Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken and Veggie Biryani

I think my love for biryani comes from growing up in Louisiana and eating jambalaya. Biryani really is the jambalaya of India. Vegetables and sometimes meats are cooked together with warm Indian spices, and rice is cooked in this mixture, soaking up all the flavors. Much like when making jambalaya, it is crucial to get just the right ratio of rice, liquid, and seasoning so that the rice absorbs all the liquid as it cooks to create fluffy, perfectly seasoned rice.

I use brown basmati rice in this recipe. Basmati is that delicious, ultra-long grained rice that is typically served with Indian food. Before cooking, it should be rinsed to remove excess starch, and soaked for up to 30 minutes, which helps it to cook more evenly. It's also important to avoid stirring the rice as it cooks. Doing so will break the long, delicate grains and turn it gummy.

Most traditional biryani recipes call for parcooking the rice separately from the other ingredients, and mixing it together halfway through. I wanted to streamline my recipe, because I love the simplicity of a one-pot meal. To keep it healthy, I add a lot more vegetables than a traditional biryani. I like to add bell peppers, peas, and cauliflower. The cauliflower is a real dark horse in this recipe. I'm normally not a huge fan, but in this dish, it steams in the spicy broth and becomes nutty and creamy.
I like to serve my biryani with a simple cilantro chutney.

Chicken and Veggie Biryani
2 cups brown basmati rice
1 T butter
1.5 lbs chicken thighs marinated in 1T curry powder (I recommend Sun brand; optional)
2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
7 cloves garlic, finely chopped 

2 t ginger, minced
2 t cumin
2 t coriander
1 t tumeric
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cardamom
¾ t chili flakes (I like things really spicy. Normal people might want to put 1/2 t)
2 bay leaves
lots of black pepper, to taste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 t salt
1 t sugar or splenda
1 lb frozen cauliflower
1 2/3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb frozen peas

Simple Cilantro Chutney (optional):
1 T lemon or lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, stems included, brown ends removed (cilantro stems are soft and flavorful, so waste not want not!)
pinch of salt

Rinse rice and soak while prepping the rest of the dish, approximately 20-30 minutes. In a Dutch oven, melt butter and brown chicken. Remove, set aside, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Saute onions, bell peppers, garlic, and ginger until slightly browned. Add spices and saute, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients except rice, peas and cilantro chutney. Cover, bring to a simmer, and pour in drained rice. Return to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to very low. After 50 minutes, stir and
check the rice to ensure it is cooked through. If not, cover for a few more minutes until rice is cooked through. Pour in frozen peas (don't worry, they will warm up instantly) and stir gently.

While biryani is cooking, put cilantro chutney ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve with cilantro chutney. This makes a lot; serves approximately 10 people.