very limited usage of spices while few others use more than 20 different spice variants.
To make the non-vegetarian biryani, meat or chicken are mostly used. But, in some coastal towns, the variety calls for fish, prawns or crabs. Since the medieval era, use of rose water, sweet edible ittar and kewra water are rather common practice.
However, we live in a country where a recipe changes every 50 kilometers. There are umpteen variations of biryanis and it will take decades to document each of them. Nonetheless, here are a few lesser-known biriyani varieties that are worth the mention.
* Dindigul / Thalapakattu biryani
* Memoni biryani
* Kampuri biryani
* Ambur biryani
* Dhakai tehari biryani
* Bhatkali biryani
* Thalassery biryani
* Scheherazade biryani
* Rui macher biryani
* Beary biryani
* Goan fish biryani
* Ilish macher biryani
Amongst the 12 biryanis mentioned above, I am going to discuss on two in each issue. This will enable you to try and savour the taste of India, in its truest sense.
Dhakai tehari biryani
Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is famous for its ‘Beef Tehari’. Tehari, an authentic Bangladeshi aromatic rice dish, usually comprises of curried beef and green chillies. Authentic old Dhaka tehari is cooked with mustard oil.
Usually, biryani is cooked with ghee or clarified butter. But tehari is cooked in mustard oil and cooked beef is added to rice and mixed together while cooking, unlike most other biryani processes. In Bangladesh, tehari is a variant of biryani but in some parts of India, it is signified by the yellowish coloured rice with or without vegetables.
500g mutton cut into small pieces, washed and drained
500g basmati rice
1 cup onion, slices
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
8-10 green chillies
½ cup yogurt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2-3 sticks of cinnamon,
2 inches each
3-4 green cardamom
5-6 black pepper
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp mace
½ cup mustard oil
2 bay leaves
6 cups water
1 cup milk
salt to taste
1 Dry roast the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg mace and grind to a powder.
2 Heat oil in a pan. Add sliced onion and sauté until fragrant and golden brown.
3 Add the meat, ginger and garlic paste, yogurt, bay leaves and the prepared ground spices and salt to taste. Cook for 25-30 mins until mutton is cooked and tender.
4 Add 2 cups of water and mix well. Separate meat and keep aside, keeping the gravy and spices in the pan.
5 Add remaining water and milk to the pan and bring to boil. Add salt. Add washed and drained rice and cover. Once the water boils again, add the whole green chillies and cook in medium heat.
6 When rice is 70% done, add the meat. Mix in very carefully so that rice does not break. Cook covered (dum) in low heat for 10-15 mins.
Kamrup is a district in Assam and Kamrupi biryani finds its origin in the predominately Muslim areas from this region. This is a simple, colourful and flavourful dish, where chicken is cooked with peas, carrots, beans and potatoes and flavoured with nutmeg and cardamom.
2 cups basmati rice, cooked
4 chicken breasts
1 cup green peas
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp green cardamom powder
4 black cardamom
10-15 garlic cloves
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
4-5 small eggplants
1 small broccoli
1 cup onion, sliced
1 bunch green coriander, chopped
1 cup oil
salt to taste
1 Cook the rice and keep aside.
2 Heat oil in a pan. Add the black cardamoms, cashews. Add 3/4 of the cooked rice. Stir and keep aside
3 Heat oil in a pan. Add 4 whole cloves. Add 1/4 of the cooked rice. Add turmeric powder and salt to taste. Keep aside. Mix in two kinds of prepared rice. Keep aside.
1 Cut eggplant and broccoli into bite sized portions.
2 Fry the potatoes in some oil and keep aside.
3. Heat oil and fry ½ cup sliced onions, remaining cloves, garlic cloves, chopped coriander, ½ tbsp ginger paste, and ½ tsp cardamom powder. Sauté for 3-4 mins. Add the eggplant and broccoli. Stir and cover till vegetables are done. Add the potatoes and stir carefully. Cover for a minute and keep aside.
1 Hold the chicken with skin on an open flame. Gradually char the skin. Cut the chicken into pieces.
2 Apply remaining ginger paste, garlic paste and cardamom powder to coat the chicken.
3 Heat oil in a pan. Add remaining onion chopped coriander and sauté till pink.
4 Add coated chicken, cloves, add salt to taste and cook chicken till done. Add the peas. Add the vegetables and rice and slow cook for 2-3 mins.