Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August Daring Cooks' Challenge - Biryani

I am definitely willing to admit when I don't know something, and this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge had me admitting it right away.

Grace, one of our talented non-blogging Daring Kitchen members, was our Daring Cooks’ August hostess who shared with us some of her family’s tried and true Bengali Biryani recipes – all of them delicious and all of them prepared fresh from our own kitchens!

Biryani? Never heard of it. Turns out, it's a mixed-rice dish popular in South Asia, and there are variations of it all over the region. After reading the recipe, the way I explained it to my husband was that it sounded to me like South Asian arroz con pollo.

The first thing I did was call upon my neighbor, who married into a traditional Indian family.  My first question was "Have you ever made biryani before?"

The response was very enthusiastic - it is her husband's favorite dish, and her mother in law made it for him quite a bit! In fact, she said that they is the "self proclaimed biryani king!"

The bad  news? She'd never made it. And the king modified his proclamation - he's the king of eating it - he'd never made it either.

But she was willing to share her experience with other Indian cooking, and even to join me on a journey to one of our local Indian markets.

Now, I've been to that market before - it's always so amazing to me. But this was the first time I had someone with me who could actually explain what I was looking at.  Together, though, we found everything we needed and I was ready to go.

Now, the list of ingredients looked a bit long, but it wasn't at all overwhelming once I really looked at it.  The longest part of the process was preparing everything.

In order to keep myself organized, I did all of my chopping, prepping and measuring ahead of time. Chopping included onions and tomatoes, not to mention the mincing of garlic and ginger.  Then I measured out the appropriate amounts of coriander, curry power, cumin and biryani powder (a spice mix acquired at the market. There were many to choose from, probably due to the regional varieties in recipes, but I just chose the one that had the most intriguing mix of spices). And that bottom cup? Cumin seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks (there were supposed to be bay leaves, too, which I was sure I already had at home... oops...).

All of this is added to the pan in specific order, starting with the whole seeds and cinnamon sticks as aromatics, moving on to the chopped and minced vegetables and herbs, and finishing with the powdered spices.

Once these come together, they make a very thick sauce kind of mixture.  At this point, I added bone-in chicken pieces to the pan to cook them right in that sauce.

All this while, I had a separate pot on the stove pre-cooking my rice. The standard rice in South Asian cuisine (according to my neighbor) is basmati rice, which I have never made before. The smallest bag that the Indian market carried was ten pounds! I was seriously hoping the family liked it!  The recipe called for the rice to be half-cooked while the meat/sauce is prepared, but I wound up (accidentally) cooking it mostly through. I also added a can of coconut milk to the cooking water of the rice to add a touch of flavor, and to balance the heat of the spices used in the sauce.

The final step was to layer the prepared rice and chicken sauce in a large pot to finish the cooking of the rice and the meat.

Another ten  minutes of simmering later, we were ready to serve!

I know the photo isn't the best, but this was delicious. Full of flavor but not too hot, I really enjoyed it. So did daddy. Little miss did great - she said she didn't love it, but she ate her entire serving without complaining. Little man? He ate a taste or two of the chicken, a bit of the rice, but I had thought ahead and reserved some of the rice and a couple of chicken thighs to prepare "plain" (without the spices), and he focused mostly on those. Hey, he tried it!

And best of all? The biryani king told me that he liked it! I set aside two servings for my neighbor and his wife and they said that the flavor was right on, and that they really enjoyed it. Sure, they added a bit more heat to their own servings, but I can handle that. I took it as a real complement that they enjoyed the flavors and that it reminded him of home.

Grace, thank you so much for sharing your family's recipes, and for introducing me to this delicious dish. I can't wait to try different varieties (hey - I have a lot of basmati rice to use up!), as well as lots of other South Asian cuisine!

To see the other delicious biryanis cooked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

To see the full set of recipes as presented to us in the challenge, you can see them here.

Chicken Biryani
(from the Daring Cooks' Challenge)

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 bay leaves (I didn't have these... I wish I had!)
2 small cinnamon sticks
2 cardamom pods (green, not black)
3 tablespoons ghee (I used vegetable oil)
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tomato, skinned and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon biryani powder
1 chicken, cut into 8 parts (I used chicken thighs)
3 cups basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes and drained
1 tablespoon plain yogurt (I used coconut milk yogurt to keep this dairy free)

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan (I used a large sautee pan). Fry the cumin seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon, and cardamom in it until fragrant.
Add the onions, garlic, ginger, tomato, and salt. Cook on medium high heat while stirring for 5 minutes or until the onions start to brown.
Add the cumin, coriander powder, curry powder, and biryani powder. Cook for another 2 minutes, then add the chicken pieces. Cover the pan, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add the yogurt to the pan. Cover and simmer for 2 more minutes.
Meanwhile, boil the rice in 6 cups of water (I used 4 cups of mater and one can of coconut milk) for 5 minutes or until half cooked. Drain any remaining water. In a large saucepan (I used my largest pot for this), alternate layers of rice and chicken starting and ending with a layer of rice. Cover the saucepan tightly and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes or until the rice is done.



  1. Shelley, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. You did a great job and as you know, Shwet and I gobbled it up the next day!

    1. Jenn, I can't thank you enough for your help with this - I really don't know that I would have been brave enough without you!

  2. Great job! This dish was an adventure in prep work, but came together so easily.

  3. Looks great -- and you even got approval from the Biryani King!

  4. So lucky to have your friend help you with the spices and hats off to you for being approved by the king of biryani!! wonderful indeed, Shelley!

  5. I like your addition of coconut milk, which I think will go into my left-overs. But I did add more spices, as it was a bit on the mild side for us.


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