12 September 2008

It's time to feast, again!

Onam Greetings to all visitors to Currybazar!

7 September 2008

Chicken Biryani

The temperature dips and the sun sinks slowly into the horizon. The surroundings become eerily calm. The streets are almost empty; just a few cars speeding homewards and the last of the people scurrying home. A chilling silence has settled over the place. BANG! The canon goes off signifying that the sun has set. Instantly the muezzin's call for prayers or azaan blares from the minarets of every mosque around. It's iftaar. People gather around the tents put up near the mosques to break their fast with dates, followed by prayers and dinner. This scene repeats itself everyday during the month of Ramadan - the festivity, coloured lights on every street, the fun-fairs, the display of traditional Arabic sweets and ofcourse, the iftaar parties! This month of fasting and feasting concludes with the sighting of the new moon announced with a colourful display of fireworks. Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim friends!

The best part of any festival is the elaborate and mouth-watering food preparations. As kids, we associated festivals with the special food prepared on that day than the real essence of the festival itself! In my part of the world, evenings in the month of Ramadan are vibrant with festivities and the intense, over-powering aroma of freshly cooked food wafting from every household and restaurant in the vicinity. The most popular dish during this period is the biryani, a speciality interlayered with aromatic rice and spiced meat/seafood/vegetables, served with a side of raita or kurma, a salad and papad. The chicken biryani recipe here is the result of a challenge by the spouse to cook up a spicy, aromatic biryani and is heavily inspired by many different recipes on the internet. For this one-dish meal, I'd recommend using basmati rice which lends a distinct aroma and would also suggest not to tone down the oil/ghee used which imparts a delightful flavour while cooking. This dish is a strict no-no for all those on a diet, after all, isn't biryani a dish fit for a king!

You'll need:

I}To marinate the chicken:
1 whole chicken, cleaned and cut into medium pieces
2 1/2 inch piece ginger
9-10 big cloves of garlic
12-15 hot green chillies (more or less as per your taste)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
salt as needed
3 tbsp thick yoghurt

Grind the ginger, garlic and green chillies to a coarse paste and keep aside 2/3 of this paste for the masala in step V. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and rub into the chicken well and leave aside covered for atleast 30 minutes.

II}For the Rice:
2 cups rice
1-2 bay leaves
1 stick of cinnamon (3 inch long)
2-4 cloves
2-3 cardamom
1 star anise
salt to taste
5-6 cups of water

Method A: Wash and soak the rice for atleast 10 minutes. On the stove-top, bring the water to boil in a large vessel. Add the rice, salt and spices and cook till the rice is almost done. It should take 12-15 minutes. Drain off the excess water and sprinkle lime-juice over it.

Method B: Wash and soak the rice for half an hour. Heat 2 tbsp of ghee and add the whole spices and fry. Add 4 cups of water to it, add salt and bring to a boil. Drain the cleaned rice and add it to the boiling water. Cover and turn down the heat and allow the rice to cook till all the water is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and sprinkle lime-juice over it.

III} For the spice mix:
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 inch stick of cinnamon
4-5 mace
1 nutmeg
1 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds/saunf
1/2 tsp shahjeera
1 black cardamom
Dry roast the above and grind to a fine powder. Keep aside.

IV}For the nut paste:
10 cashew nuts
5 almonds
1 tsp poppy seeds/khuskhus
1 tsp fennel seeds
Soak the above in 2 spoons warm water/milk for 1/2 an hour and grind to a creamy paste. Keep aside.

V}For the masala:
2 large onions sliced
1 large red tomato pureed
2/3 of the ginger-garlic-chilli paste reserved from step I
1/2 cup thick yoghurt
1 tsp red chilli powder
a handful of coriander leaves finely chopped
a handful of mint leaves finely chopped
1/2 cup or more ghee/oil or a mix of both

VI}For the garnish:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
a handful of cashew nuts/pine nuts or both
a handful of raisins
2-3 tbsps finely chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp warm milk
a few strands of saffron

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat half the ghee. Add the sliced onion reserved for the garnish and fry till it turns golden brown and crisp. Remove and reserve for garnish. Add the cashews and fry till golden, remove and reserve. Add the raisins and fry till they plump up, remove and reserve. Add the remaining ghee/oil and fry the onions for the masala till transluscent. Now add the ginger-garlic-chilli paste reserved from step I, marinated chicken, red chilli powder and spice powder from step III and fry on high heat till the chicken is fried and the raw smell of spices goes. Turn down the heat, add the tomato puree, yoghurt, coriander and mint leaves and fry till the oil separates. Add the nut paste from step IV and continue cooking covered till the liquid reduces and the chicken is cooked. Check and stir frequently to prevent the chicken and masala from burning.

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C. In an oven proof dish, spread half the chicken with gravy at the bottom followed by half the rice, then the chicken and finishing with a layer of rice. Spread the fried onions, cashews/pine nuts and raisins. Now rub the saffron strands in the warm milk and pour over the rice. Garnish with coriander leaves, cover with aluminium foil and bake for around 20 minutes. Alternately, instead of baking you can steam cook the biryani covered with a tight fitting lid on the stove top on a gentle flame for 20 minutes. Serve hot with raita, pickle and papad.

3 September 2008

Savoury Appams

A holiday, illness and laziness later I was craving to have a deep fried something that wouldn't require me to slave over the stove too much. With idli batter in the fridge and a few other ingredients to bring in colour, appams, a childhood favourite was ready in minutes. This savoury version also called uppu-appams are equally popular as the sweet version called nei-appams. A special cast iron/non-stick pan with moulds called the appam pan/ aebleskiver pan is used to give the appams a round shape.

You'll need:
1 1/2 cups idli batter
2 or more green chillies minced
a sprig of curry leaves
a handful of coriander leaves
a carrot finely grated
2 tsps finely chopped red bell pepper
3 tbsps onion finely chopped
a few peppercorns
oil for frying

Chop the green chillies, coriander and curry leaves finely. Add all the ingredients to the idli batter and mix well. The batter already has salt, so there is no need to add more. Place the appam pan on the stove and pour 1 1/4 spoon oil into each mould. Let the oil heat well, turn down the flame and drop spoonfuls of batter into each mould. Allow it to cook through and turn and fry the appams evenly on all sides. Serve hot appams with coconut chutney or ketchup.