Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lamb Biryani

Biryani - even the word sounds exotic, smells aromatic and promises a yummy treat, doesn't it? If you ask me to define Biryani, I could use only one word. Royal! Yes, of course. Being born in an Indian islamic family, I was very well accustomed to Biryani right from childhood. Though we were no royals, we were never denied of this treat on every special occasion. Be it a wedding, a house warming function, on Eid, on Birthdays or even for special guests - every now and then, I used to get an opportunity to lay my hands on Biryani even as a child. But, back then, I never understood the historical influences or the geographical significances behind this lovely one pot meal.

India is a land of rich history, whose culture is varied, strongly influenced by the many invaders in the past. Biryani is said to have got its origin in India during the Mughal dynasty. It is an aromatic rice dish flavored by a blend of rich spices cooked along with meat or vegetables, specially prepared for the royals. With changing times, slowly this dish gained popularity and started spreading to many parts of India. Taking in the many likes and dislikes of the regional cuisines and availability of spices, Biryani metamorphosed and thus many varieties of Biryani came into existence.

Hey hey, I'm not going to write a thesis here. Just wanted to give a good intro into the post. Those who still find 'Biryani' to be an alien word, kindly refer to wiki. Coming to my story... Mom used to make tasty Biryani. When I was in school and then in college, Mom's Biryani is famous among my friends. Whenever they visit me at home or at times of Eid, she prepares it happily for them. During my college days, she used to prepare vegetable Biryani for my vegetarian friends too. I felt secretly proud of my mom for this. But I never cared to know the amount of labour and love that goes into making it.

After marriage, I got to taste the Biryani prepared by my mother-in-law. The way she prepared and the taste was entirely different from my mom's. I liked it this way too. Only then, I was intrigued to find the difference. My mother-in-law prepared Biryani in layers unlike my mom, who cooked meat and rice together. After coming to Germany, my dear husband prepared Biryani and it tasted different again. I'm not sure myself which one I like the most.

Being here in Germany, with a family and a home for myself and my husband, it was the first time, I as a host started inviting and entertaining friends. At such times, I and my husband give some thought about what our guests might like to eat, prepare a menu beforehand and plan who is going to make(cook) what. If we plan to make Biryani, my husband dons the apron. I proudly, still humbly, admit that whoever has tasted his Biryani liked it very much and asked for more. Praises be to the Lord. I was waiting for a long time for the perfect moment to share his recipe in my blog. Ramadan is around the corner and Taste of Pearl City's Iftar moments is a good chance. So, here I am, taking extreme pleasure in presenting you my husband's Lamb Biryani recipe. I sincerely hope, you would enjoy this.

Preparation Time: 40 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins + 20 mins for Dum
Serves: 5-6

Meat of lamb - 1250g (with bones) *
Basmati Rice - 1 kg *
Salt - to taste
Ghee - 4 tbsp

Onions - 3 medium sized, sliced thinly
Tomatoes - 3 medium sized, chopped
Potato - 1 big, sliced
Green chillies - 3, slit lengthwise
Yoghurt - 1 cup / 150 g
Ginger garlic paste - 3 tbsp

Cumin seeds - 2 tsp
Whole garam masala - cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon and bay leaves
Oil - 3 tbsp (Sunflower or canola oil)
Lemon juice - juice of 1 lemon

Mint and Coriander leaves - 1/2 a bunch each, chopped coarsely
Cashews - a handful
Raisins - a handful
Roasted onions - 2 handsful
Saffron - a few strands, soaked in 2 tbsp luke warm milk

For Biryani Masala:
Coriander powder - 3 tbsp
Red Chili powder - 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Crushed black pepper - 2 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Nutmeg powder - 1/2 tsp
Cumin powder - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 2 tsp

Kindly note, all the ingredients and measurements mentioned above can be varied according your taste.

Getting the things ready for Biryani is the main labour that goes into the making. Actual cooking is damn easy. So, let's get the things ready now.

