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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vegetable Dum Biryani - Exotic Basmati Rice Dish with Vegetables

This is the third recipe from the first menu : a rice dish. Rice plays a prominent role in an Indian menu. Just as Naan/Roti or Chapati is necessary in an Indian meal, so is rice. If it is an elaborate rice preparation with lots of spices and vegetables or meat, then it is generally served along with a raita or yogurt. Else, you would serve plain or lightly flavored rice with a dal preparation.

Biryani is a very flavorful recipe that has its origin in the Mughal cuisine. Dum (which means pressure) Biryani traditionally is made by cooking the rice with vegetables or meat in an earthen pot, which is sealed and cooked on hot coals. It is an elaborate recipe and again a popular feature in restaurant menus. When you look at the rice section,  you will find many variations listed on a restaurant menu, which are mainly based on the ingredients that are cooked along with rice. Vegetable biryani is my favorite rice dish. I had tried to make this a few years ago, however I found the process very laborious. So, I was reduced to relying on ordering it at restaurants.

A couple of years ago my friend made a delicious vegetable biryani and she swore that it was a very easy method that she used, with lots of shortcuts. And, of course I kept requesting her to make it every chance I got. Then I spoke to another friend about the way she makes her vegetable biryani and she also said that it is a simple recipe and gave me the detailed method of making it. Finally I was convinced and decided to give it a try. So, I  married the two recipes, using the short cuts that my first friend suggested and using some of the additional exotic spices and yogurt from the second recipe and the result was absolutely delicious and also very easy to make. With this recipe I am no longer daunted by this exotic rice dish and I can't wait to make it  again.

for the garnish
2 large red onion, sliced into thin slices
1/4 cup cashewnuts
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

for the marinade
1/2 cauliflower, separate into florets
1-2 carrots, cut into thick slices or diced into thick pieces
1 cup peas
1/2 cup french/green beans cut into 1/2 inch long pieces
1 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
2 green chillies
4 garlic cloves
1.5 inch ginger
3 javentri flowers (optional - see tips)
3 tbsp biryani masala
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup mint leaves, cut chiffonade style into thin ribbons
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped finely
1/4 cup fried onion
1 tbsp oil

for the rice
2 cups basmati rice
2 bay leaves
2 javentri flowers (optional)
2  inch long cinnamon pieces
2 black cardamoms/badi elaichi
5 cloves
2 cups of vegetable broth (optional. replace with water if not available)
2 cups water
salt to taste

Slice the red onions. Separate the slices out and let it dry for a couple of hours. Then deep fry the onion till golden brown and crisp. Drain on a paper towel and keep aside. Use 1/4 cup of this in the marinade and the rest as garnish. Roast the cashew nuts in a little oil till lightly brown.

Make a fine paste of the green chillies, ginger and garlic.
Take yogurt in a bowl deep enough to hold all the vegetables. Then add in the chilli, ginger and garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder, salt, lemon juice, biryani masala, mint leaves, cilantro leaves, javentri flowers, crushed fried onion, oil and mix well. Then add the vegetables to this mixture and set this aside for at least an hour up to 8 hours (or overnight).

Wash the rice three times and discard the water. Then add in the 2 cups broth and 2 cups water. If you don't have vegetable broth, add 4 cups of water. Add the bay leaves, javentri flowers, black cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and salt to taste and cook the rice using your preferred method. Be careful to not overcook the rice. In fact you want it a little underdone as it will finish cooking with the vegetables in the oven.

Now, take a deep oven proof glass dish or an oven proof deep pot with an oven safe cover. Next, we need to layer the vegetables and rice alternately and then cook this in the oven. Start off with layering the vegetables at the base of the pan. Then garnish this with a handful of crushed onion, cashews and some mint and cilantro leaves and then spread a layer of rice on top of the vegetables. If it is a large pan, you may end up with just these two layers. If it is a narrower pan, then you may get two vegetables layers alternated with two rice layers. Keep layering till you are done. The base layer should be vegetables and the top layer should be the rice layer. Finally garnish the top with fried onions, cashews, cilantro and mint leaves.

Now, cover the pan completely with aluminium foil. There shouldn't be any vent created in the foil, so double wrap it if needed. If  the pan has a lid, then place this oven safe lid on the foil covered pan and cook it in the oven for about an hour at 350F. The vegetables will create steam as they cook in the heat and that will help complete the cooking process for the rice (creating the "dum" effect). Serve hot with raita or yogurt.

