The first dish I ever ate in an Indian restaurant was a Biryani. After university, my beloved and I were living and working in Leicester. One Friday evening we went out for dinner with a couple I’d met through work who suggested we go to an Indian restaurant, and we readily agreed. You may find this somewhat bizarre until I tell you it was in the late-1970s. It was love at first bite.
My passion for Indian food has grown over the years and I think I’ve learned to appreciate the subtlties of spicing. This recipe may have a long ingredient list and a lot of stages, but it actually comes together quickly and easily. A biryani tends to be a fairly delicate dish and the spices are used here to layer the flavours in a subtle yet generous way. Of course. a biryani is first and foremost a rice dish that stands or falls on the fluffiness of its rice: every grain should be separate and perfectly cooked.
Ingredients (Serves 4 very hungry cyclists)
-8 cardamom pods
-1 small stick cinnamon
-¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
-1 tsp fennel seeds
-3 bay leaves
-large pinch of saffron
-4 tbsp coconut oil
-3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
-small thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
-3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
-1 tsp ground turmeric
-½ tsp garam masala
-500g (1 lb) grated root vegetables (such as carrots, butternut squash, potato, parsnip, swede)
-sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
-300g (10 oz) basmati rice
-small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
-small handful toasted flaked almonds
-small handful plump, juicy raisins
1. Pre-heat oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F(400F fan)/gas 7. Put 4 cardamom pods, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fennel seeds and bay into a pan with 500ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat, then cover and allow the water to infuse.
2. Crush the other cardamom pods, remove the seeds and finely grind them while discarding the pods. Mix the powder with 4 tbsp warm water and the saffron.
3. Fry the onions in 2 tbsp coconut oil until light brown and beginning to crisp, around 10 minutes. Then add the ginger and garlic to the pan and fry for a further 2 minutes.
4. Add the ground spices and all the grated veg. Mix well and fry for 10 – 15 minutes and finally season well with salt and pepper.
5. Heat the remaining coconut oil in another pan and fry the rice over a high heat for a few minutes, until it’s shiny. Strain half the spice-and-bay liquid into the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 5 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 liquid. Add a layer of the grated vegetable mix. Sprinkle over some of the chopped coriander. Repeat with another layer of rice and pour over the remaining saffron liquid. Sprinkle the almonds on top.
7. Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and/or lid and greaseproof paper. Put in the oven for 40 minutes, reducing the heat to 190C(170C fan)/375F (350F fan)/gas 5 after 20 minutes. Fluff and mix with a fork before serving and top with extra herbs, toasted almonds and plump juicy raisins.
8. The next day, you can reheat/sauté any leftovers. My beloved is partial to it topped with a friend egg.