Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Biryani, The Homemade Way - A Labor of Love!

When I was growing up, the times I got to spend with my mom, was usually in the kitchen at either our home, or one of my aunt's homes, where she was often asked to cook the meals, as her cooking was much loved by all.

The days that Biryani was made, was usually over a celebration of some sort: Diwali, Prayer functions, Birthday's, Christmas or New Year's Day.... and sometimes for picnics by the sea or the park :-)  Or eaten at weddings. Traditionally, Biryani is a celebratory dish, made for special occasions.

When it was being made at home, my mom always said, "Biryani is different from Pilau. You don't cook everything in one pot and wait for it for it to all come together by stiring. The less you interfere with the flavors, the better the chance to develop.  Each item is prepared separately, layered into a huge pot and allowed to steam in the oven for four hours. Or, steamed over hot coals on open fires, and that's the BEST KIND!"

Over the years I watched as my mom marinated either meat or chicken or vegetables, cooked the marinated goods separately, fried onions separately, colored and fried potatoes separately, boiled lentils separately, boiled rice separately, and then layered them all together like a Black Forest Cake with herbs and spices and colour.

I have devised a slightly easier method, whilst still retaining the awesome taste and body of Biryani. I will share my version with you all. I had to pay careful attention to quantities to share with you, as I usually do my "dash of this, pinch of that, a lot of this, some of that...etc.."

To make a biryani to serve six people or four very full portions you will need:

  • 1.2kg of chicken (Braai packs are quite convenient doing away with the backs/spines of the chicken, yielding more edible portions of chicken)
  • 2 cups Basmati rice
  • 1 full mug of black lentils
  • 5 large onions chopped - not too fine
  • 5 potatoes peeled and cut in quarters
  • 6 large cloves of fresh garlic - either finely grated, crushed with pestal & mortar, or with a crusher
  • Half an index finger sized fresh ginger - either finely grated or crushed with pestal & mortar
  • 3 hand fulls of fresh mint 
  • 3 hand fulls of fresh coriander
  • 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 5 full teaspoons of Homemade Garam Masala
  • 3 Star Aniseed
  • 9 sticks of cinnamon
  • 14 cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 12 Cardamon pods (green)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of roasted cumin seeds & 1 tablespoon of roasted cumin powder
  • 6 heaped tablespoons of roasted fennel seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons of roasted coriander powder
  • 3 teaspoons Tumeric powder
  • Egg yellow food color (powder form and liquid) 
  • Red food color
  • Green food color
  • Few strands saffron
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Hing (Asafoteda)
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of Osman's Taj Medium Roasted Curry powder
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of Osman's Taj Ginger garlic masala
  • 6 tablespoons of either buttermilk, greek yoghurt or sour milk (Inkomasi)
  • Salt to season
  • Oil 
  • Ghee or butter
Wow! That's a whole lot of spices and stuff :-)

Grater for nutmeg

Now for the marinade prep, which is usually done two nights before the intended day to serve the biryani

Marinade method
  • Cut up and wash the chicken pieces, place it in a colander to drain off excess water
  • Wash a hand full of each herb (mint & coriander) and chop finely
Using an airtight tupperware / container with a lid, place the following ingredients in:
  • Drained and chopped chicken
  • Quartered potatoes
  • Handful of each chopped herbs (mint & coriander)
  • 3 teaspoons of Homemade Garam Masala
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of Osman's Taj Medium Roasted Curry powder
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of Osman's Taj Ginger garlic masala
  • 6 tablespoons of either buttermilk, greek yoghurt or sour milk (Inkomasi)
  • 1 star aniseed
  • 3 cardamon pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 - 4 curry leaves
  • Grated nutmeg
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons of roasted fennel seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of roasted cumin powder
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of roasted coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered egg yellow
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • crushed ginger and garlic
  • 5 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt to season

Mix all the ingredients with a large spoon, coating the chicken and potatoes well. Cover the air tight container with the lid and store in the fridge over night, to cook the next day or even two days later.

Marinated chicken

Prep for the day for cooking the Biryani

Lentil prep
  • Soak the cup of lentils in boiling water early in the morning, or the night before. Once the lentils have swelled up, rinse thoroughly and add clean boiling water to cover the lentils adequately. Add the following:
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder  
  • 1 star aniseed
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 bay leave
  • 2 - 3 cinnamon sticks
  • a little salt to season
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Hing (Asafoteda)
Bring to the boil until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Rice prep
  • Wash rice and soak with boiling water.  Add the following ingredients:
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 star aniseed
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 - 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • salt to season
  • Cover the pot with a lid and let it stand until soaked.

Onion Prep
In a non stick frying pan add the following:
  • Oil about 2cm deep and 20g of butter or ghee and heat
  • Slice all the onion and fry gently until brown / partly caramalised.
  • Set aside.

