We have no aversion towards pulaos / biryanis but we are not great fans either of this rice genre. It may seem surprising coming from an Indian but it is true that they get made once in a blue moon in my kitchen. And so I was contemplating whether to try this Chettinad Vegetable Biryani or not for this month's Indian Cooking Challenge.
I know that a wonderful dish like this biryani do not deserve such a lousy introduction. :) However I would like to point out that we, out of all the people who prefer to stay away from overtly spicy dishes got sold by this biryani. I had thought of giving this dish a try only because I have been missing the recent ICC challenges and oh boy, I am glad that I did. The husband started reminiscing about the biryani he used to eat in his college canteen and applauded it, while my house filled with an aroma that I usually associate with the Indian restaurants. The spice levels were perfect in this dish, tasted wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
This biryani comes from the Chettinad cuisine, from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Another version I saw on Sanjeev Kapoor's cook show also included coconut, fennel seeds and other spices typical to the region but since this recipe comes from a person native to the region, I did not play with the recipe. This is an apt kind of dish to prepare, when you have company. Even this halved recipe yields a substantial amount of biryani to feed at least 6 - 8, given that you have other dishes to feed them.This recipe uses samba rice that is grown in Tamil Nadu region in India. This grain supposedly has a distinct aroma and is shorter in size. Basmati would be a typical substitute if there is no access to the samba variety. I had only brown Basmati at home and so substituted sona masuri instead. And of course don't get intimidated by the long list of ingredients mentioned below. Many go in tadka and some are added at the final stages.
1.5 cups Jeera Samba rice
1 tbsp. ghee
2 tbsp. cashews
1 tbsp oil
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
2 Maratha moggu
2 green chillies (I used 1 chilli as they were hot.)
2 pieces of stone flower / dagad phool / rathi puvvu (optional)
1/2 cup minced shallots or 1 big onion, finely minced
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
A handful of coriander leaves + extra for garnishing
A handful of mint leaves + extra for garnishing
2 cups mixed vegetables (green beans, carrot, potato and green peas)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. red chili powder (My chili powder is really hot and so I used 1/2 tsp.)
Salt to taste
2 & 1/4 cups water
* Wash and soak the rice in water for about 30 minutes. Drain and keep it aside.
* Peel and chop shallots / onion. Chop tomatoes. Peel and cube potato and carrot. String and cut the green beans into one inch pieces. Chop green chillies into big pieces.
* Chop finely mint and coriander leaves.
* Heat ghee in a deep saute pan or directly in a pressure cooker and toast the cashews until golden brown. Remove the toasted cashews with a slotted spoon and keep them aside.
* To the same pan, add oil and heat it. Add cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf, moggu and stone flower.
* Saute for few seconds and add green chillies and shallots/onion. Fry until the onion turns translucent.
* Next add ginger-garlic paste and saute until the raw smell leaves. Then add the chopped leaves and saute for about a minute.
* Add vegetables now and fry for about 3 minutes. Next add tomatoes, turmeric powder, chili powder, coriander powder and salt. Continue to cook until the tomatoes turn softer.
* Add about 1/4 cup water to the vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil.
* Then add the (soaked and drained) rice and water. Stir well and cover with the lid if using pressure cooker and cook for 3 whistles.
Or if using a saute pan, just cover with a lid and cook on low flame until done. It would take around 15 - 20 minutes to cook this way and don't be tempted to stir and peek often.
(I used a saute pan to fry the vegetables and transferred the whole mixture into a container that could fit in my pressure cooker. I put the container in the pressure cooker without the pressure valve on and steamed the mixture.)
* Once the rice is cooked, garnish with ghee fried cashews and coarsely minced cilantro - mint leaves.
* Serve with onion raita.
* Either you can use 1.5 cup (standard American measuring cup size) or about 3 cups (that comes along with the rice cooker) rice.
* The original recipe mentions to use 4 & 1/2 cups water for 3 cups of jeera samba rice. I used sona masuri rice and used about 2 & 1/2 cups of water for 1 & 1/2 cups rice.