I was tempted the other eve to buy some hot chips: a familiar winter craving for something somewhat carb loaded, slightly greasy and certainly comforting. But rather than nip into the freezer aisle and, in a desire to economically use what was in my larder, I started thinking about rice. Pilau, maybe? How hard is Biryani, I wonder. A little googling later I was dissapointed. Biryani looked complex and time consuming: yet  against my better judgement (it was 10pm before I ate), I thought I’d free style my own. Served with some flatbread, this Biryani makes a tasty, hearty, winter meal. Great for lunch the next day, too. I took a number of shortcuts from the traditional recipe. But kept hold of some slightly bothersome steps which are essential to a full flavour, so I’ve learned. I used veg I had in the fridge. I used mushroom in mine as I wanted something that it could brown like meat, and chickpeas because I had them. I’m sure you could substitute further. I’m reliably told that a Biryani is a celebratory dish in Asian cultures. Rightly so, it possesses a wonderfully warming, spicy, decadence. It screams special, when eaten.

  • 1/3 cup basmati rice
  • 2 tsp tumeric
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Thumb ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 tsp curry seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 small red onions, chopped finely
  • Sunflower oil
  • 250g mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp black onion seeds
  • 300ml boiling water, with a veg stock cube

I should point out that I’ve been lenient with my spice measures above. I tend to shake and taste rather than measure. Up the level of kick, if you want. I would. I’m pretty sure the first law of cooking is to do the longest things first. So I prepared the basmati rice with the turmeric. I used slightly too much water so had to drain the rice. If I’d followed the tip a friend once gave me and filled the saucepan to cover the rice plus the length of my thumb nail, I’m sure it would have worked (strange but true). Those bubble holes tell me too much water. I like fluffy rice you only get when the water ratio was just right. But this still worked. Next make your paste, well my shortcut paste. This is the flavour base of the dish so a bit of attention here pays off. Heat a good splash of sunflower or another vegetable oil in a pan, but not too hot. You don’t want to burn the crushed garlic, ginger or chilli flakes, curry seeds, which have all gone in here along with the chilli powder. Let them simmer slowly until you here a few good curry seed pops. Top: prepped onion, garilc and ginger. Bottom: the spices simmer away, releasing flavour into the oil. Then add the red onion. Again, don’t burn. Instead you want to caramelise. I get it started on a medium heat then reduce it to next to nothing and cover. The caramelised flavour is what you want here. So that it’s almost stuck to the pan and the water is gone from the onions.

The difference post caramelisation (below) is dramatic, the onion is richer, sweeter and the flavours sticky and robust. The biryani will have a richer, rounder flavour now. That’s what we want. The observant amongst you will see I switched pans  at this point. It’s a danger of free styling, suddenly you need a bigger pot when you intuitively change direction. I upped the flame then added the mushrooms. They sucked up the paste and deglazed the own a little with their moisture. Do them till they’re good and soft, with a slight brown so the mushroom flavour stays in. It’s searing almost, for veg. Mushrooms are in many ways, vegetarian meat. Sear them up, and they’ll suck in flavour.  Then, I added the chickpeas, garam masala, nigella and a shake more chilli flake. Stir the mixture up. If you are nervous about the amount of chilli or masala to add, then just whip out a mushroom and taste it. As you can see from this shot, the Garam Masala was more of a shake than a measure. It’s all in the wrist. Next, add the stock and bring to the boil. Leave the lid off, you’re end result is a dry curry. It took about 30 minutes for my curry to get where it needed to be. Add less liquid and it will be faster. The final step is simply to fold the drained rice and the curry. Fold, combine. Done! I shared my Biryani with some friends the next evening. (It keeps fine in combined form for atleast 24 hours in the fridge).