Putting it all together - Usually the night before serving. 

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg cel. Ensure shelves are adjusted to fit in the pot

  • In a large pot big enough to fit in all the ingredients, put in some oil and ghee - it should just about coat the bottom of the pot. Bring the oil to medium / high heat
  • Throw in some of the fried onion about 2 tablespoons
  • 3 curry leaves
  • 1 star aniseed
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Fennel

Once the spices start to roast in the oil, add the marinated chicken and stir in to coat with the heated oil and spices.

  • Allow the meat to cook for about 10 minutes and then lower the heat to simmer temperature.
  • Begin layering as follows:
  • Sprinkle the lentils to cover the meat and potatoes. Keep 1/3 of the lentils aside.
  • Sprinkle Cumin powder in a circular pattern to cover the lentils
  • Sprinkle fennel seeds in same manner
  • Sprinkle coriander powder in the same manner
  • Sprinkle Homemade Garam Masala in the same manner
  • Sprinkle cumin seeds in the same manner
  • Sprinkle a hand full of each herb (Min & coriader - washed and finely chopped) in the same manner
  • Place 5 springs of thyme in the center of the pot
  • Sprinkle more fried onion in the same manner - about 2/3 of the remaining fried onion, and keeping 1/3 aside.
  • Now start to layer the rice (raw) using a sieve-like spoon  reserving aside the water it was soaked in.
  • once a thin  layer of rice has been layered - sprinkle a bit of salt all over the layer of rice.
  • Sprinkle fennel seeds, cumin seeds and more garam masala (not too much)
  • Layer the remaining rice
  • Top with remaining lentils and fried onions, stirring it gently into the top layer of rice.
  • Dot with drops of green food color, egg yellow food color, and red food color
  • Top with remaining two hand fulls of washed and chopped herbs (Mint & Coriander)
  • Dot with butter or ghee
  • Add the water in which the rice was soaked - add a few strands of saffron to the water. The water should slightly cover the last layer of rice.

Layering the rice
Adding color to the rice

Adding the water to the rice

Cover the pot with tin foil, shiny side under, and close the edges tightly. Place the lid on top of the foil covered pot.

Put the pot into the oven and leave to steam for two hours uninterrupted. After two hours, remove the pot from the oven, carefully removing the lid and the foil avoiding the steam (it could burn you). At this point, the rice would have cooked through. Add 1/4 cup of water in a circular manner to the top layer and cover again with the same foil and lid and return to the oven.  Allow to steam for another two hours.

Remove from the oven and set aside without opening the foil or the lid and leave overnight in a cool environment for the flavors to develop. The Biryani can be served for lunch the next day.  If it is being served for dinner, place the biryani in the fridge.

When Serving

Remove the lid and the foil, carefully dish up the top layer of coloured rice into a separate dish. You will notice that the bottom layer now has some rice as well, which you can carefully mix (like digging soil around a pot plant while rotating the pot in a circular motion)  The chicken and potatoes will be quite tender so, be careful how you handle it.

Place some of the spiced meat and rice on the plate and then top with the coloured rice.

Serving of Chicken Biryani

Serve with raita and your choice of pickles or dhal.

Indeed a labor of love :-)

Happy labor of Love to all who will attempt Biryani, the Homemade way. :-)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Garam Masala - The Homemade way

Growing up watching my mother cook in the kitchen was always interesting to me.  I never quite understood all the roasting and grinding of various spices.  "What was the difference?" I always thought.

Then one day all her explaining made sense - it was when I had to cook my very first Biryani, I was 19 Years old.

Somph or Fennel, featured very prominently in the mix. 
Other ingredients are Bay Leaves, cinnamon sticks, elaichi (Cardamom - The green ones or white ones AND the huge black one), some cloves and Star Aniseed.  I have noticed that the pack I have bought, does not include the big black cardamom nor does it include cloves. I will have to add those ingredients before making my own Garam Masala.  

These days, one can buy the Garam Masala already ground, but the problem I have, is that it isn't quite like the one made at home.  I do with Garam Masala what my mum and her mother used to do.  
  1. First pre-heat the oven to 120 deg Celsius alternatively place ingredients in a large frying pan (the problem with roasting the ingredients in the pan is that it takes a lot of time to continuously stir the ingredients to avoid burning. Roasting in the oven is by far the best way.)
  2. Empty the whole ingredients into a roasting pan
  3. Evenly distribute the ingredients to cover the base of the pan
  4. Place the pan with the ingredients into the oven 
  5. Allow to roast for 20(twenty) minutes. 
  6. Ensure that the ingredients do not burn - keep an eye out and stir if necessary.
  7. Remove from oven and then allow the ingredients to cool.
  8. Using a coffee grinder, gradually grind all ingredients, as the coffee grinder can only take a couple tablespoons of ingredients at a time and then store in an air tight container for use as required.

