Biryani has been satiating hunger for centuries. But, do you know its journey from Persia to your plate?
The word Biryani is derived from the Persian word “Birian”, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, the Persian word for Rice. There are various theories related to the origin of this scrumptious dish. Many historians believe that biryani originated from Persia and was brought to India by the Mughals. Biryani was further developed in the Mughal royal kitchen.
There are many legends associated with the evolution of Biryani. One of the popular being the story related to Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Shah Jahan. It is believed that when Mumtaz visited the army barracks, she found that
the Mughal soldiers looked undernourished. In order to provide a balanced diet to the soldiers, she asked the chefs to prepare dish with meat and rice. The dish was whipped up with spices and saffron and cooked over wood fire.
Another legend states that Biryani was brought to India by the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Taimur, in the year 1398. Even, Nizams of Hyderabad and Nawabs of Lucknow were known for their appreciation of this delicacy.
Traditionally, Biryani was cooked over charcoal in earthen pot. Let us take you on this yummy trip across India to explore different variations of Biryani:
Mughlai Biryani: The Mughal Emperors were very fond of lavish dining experiences and appreciated the art of cooking. The traditional Mughlai Biryani had perfectly spiced meat chunks with kewra scented rice that emanated irresistible aroma that can make anyone hungry instantly.
Method: Soak almond for 10 minutes and then remove the peel. Then grind almond with ginger and garlic and make a smooth paste. Wash the rice and boil it until the rice is almost done. Strain rice and set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and fry two of the onions until they are golden brown. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in another pan and add the whole spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns. Fry the mixture until the spices turn a little darker. Add onions and fry them until they are translucent. Add the ginger-garlic-almond paste and fry for two to three minutes. Now, add all the spice powders — coriander, cumin and garam masala and mix well. Fry the mixture until the oil begins to separate from the masala and then add the lamb or chicken. Continue frying until the meat is fully sealed; it will become opaque and lose its pink color. Add the yogurt, lime juice, stock, coriander and mint leaves and salt to taste and mix well. Cover the pot and allow the dish to cook until the meat is tender. Grease a deep baking dish and evenly layer the cooked rice and meat to form two sets of layers. Cover the dish tightly. Put the dish in a preheated oven set at 350 F. Bake for 20 minutes. Mughlai Biryani is ready to be served.
Lucknow Biryani: Biryani from Lucknow is known as ‘pukki’ Biryani. In the ‘pukki’ style, meat and rice are cooked separately then layered in a copper vessel for the finish. Also known as Awadhi Biryani, the cuisine is widely influenced by the Nawabs of Awadh, who were of Persian origin.
Method: Slice onions and fry until golden brown. Cut green chillies and ginger. Heat cream and butter (for 2 minutes) and keep it aside. Now, cook mutton using ghee, ginger-garlic paste, javitri, whole spices, yellow chillli powder, dhania and jeera powder and brown onion with curd. Add mace powder, green cardamom powder, mint chopped, ginger and green chilli julienne and the cream-butter mixture to it. To cook rice, put a bit of ghee, and 1 or two pieces of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, mint leaves and salt. Cook it up to 50 per cent. Take a lagan and place half of the mutton as the first layer, add half of the rice as the second layer. Similarly, place the remaining mutton as the third layer and the remaining mutton as the fourth layer. Now, mix saffron with cream-butter mixture and spread over it. Put the lid and seal it with wheat flour paste. Cook over slow flame.
Kolkata Biryani: After being banished by the British, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah recreated Biryani in the city of Calcutta. As they were unable to afford meat, the local cooks replaced meat with perfectly cooked golden brown potatoes. Lighter on spices, Kolkata Biryani is made by using yoghurt based marinade for the meat, which is cooked separately from the light yellow rice.