Step 1: Cut and clean the meat. As opposed to curries, for Biryani, the meat pieces should be of 2-inch cube sizes. Meat with bones is preferred. After cleaning, drain the meat of excess water.

Step 2: Prepare the marination - In a large mixing bowl, take half of the masala powder mix given under 'For Biryani masala'. To this, add the cleaned meat, yoghurt, ginger garlic paste, 2 tbsp oil, juice of half a lemon and enough salt and mix well. Cover with a fresh foil. Let this marination rest in the fridge for about an hour. Reserve the rest of the masala powder for later use.

Step 3: In the meantime, get the other things ready.
Slice the onions thinly. Cut the tomatoes into small cubes. Slit green chillies lengthwise. Clean and chop the green leaves. Slice the potato and keep aside.
In a small bowl, take 2 -3 tbsp of lukewarm milk. To this, add the saffron strands, cover and save aside.
If you do not get roast onions readymade, take a few onions(as per demand), cut into thin slices, fry in hot oil till crispy and golden brown, drain in kitchen towels and keep aside.
Roast raisins in 1 tbsp of ghee slightly. Take care not to burn them. If you do not get roasted cashews, you can roast the cashews along with the raisins.

Step 4: Prepare the rice - Clean the rice carefully not to break it. Take rice in a big vessel or rice cooker, add double the amount of water, add 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tbsp oil and enough salt. Cook the rice only until half cooked. When you feel the rice is half cooked, switch off the heat, drain the rice and take it in a bowl separately.


Step 1: Cooking the meat: In a cooker, heat 3 tbsp of ghee. After it is slightly hot, add the whole garam masala and fry for a minute. Now add the onions and saute until they become translucent. Add the green chillies and marinated meat. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add rest of the Biryani masala and fry for a few more minutes. Now add the chopped tomatoes and about a quarter of the chopped mint and coriander leaves. Please take care not to add water at this stage. The meat would get cooked in its own juices and from that of the tomatoes and the curd. Close the lid of the cooker and cook until 3-4 whistles.**

Step 2: Layering: Take a heavy bottomed vessel. Add one tablespoon of oil (We used the ghee leftover after frying the raisins) and leave the flame/hot plate on low heat. Now spread the sliced potatoes to cover the base completely. You got it? They are just to avoid burning of our Biryani***. Above the potato layer, spread about half of the meat with a little gravy. On top of it, spread half of the rice. Now, spread half of the mint coriander leaves, followed by one handful of fried onions. Now, take one or two ladles of gravy and evenly pour it over, followed by a few drops of lemon juice. Repeat the same process for another layer of meat, rice, mint-coriander, fried onions, some more gravy and lemon juice drops. Now, on top of all this, add the roast cashews and raisins. You can save some for garnishing later. Finally, spread the saffron milk evenly all over.

Step 3: Dum: Now, close this set up with an aluminium foil, sealing the edges tightly so that no steam gets out. Leave this on low heat for about 20-25 mins. In native language, this process is called "Dum". What happens now is that, the heat slowly spreads from the bottom upwards. During this, the meat and rice are cooked slowly, which finally gives the softness and aroma to the Biryani. There are many ways of putting Biryani in Dum, but this is what we find convenient and best on our electric stove. After about 20 mins, you can check the evenness of heat by touching the top and bottom surface of the vessel. If you find the heat to be even, it means it is almost done. Then, switch the flame off and leave for a few minutes before you open the foil.

Tips for Serving:
While serving, take Biryani in sections, cutting through the layers, so that you have a good mix of meat, rice and everything. Do not stir or mix directly in the vessel. After you take it in another serving bowl, you can garnish with more raisins, cashews and coriander leaves. Biryani goes well with Raita.