The label of the Garam Masala in my Late Mom's hand writing. Don't have the heart to re label it.

I do the roasting of two of my other spices in the same way eg. Jeera seeds (Cumin), Dhaniya seeds (Coriander). I always keep whole roasted Jeera and Somph (Fennel seeds) for use in curries as well as Biryanis.

Happy Roasting :-)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

How to make Roti dough

It's time to test your kneading skills, and what better way to do that, than to attempt making your own roti dough?

I used to watch my grandmother, and my mother kneeling on the floor with a large dish of dough in front of them, and using their fists, they would knead away at this soft, elastic dough. It was fun to watch actually :-) Sometimes getting up from the floor would be a challenge for their arthritic knees.  As time went by, they would use a chair on which the dish of dough would be placed and they would knead the dough standing in front of the chair.  I guess it had a lot to do with ergonomics. They were short women, like me :-)

So, let's begin:
If you would like 12 - 14 rotis, you will need:

  1. A large mixing bowl
  2. 4 Cups of flour,
  3. Boiled water in a kettle
  4. 1 Teaspoon salt
  5. 2 Tablespoon Sugar
  6. 11/2 Tablespoon butter or margarine per cup of flour
  7. 1 Tablespoon sunflower oil per cup of flour

Sift the flour in a mixing bowl, add the salt, sugar, margarine or butter and oil, and mix in with a large spoon.

Add the boiling water from the kettle gradually and stir, slowly.  This step is all about you being one with the dough and knowing when to stop adding water. The dough should stick together in clumps but it should not be too wet.

Allow the hot dough to rest for about 5 - 10 minutes. Then begin kneading with your hands. Using your fist makes for better kneading.

When the dough is kneaded into a roughly round elastic dough, turn out onto a smooth surface and knead with both hands.  

Once kneaded, set the dough back into the mixing bowl to rest.

Cover the dough and it can rest for as long you like until you are ready to roll them. Anything from between one hour to six hours.

When you are ready to roll your rotis, remove the dough from the bowl, knead some more and if you need to add flour to the surface, do so, but not too much.

Then measure each roti portion in to 100g portions. This ensures that your rotis are even in size.

Further knead each roti portion and flatten into discs. You can further keep the roti disc portions for rolling out when it's time to eat, or you can freeze them in cling wrap and freeze for thawing and rolling out another day.

Rolling out is easy... and my mother once said...."No one will marry you if your rotis are not round" But don't stress, if it's not round, it's still edible and delicious :-)

See previous blog entry for How to Toast a Roti  to complete your roti challenge :-)

Happy Cooking :-)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

How to Toast a Roti

So, you have decided to either make your own roti dough, or to order it via Homemade. You have rolled them out and it's time to toast them. How exactly do you do that?

I always follow my Mom's method. This way, as she always said, "the roti does not get too dry or hard."

First you use either a griddle (thawa) or a heavy based, non-stick large frying pan. Make sure the heat of your stove is medium to high.

Place the rolled out roti on the thawa, wait for a few seconds, about 30 seconds, and then flip it over. It should not have a lot of brown dots on it.

Then using either a tablespoon or a brush, drop some melted butter or ghee over the roti, while the underside is cooking.  Try to rotate the roti so that the heat evenly "coats" the bottom of the roti.

In between the next minute, keep checking the underside to ensure that the roti is not burning. If the heat is either too high or too low, adjust accordingly.  Then using a spatula, turn the roti over, and it should look like this:

Again, the cooking time for this side should be 30 seconds. Coat the top side of the roti with a little bit of butter, margarine or ghee.

Flip over for the last time and the roti should rise up like a balloon.

Remove from heat and serve up with a delicious curry of your choice! :-)

Delicious, soft, and luxury in your mouth :-)

Happy Roti Toasting :-) 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Introducing Phali Chutney

Homemade 's kitchen is busy, busy, busy! To be delivered next week is some biryani, curries and chocolate cake, to name a few.

Requests have come in for mixed vegetable samoosas. Three dozen of those tasty treats were delivered yesterday. These are a great hit with everyone. What can I say, spending time with my Mummy in the kitchen when I was a little girl, has definitely been worth it. All her methods are stuck in my head.

One of the new items on the list of products, is Phali Chutney (Peanut & Mint Chutney), which will be launched in two weeks time. Looking out for a food processor in the meantime. The picture attached is what my mother's and grandmother's food processor looked like, for grinding Phali Chutney!

What exactly is Phali Chutney? Well, it's more than just peanuts and mint. It has a whole lot of roasted spices, like red chilli, garlic and green chili, with tangy tamarind in the mix of things, delicately ground with lots of love.