Method: Marinate chicken pieces with curd, red chilli powder, turmeric and salt for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Partially cook the rice with black cardamom and bay leaves. Rice needs to be boiled till 50% done. Drain water and set aside. Dry roast the whole spices namely, peppercorns, cloves, green cardamom and cinnamon for 30 seconds or till fragrant. Let it cool and then grind it into a fine powder. Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a deep and heavy bottomed pan. Add chopped onions and saute till lightly brown. Mash the ginger, garlic, and green chillies and add the mixture to the onions once they are lightly browned. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of ground spices and saute further for a minute. Add the marinated chicken to the above, and mix well till the chicken is well-covered with spices. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes on low flame. While the chicken is cooking, chop the potatoes into four pieces and fry them till cooked. Now, take a Biryani pot or earthen pot and grease it with ghee. Spread one layer of rice and top it with a layer of chicken gravy and 2 potatoes. Repeat this three times. Heat ghee and pour it on the top layer. Seal the mouth of the pot with wheat flour dough to tighten the lid if using earthen pot. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on low flame and let it stand for another 30 minutes before opening.
Bombay Biryani: Spicy, hearty and zesty, Bombay Biryani is a melting pot of flavours. The use of dried plums and kewra water gives it a slight sweetness.
Method: Boil water and add basmati rice, salt and 1 tsp oil. Cook on low-medium flame till rice is ½ cooked. Drain the water completely and spread rice on a plate. Heat 4-5 tbsp oil in a pan and fry ½ cup sliced onion till it turns golden brown. Remove from the oil. Now, fry ½ of the diced potato cubes in the same oil till it turns golden brown and remove from the oil. Keep them aside. In the same oil, add cloves and cinnamon stick. Add remaining sliced onions and cook for a minute on low flame. Add ¼ cup mint leaves and saute. Add ginger-garlic paste, chopped tomatoes and mash the pulp. Now, add chicken and turmeric power. Cook for 2-5 minutes till oil separates. Add red chili powder, 2 tsp garam masala, cumin powder and salt. Now, add ¼ cup water and cook it covered for 10-13 minutes. Add curd and remaining diced potato cubes. Cook again for another 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken masala to a bowl. Take the same pan and spread ladleful of chicken masala. Spread a layer of rice over the chicken masala. Sprinkle little fried onions, fried potatoes, chopped mint leaves and ½ tsp kewra essence. Prepare similar layers with the remaining masala, rice and garnishing ingredients. Heat a tava and keep the pan over tava. Cook on low-medium for 10 minutes. Now switch to low flame and cook for another 10 minutes. Switch off the flame and let it remain for another 10-15 minutes. Mix the biryani and serve.
Hyderabadi Biryani: The famous Hyderabadi Biryani came into being after Emperor Aurangzeb appointed Niza-Ul-Mulk as the new ruler of Hyderabad. It is believed that his chefs created almost 50 different versions that used fish, shrimp, quail, deer, and even hare meat. The aromatic saffron is the star of this dish.
Method: Boil water in a deep pan and add rice, salt, bay leaves, five green cardamoms, seven to eight black peppercorns, one cinnamon stick and cook till three fourth done. Drain and set aside. Heat sufficient oil in a kadai and fry onion slices till golden brown. Drain and place on an absorbent paper. Grind caraway seeds, one cinnamon stick, remaining black peppercorns, cloves and remaining green cardamoms to a fine powder and set aside. Now, take mutton pieces in a bowl. Add ginger paste, garlic paste and salt and mix well. Add the spice powder, red chilli powder, half of the fried onions, yogurt, coriander leaves, mint leaves and one tablespoon oil and mix. Let it marinate for about two hours. Heat two tablespoons ghee in a pan, add cinnamon and black cardamoms and saute. Add remaining onions and saute till light golden. Add marinated mutton, stir and cook on high heat for three to four minutes. Cover, reduce heat and cook till almost done. Heat the ghee in a thick-bottomed pan. Spread half the rice in a layer. Spread the mutton over the rice. Sprinkle torn mint leaves. Spread the remaining rice. Sprinkle saffron milk. Cover and cook under dum.
Bangalorean Biryani: Cooked in most of the Bangalorian weddings and houses, this Biryani uses the special Zeera Samba rice only.