* Usually, the meat to rice ratio would be 1:1.5. This can be varied according to your needs. We have used here 1:1.25.
** After cooking the meat, in case you get a lot of gravy, please don't be tempted to pour all of it into the layers. That will make the Biryani soggy. Use your best judgement here. You can save the excess gravy for supper with Rotis.
*** If you find the potato slices at the bottom to be burnt, you can discard them. Otherwise, you can still serve it along.

Sending this to Taste of Pearl City's Iftar Moments Event and Torview's Food Palette Series Black and Lubna's Joy from Fasting to Feasting -  IV.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tuna Couscous Salad

Until last week, summer has kept its promise and we had a fair share of sunshine. This week, it is no more true. Right from Sunday, it keeps raining here and the weather reports forecast the entire week to be so. Today it rained heavily. Sitting on the eighteenth floor in my office, with complete glass walls around, tell me how I can concentrate on my work? With a cup of coffee in my hand, it was just comforting and nice to watch the rain splash against the windows. It brought me a cloud of thoughts, which I sincerely wanted to draft somewhere. Yes, I'm doing that in parallel and I hope to post about it soon. :)

Ok, now coming to the main point. This recipe has been sitting in my drafts for quite sometime now. This is a very easy breezy salad, which you can put together in a matter of few minutes. On a busy week day, this is a very good way of fixing up the supper and hardly needs a recipe. Anyways, here you go.

Preparation time: 15 min
Serves: 2 - 3

Couscous - 1 cup
Tuna fish - 1 tin
Feta Cheese - 100g
Olives - a few
Tomato - 1
Onion - 1
Mint - to garnish
Salt and pepper - to taste

Chop the onion,tomatoes and olives to little pieces. Cut the feta cheese into little bite sized chunks. Cook the couscous as per instructions or as found below.

In a large mixing bowl, take the cooked couscous. Add the chopped onions, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. Drain and add the tuna pieces and spread them. Add salt, pepper and chopped mint leaves. Give them all a good mix. Done!!

Cooking couscous:
Take the couscous in a bowl along with little salt. Add equivalent amount of boiling water to it. Keep it covered for about 5 minutes. Add a little butter or olive oil and fluff with a fork.

This salad resulted as an effort to make use of some of the items sitting in my fridge. If you are a vegetarian, you can omit tuna and use some cooked beans instead. If you want to go light for the dinner, avoid the feta cheese. You can use parsley or coriander leaves instead of mint. Oh, the choice is yours and it is endless.

A perfect candidate for Taste of Pearl City's Anyone can Cook Series 26 under 'Beginners' Category.

Recently, Shilpi of It is tasty ma! has generously bestowed the following awards on me. She has a great collection of delicious traditional Bengali dishes and sea foods. Do check out her blog for more. I feel honored and excited to receive these little tokens of appreciation from her. Danke schon Shilpi :)

I would like to pass on these awards to all my dear readers and followers whose loving comments are the  only driving force of this blog. Please feel free to collect it from here and proudly publish in your blogs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


As most of you would agree, taking a break from the routine every now and then helps a lot. A vacation is very essential, in the sense that, it is not just a break from the routine, but that it really gives more time to relax ourselves and rejuvenates us to be more efficient after the break. For these and more, I cherish vacations a lot.

Last month, during one of the long weekends, we decided to go somewhere on a relaxed trip. We joined with one of our friends - another couple and we four set out to Belgium. This is just a small account of the wonderful memories we had there.

The Belfry Tower at the Marketplace, Bruges

On a fine saturday morning, we started our trip by car, quite relaxed. Taking enough breaks, we finally arrived at Bruges (Brügge - German, Brugges - Dutch), our destination around 15:30. After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we set out for an evening stroll.

