Here is a wonderful lamb biryani that is fairly simple to prepare. As biryanis are served on special occasions, this recipe makes a somewhat larger quantity than do most in this book.
Persian prunes, which are black in colour and sweet and sour in taste, are often added to biryanis for extra flavour. They are sold in South Asian shops as Persian prunes or "aloo bukhara". If you find them and wish to add them, remember that they have a hard stone, so be careful when biting into them. Kewda water is South Asian's vanilla and comes from the screwpine family; it is sold in South Asian groceries. Rose water may be used as an alternative.
Do not worry about the amount of oil. This is a rich dish, and the oil is needed to fry the spices, the ginger and garlic, the meat, and the onions. In fact, often the dish is layered with ghee or butter instead!
Usually biryanis are simply served with yogurt raitas, but feel free to add other meat and vegetable dishes to make a grand spread.
A biryani should be very gently mixed just before serving to distribute the aromas... here, of saffron, kewda water, and meat juices.
- 250 ml (9 fl oz) olive or sunflower oil
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 3 cassia leaves or bay leaves
- 5 cm (2 inch) cassia bark or cinnamon stick
- 8–10 black peppercorns
- 7–8 cloves
- 1 black cardamom pod, lightly crushed
- 6–7 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- 1 tsp peeled, finely grated root ginger
- 450 g (1 lb) boneless lamb, from shoulder or neck or both, cut into 2.5–4 cm (1–1½ inch) pieces
- 3 medium onions, about 450 g (1 lb), chopped
- 500 ml (18 fl oz) yogurt, lightly beaten until smooth
- 4 hot green chillies, cut into 1 cm (½ inch) segments
- handful of chopped coriander leaves
- 2 dried aloo Bukhara Persian prunes, if available
- 450 g (1 lb) basmati rice
- generous pinch of ground saffron
- 1 capful (the cap of the bottle) kewda water
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time 15-20 minutes
Put the oil and ghee in a heavy-based 25 cm pan and set it over a medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the cassia leaves and bark, peppercorns, cloves, and both types of lightly crushed cardamom pods. Stir a few times, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir once or twice, then put in the meat. Stir and fry the meat for about 5 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.
Now add the onions. Stir and cook, still over a medium-high heat, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the yogurt. Add the green chillies, coriander leaves, 1 tsp of salt and the aloo Bukharas, if using. Keep stirring and bring to a vigorous simmer, reducing the heat to medium-low. Cover partially and cook, stirring now and then, for 25 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook for another 10–15 minutes, or until the sauce is very thick and paste-like and the oil separates from the meat. Set aside, covered.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. Rinse the rice in several changes of water, then leave to soak in ample fresh water for 15–20 minutes. Drain and leave in the strainer.
Bring about 5 litres of water to a boil in a large pot, the kind you use for boiling pasta. When it is boiling rapidly, add 4 tsp of salt and stir. Set a colander in the sink.
Add the rice to the rapidly boiling water. Stir to separate the grains, cover partially and return to a boil. Boil the rice for 5-6 minutes, or until a grain, when pressed hard between the fingers, has only a thin hard core at the centre and breaks into 2 or 3 pieces. Drain quickly and leave in the colander.
Tilt the pot of meat and spoon out all the fat and oil into a small bowl. Pour half of this oil into a heavy-based 25 cm ovenproof pan that has a tight-fitting lid, and spread it out. Now spread half the rice over the oil. Spoon all the meat over the rice. Sprinkle the saffron over the meat. Spread the remaining rice over the meat and then the remaining oil over the top of everything. End with the kewda water, sprinkling it over the top.
Cover tightly with foil and then the lid and place in the centre of the hot oven for 30–40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Mix very gently with a slotted spoon before serving.