Method: Cut onion and tomato in thin slices. Heat oil in a large vessel and fry the onions with green chilies till the onions turn light brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and fry well. Add little salt and sliced tomato and cook well till the oil oozes out in the sides. Once the tomatoes are cooked, add the meat and add mint leaves and coriander leaves. Close the lid and let the meat cook half. Add chili powder, garam masala and turmeric to the meat. Simmer the flame and let the oil float on top. Drain the oil that is floating on top of the Akhni or the meat curry and mix lemon juice to that. Now, take another vessel and boil water. Add salt and green chilli with few mint leaves. Add the soaked rice to this. When the rice is half cooked spread the layer of the rice on the Akhni and make holes using a spoon and pour the mixture of drained oil and lemon juice in that holes. At the end sprinkle the some mint leaves and coriander leaves on top of the rice, also spread few spoons of saffron color. Close it tight and let it steam for 45 minutes on low flame.
Thalassery Biryani: Both sweet and savoury, Thalassery Biryani is one of India’s most loved Biryanis. Soft chicken wings, mild Malabar spices and kaima rice is used to cook this Biryani.
Method: Wash and soak rice for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. For marination, make a paste of red chilli powder, turmeric powder, 1 tbsp lemon juice and salt. Marinate the chicken in this paste for 1 hour. Heat oil in a fry pan and shallow fry the marinated chicken. Keep aside. Heat ghee in the pan. Add bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, saunf and cardamom. Wait for them to crackle. Add one sliced onion. Saute till it is golden brown. Add soaked rice and water. Pressure cook till the rice is 3/4th done. Now, heat ghee in the pan. Add onions, green chillies, ginger garlic paste and stir well. Add chopped tomato pieces and cook for a minute. Add freshly chopped coriander and mint leaves. Now, add garam masala powder, yogurt and salt. Allow the mixture to cook well. Add the fried chicken pieces and cook the chicken pieces in the gravy. Take a heavy-bottomed pan and add chicken along with the gravy. Add a layer of cooked basmati rice over it. Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves and lemon juice. Top it with another layer of rice. Add fried onions, few drops of food colour, raisins and cashews. Close the lid tightly and place the weight on top. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from flame.
Once a dish for royalty, today the biryani reflects local sensibilities and traditions and is a popular and common dish. Here are two biryani recipes that reflect the predominantly vegetarian Indian society:
Methi Biryani (Fenugreek Greens and Rice)
1 cup short grain rice
2 cups fenugreek leaves (discard roots)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cardamom pods, seeds scooped and crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 green chilies, slit down the middle
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 inches ginger, finely ground
6 cloves garlic, finely ground
1 small tomato, chopped
10 mint leaves
1 teaspoon chili powder
juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup ghee
salt to taste
Method: Heat ghee in a heavy vessel. Add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, and cumin seeds and let sizzle for 10 seconds. Add green chilies and fry for a minute or two. Add onions and fry till they turn golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and fry for a few minutes till the raw odor is no longer perceptible. Add tomato, mint leaves, salt, chili powder, and lemon juice and continue frying till oil separates. Add rice. Fry the rice for few minutes, till it gets well coated with oil. Add fenugreek leaves and two cups of water. Stir, cover, and slow cook over low to medium heat for about 10-12 minutes . Once the rice is fluffy, remove from heat. Serve warm as a main course.
2 cups long grain rice
6-8 Indian eggplants
6 green chilies, slit down the middle
1 onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 fistful mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
¼ cup ghee
salt to taste
2 sticks cinnamon
6 cardamom pods, seeds scooped and crushed
3 bay leaves, crumbled
2 star anise
1 black cardamom
a few strands of saffron
Method: Wash and clean the eggplants, removing the stalk. Slit them twice in the middle without slicing all the way so they retain their shape. Leave the eggplants in cold water until cooking. This will avoid discoloration. Heat ghee in a wide vessel. Add the whole spices and let this sizzle for a minute. Add chilies and wait till they sputter. Add onions and fry for two minutes, until golden brown. Adding salt at this point will hasten the process. Add tomatoes, cover and cook. Once the tomatoes wilt, add mint, cliantro leaves, chili powder and eggplants. Stir fry the eggplants for 4-5 minutes. Add rice to the mixture. When you see the oil separate, add four cups of water. Cover and cook over low-medium heat for 10-12 minutes. Once the rice looks fluffy, remove from heat. Let biryani rest for 2 minutes before serving. Serve warm as a main course.