Javentri flowers are difficult to find, even in the Indian stores. I couldn't find them here and when I was visiting San Jose, I chanced upon them at an Indian store there, I bought a large packet. These have a mild nutmeg like smell and their main function is to add a nice fragrance to the rice. However considering there are several other spices that are used, it is not an essential ingredient, so don't let that stop you from making this recipe.
I prefer to cook the rice in a pressure cooker for one whistle and then I take it completely off the heat and let   it cool.  Sometimes, I just boil it in a saucepan, keeping it partially covered and take it off the heat when it is semi cooked. Initially, I  used to use a glass oven safe dish to cook the biryani, however I realized that my cooking pot is also oven safe and have started using that as it is a wider and deeper pot.
You can use frozen vegetables as well instead of using fresh vegetables. Just rinse them in water and then add to the marinade.
If you are using broth, then be careful about adding salt when rice is being cooked. Broths are already salted, even the low sodium ones.
If you can find fried onions and roasted cashews, you can directly use those and skip the step of preparing the garnish.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Aloo Gobhi - Curried Potatoes and Cauliflower

This is the other curry dish that I had in the first menu list. Aloo in Hindi means potato and Gobhi is cauliflower. It is again a very popular dish. Aloo gobhi can easily be found on any Indian restaurant menu, especially in the US. It is a great preparation. It is simple to make, and very tasty. It has very few components and is probably one of the simplest recipes in the Indian cuisine. I always wonder how and why such a simple dish finds such prominence on Indian restaurant menus and perhaps it is because of the simplicity that it is such an attractive dish. Well whatever the reason, it is great on a party menu or as part of your weekday dinner. It also doesn't need a lot of fussing with and you can let it cook, while you get other things ready.

2-3  tbsp oil
1/8 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
a pinch of asafoetida
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
1 inch ginger, cut into thin strips
2 potatoes, diced into medium pieces
1 cauliflower separated into individual florets
1-3 green chillies, to taste, slit along the length
salt to taste
cilantro to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds to it. Once they start to crackle and turning a light brown, add the asafetida, green chillies, ginger. Fry for a minute till you can smell the fragrance of the ginger and then add the turmeric. Immediately add the potatoes and stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the cauliflower florets. Next add the salt. Stir so that the cauliflower florets are also well coated with the tempered oil and salt and then let it all cook till the vegetables are cooked through. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

You can reduce the oil to 2 tbsp when using a non stick pan. You can cover the pan to speed up the cooking process. However, be careful and remember to take if off every few minutes and check. It is easy to overcook the potato when the pan is covered and it will get mushy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shahi Paneer - Cottage Cheese in a Delicious, Rich, Sauce

Shahi paneer is a very delicious curry/gravy preparation. The curry is a rich sauce, made with cashewnuts. "Shahi" means royal and it is truly a dish fit to be served to a king. It is a very popular dish and generally found at most Indian restaurant. The gravy is milder than a brown/red curry preparation and has a slight sweetness due to the use of cashwenuts. It has a light orange color and the authentic preparation is generally colored using saffron, though most of the versions that you find in restaurants are colored a deep orange with food color.

It is a dish that will always be a hit with your guests. Serve it hot with naan or tandoori roti.

2 cups cubed paneer
2 tbps oil
1 tsp ghee or butter
5 black peppercorns
1 2 inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 large red onion, cubed (else use 2 medium red onions)
1/4 cup raw cashwenuts
1/2 cup water
3 garlic cloves
1 inch ginger
2 green chillies, to taste
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup cream
1 pinch saffron
1/2 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
3 green cardamoms

Boil the onion in some water till it is cooked and pink, then drain the water. Alternately, you can microwave it for about 2 mins, till the onion is softened. Then puree it in a food processor or mixer. Then make a paste of the cashewnuts. Add about 1/2 cup of water to grind the cashews.
Whisk the yogurt so that it is smooth.
In a non-stick pan, add the ghee then shallow fry the cubed paneer pieces till the paneer pieces are lightly browned. Grind the cardamom seeds to a fine powder.

In a deep pan, heat the oil and to this add the cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns. Cook for a couple of minutes till the spices are fragrant and  then add the chillies and the onion puree. Cook for a few minutes. Meanwhile make paste of ginger and garlic and add it to the pan and cook the mixture for a few minutes. The raw smell should disappear, but the don't over cook the gravy. The color of the gravy should remain pinkish white. Cook on low heat, so that you don't burn the gravy or down brown it.   Next add the whisked yogurt to the cooked onion gravy and cook for a couple of minutes till it gets incorporated into the gravy. Next add the cream and a pinch of saffron to the gravy. Cook it all together for a minute and then add the garam masala and cook for another minute. Then, add the cooked paneer pieces and cook it all together for a minute or so.

Sprinkle the cardamom powder over the curry before serving.

Soak the cashews for a few hours. Then it will be easier to grind them into a fine paste. It is important that your gravy doesn't smell like raw onion or garlic, else it will not taste good. If you don't have a non stick pan to cook the paneer, then add a little more ghee to the pan so that the paneer pieces don't stick to the pan and disintegrate. You can skip this step entirely, if you prefer to have your paneer in its original softer form. You can use readymade paneer or make paneer at home. The recipe can be found here.