Chettinad Vegetable Biryani

South India has a vast variety of flavoured rice – lemon, tamarind, coconut, peanut, sesame, mango, eggplant… A ‘flavoured’ rice in the rest of the country is largely biryani or pulau. All these wonderful preparations need the cooked rice to be separate and grainy. This is normally achieved by roasting the rice in a little oil before cooking it.
After I turned WFPB a decade ago, I have been attempting to make the rice separate and grainy, with no success. I, of course, use whole grains like brown rice. The rice invariably turns mushy (not soggy). It tends to break while cooking and becomes really soft.
I have been searching for a whole decade for a trick to achieve the perfect flavoured rice. Joined, in my efforts, by dear friends Nandini Gulati and Bulbul Mankani.
Last week, I discovered the secret – from a video of the iconic and prolific chef of India – Tarla Dalal (may her soul rest in peace). I immediately set out to try – with complete success. So delighted!

Chettinad Vegetable Biryani

Ingredients
To Roast And Grind
2 cloves (laung, kirambu)
2 green cardamom (elaichi, elakkai), skin split
1″ piece cinnamon (dalchini, lavangthu pattai)
1 tsp whole black pepper corns (sabut kali mirch, kuru milagu)
1 star anise (anasphal, anashupu)
For The Biryani
1 cup rice (I used regular brown rice since I did not have any basmati rice readily )vailable – and couldn’t procure due to the lockdown)
1 carrot, diced
1/2 cup French beans, cut length-wise
1 potato, diced
1/4 cup peas
12 shallots, chopped fine
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1″ piece ginger, chopped fine
1 bay leaf, torn roughly
1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tbsp coriander powder (dhania powder, kothamalli podi)
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
For The Garnish
1/4 cup roasted cashew nuts, split in the centre
Method
Roast all the spice (cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper corns and star anise till a lovely aroma emanates – about a minute
Cool and transfer to a blender
Grind to a fine powder (this is the biryani masala)
Set aside
Heat a wok on medium heat and add onions, ginger and garlic
Sauté till the onions turn soft
Add tomato and cook till it becomes soft
Add all the vegetables, the biryani masala, coriander powder and red chili powder
Mix well and cook, adding a little water, till the vegetables are done
Set aside
Rinse the rice about 5-6 times
Soak it for about 15 minutes and drain
Boil a pot of water
Once the water comes to a boil, add the rice
Add a few drops of lemon juice
Cook till the rice is done and the water has evaporated (your rice will be separate and grainy)
Add the cooked rice to the vegetables/biryani masala
Add salt and mix gently so as to not break the rice
Stir in the mint leaves
Place this back on the stove and simmer (covered) for a couple of minutes so the rice is infused with the masla
Remove from flame and garnish with roasted cashew nuts
Let the biryani rest for 5 minutes
Serve with kurma (or any curry of your choice) and a raita
Enjoy!

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