Bruges is a small ancient historical town located in the north western Flemish region of Belgium. With many narrow streets, studded with artfully built little houses and old buildings, it was hardly a ten minutes walk to the market place at the city centre. The market place was surrounded by historical buildings, built with a unique European flair. There were lots of cafes lining up the streets near the market place. They were not named Cafes like in Germany, rather called as Tea Rooms. I guess, the locals liked to drink tea more than coffee. We seated ourselves in a nice tea room. The hospitalilty was super genial. Except me, everyone ordered Waffles, yes, the famous Belgian Waffles. I kept just drooling at those (as I'm allergic to eggs), when my husband was describing how light, soft yet tasty they were. We further walked down the city, through the narrow lanes, across the beautiful canals and enjoyed the evening hour sight seeing. The city is sometimes referred to as 'the Venice of the North', credits to the cute little canals.

The Canals in Bruges

The next morning started with a fulfilling breakfast at our hotel. Then we all set out to visit the Choco Museum. Didn't I not point out yet what Belgium is famous for? Yeah, you guessed it right. Pralines!!  Not just that. Belgium is also famous for their Waffles, hundreds of varieties of Beer (for Beer lovers), French fries and many more. Ok, let me come to the Choco Story. This is a chocolate museum and it was a few footsteps away from our hotel. There was an impressive collection, depicting the history and origin of Chocolates right from the Aztec Civilization; how cocoa was first discovered, consumed and how the modern day chocolates evolved. It was a wonderful journey through the museum and as a highlight, at the end, you get a demo of chocolate production from an expert and a little praline to taste too. I must admit, wowwww it tasted gorgeous and just melted in our mouths. We came out of the little museum with happy faces. :)

Chocolate figures in Choco Story Museum, Bruges

We continued our journey through the city. Bruges has a Dutch speaking community. We were glad for the fact that, Dutch has a lot of similarities to German(Deutsch). We could easily understand sign boards, food on the menu card, street names, etc. Altogether, it was an interesting guessing game with the languages. My friend's husband had Birthday on that day and so, he treated us for lunch in a cozy, artfully designed restaurant. I had a bowl of Penne pesto and a large glass of flavored iced tea. Why pasta? Though the city offered a wide range of culinary options, after applying all my constraints and filtering, I finally end up in Italian pasta only. But, it tasted real good. My friend's husband wanted to try Mussels there once, but sad that he missed it.

Madonna and the Child at the Church of Our Lady, Bruges

After lunch, we purchased some souvenirs and Pralines to take home. Apart from the array of chocolate shops and beer shops, I also found a lot of Tapestry shops and a few notable diamond shops. Later on the day, we visited the 'Church of Our Lady', which houses the famous Michaelangelo's 'Madonna and the Child'. Then, we visited the 'Begijnhof', a closed community dwelling, where the Beguines (sisters of the ancient Roman Catholic Church) lived together, sponsored by the rich benefactors of the city in the past. It was a serene experience just walking through the colonies and the park surrounding the Begijnhof.

The Lake of Love, Bruges

After all these walking, we were dog tired when we returned to the hotel. It was not yet dusk and we were really hesitant if we should continue our sight seeing or just retire for the day. After a small break, out of some intuition, we just started off again in car. We travelled to a nearby village called 'Damme'. The travel by car along the canals and green fields was very relaxing and we found that it was a good decision to have made the extra effort. Damme is just a scenic beauty. The cool breeze, the picturesque surroundings, the greenery and cattle made us jump with joy. We got some of our precious clicks there.

Damme, near Bruges

The third day, we bid goodbye to Bruges and returned home. On our way back, we took a break for lunch in Brussels, the capital city. There we made a brief visit to the European Commission building, the executive body of the Europen Union, only to find that it was closed for the holiday. Later we took a break for coffee in Leuven, another charming little town in Belgium, but in the French speaking area. It was almost 11pm when we reached home.

Pralines from Bruges

Dear readers, thank you so much, if you have patiently read till this line. I am glad that I could give a complete(yet trying to be precise) account of the things I saw, experienced and enjoyed. If you feel like you travelled along with me, then please feel free to leave me a line with your comments or critics. It would encourage me to write more notes like this or even better ones in the future. :-) Ciao!!