Indian cuisine is one of my favourites. I adore it. As well as the unusual flavours, I love the unique combinations of colour, ingredients and smell. It’s as if the colours have been roasted to exude a wonderfully sweet-spicy aroma or as if the flavours have become miniature sand dunes of fuchsia, emerald, turquoise and orange. Indian cuisine uses herbs, spices and basic ingredients in the most imaginative ways possible, and with endless varieties throughout the subcontinent, thanks to the difference in climate (from tropical to alpine), local cuisines which are full of variety and share traditional (and forbidden) foods, as well as different customs depending on religious persuasions, making the dishes a guide to its religious, cultural and social identity. I will confine myself to this morsel of the wonder of Indian cuisine, as there will be plenty more opportunities to try out other wonderful examples.
Biryani is the celebratory Indian dish and usually includes meat. This particular recipe comes from Southern India, however, and is vegetarian. It’s very easy to make, looks impressive and scents the room with cinnamon and cardamom. It should be accompanied by a mildly spicy, cold raita. The ingredients have been divided into groups in the order they are to be used in.
Vegetarian Biryani: India’s celebration rice
Preparation: The biryiani can be made some time in advance and reheated on a low setting, adding a little water. However, it is best made so that the final stage is done just before serving. Therefore, you can cook the vegetables and prepare the rice in advance. The rice can stay in the water for up to 6 hours. Boil it when ready to eat and heat the vegetables, so putting the final dish together just before serving.
Ingredients ( for 4 people)
400 g rice, long-grain or Basmati
1 tbsp oil or butter
4 tbsp oil
3 tbsp flaked almonds
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
10 cardamom seeds
3 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced in rings
1 large carrot, sliced into sticks or thin slices
2 cups green beans (fresh or frozen) in 4-5 cm pieces
1 orange or red pepper, cut into thin sticks
1-2 chilli peppers or ½ tsp chilli powder or flakes or cayenne
1 tsp turmeric powder
1.5 cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2-3 tbsp water
1 tomato, chopped
For the garnish
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
Prepare the rice: Rinse the rice well until the water runs clear and leave to soak for at least half an hour in water that covers it with at least 2.5 cm to spare. Strain and boil in salted water and the butter or oil for about 20 mins until ready. Sieve, cool quickly under running water and leave to drain.
Prepare the vegetables: Pour the oil into a large deep frying pan with a lid and heat on a medium setting. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, and after a minute, the almonds. Stir and sauté for 2-3 minutes in total until the ingredients have released their scent. Throw in the onion and fry until golden. Add the remaining ingredients and the water, but not the tomatoes. Season, cover the pan and cook on a very low heat for 20 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and cook for a further 4-5 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Completion: Add the rice to the vegetables and mix together gently along with a little of the mint and coriander.
Serving: Serve the vegetarian biryani in a heated dish, garnish with the remaining mint and coriander, and serve hot. Accompany with a mildly spicy cold raita, in one bowl, or small individual bowls.