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Birian with Birinj

Every person has a dish they can live on for days and never get tired of. For me, it is Biryani. The word originates from the Persian words "Birian", meaning fried before cooking and "Birinj" meaning rice. In short, it's a bit of heaven mixed with a whole lot of paradise for a delightful food coma.

Biryani's roots trace back to Persia and, by some records, to 2 AD! It was brought to India by invaders - the Turk-Mongols in the late 1300s or the Mughals in the 1500s. In the ensuing centuries, Indians have added special touches to evolve it into the queen of dishes.

There's the aptly named Mughlai version in which the rice is flavored with kewra - the extract of the pandan leaf. The Awadhi version calls for the meat and rice to be cooked separately then layered and finished in a copper vessel. Some recipes cook the dish on a charcoal stove, others slow cook in the "dum" style where the lid is sealed with dough to prevent the flavors from escaping, in the process producing bread infused with biryani flavors. What a concept! In the west, we bake the layers of deliciousness.

Whatever variant is your go-to addiction, this dish satiates like none other!

Part of me has been hesitant to learn the recipe. Why bother when so many restaurants around us and friends do such an incredible job of it. Just patronize them or be nice to your buddies In return they are happy to slave over the stove to deliver mouth watering aroma, texture and taste.

The pandemic threw a monkey wrench into my Biryani addiction. Spurred by a recipe from the kids, Tarun and I have recently embarked on a journey to hone our skills on this dish. Now, our bellies are full, our brains are craving for more, and the house smells delish on some Sundays.

The spice mix that is common in the recipes is whole garam masala - cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon. Throw in some bay leaves, mint and cilantro. Add to the marinade ginger, garlic, and yogurt. Cook the meat to softness. Prepare the rice with more garam masala. Then, layer the chicken and rice, douse with fried onions, ghee, saffron, and bake.

Chicken and rice combo is like fried dough - some form of it exists in many cultures. Biryani is found in Iran, Iraq, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Philippines, South Africa, and Thailand as Biryan, Nasi Kebuli, Nasing Biryangi, and Khao Mok.


In India alone, there are at least 14 variations! That's 13 more than I know!! There are recipes that call for tomatoes, others use lemon juice, some use cashews and raisins. Universally the meat is mutton - goat meat - or chicken. There are vegetarian and egg versions too. Clearly, it's an equal opportunity pleaser and will keep us experimenting for years to come.

Next time you are ordering Indian cuisine, give Chicken Biryani a try and work your way to the one with mutton.

Biryani and raita... 'cos you only live once. You are welcome!!

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