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26 October 2008

The Great Indian Vegetable Biryani



There are some recipes that escape even a voracious cook - and for me Biryani has been one of them. In most friends' house parties this is one dish that unfailingly features as the main course - a pot of vegetable biryani for the non meat eaters and a mutton biryani for the others. Besides it is commonly ordered in our favourite Punjabi restaurant Urban Tadka (UT) which you must have heard from me pretty often on this blog. In UT, the biryani is made in individual clay pots sealed with dough and baked in the tandoor - and in all my biryani encounters, I can easily rate theirs as the best. One evening when DH suggested vegetable biryani with raita for dinner - it struck me that this is one dish that has eluded me all these years and why not try my hand at it.

Of all the recipes I found on food blogs and general food websites, I found this video by Vah Chef Sanjay Thumma very educative. Only problem with his video that he doesn't mention how much of each ingredient to use. So here's my version of his recipe.
Since there quite a lot of ingredients, I will include them along with the directions.

Special apparatus
A large pot along with a wide pan or pot in which the first one will sit comfortably in case you plan to finish off the final stage on stove stop, or else you can bake it off in the oven.

Preparation
  1. Wash 2 cups long grained basmati rice gently and soak for an hour in a large bowl.
  2. Slice 4 medium onions very finely, separate. You can either deep fry these or bake them in the oven till brown or shallow fry them on a non stick pan coated with oil on a very low flame (around 15 minutes or so)
  3. Vegetables for the biryani - 1 small cauliflower broken into large florets
    2 medium carrots, scraped and cut into large pieces
    3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large wedges
    1/2 - 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
    2 large capsicums, deseeded cut into large squares
  4. Fry 3 tbsp cashews and then 2 tbsp of raisins in hot ghee on a low flame, drain and keep aside.
  5. Chop roughly 1/2 cup mint leaves and 1/2 cup coriander leaves. Keep aside.
  6. Soak a large pinch of saffron strands in 1/2 cup of warm milk. Keep aside.

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a large non stick pot.
  2. Add to the hot ghee, 3 bay leaves, 3 sticks of cinnamon 1" each, 2 black cardamoms, 2 green cardamoms, 4 cloves, 2 tsp cumin seeds and toss on a low flame.
  3. Next, add 2 tbsp of ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute till cooked.
  4. Throw in all the chopped vegetables, 2 tsp of salt, 2 tsp of red chilli powder, 1 tsp turmeric powder, 2 tbsp of coriander powder, 1 tbsp cumin powder, 2 tsp garam masala powder, 3 slit green chillies, handful of mint leaves and saute well to coat all the vegetable chunks evenly. On a low flame let the vegetables cook till they are 60-70% done, sprinkling some water at intervals if necessary. To this finally add 200 grams paneer cut into large cubes and toss well.
  5. Once the vegetables are in the nearly done stage, add 3 cups of thick homemade / Greek yoghurt and stir on a low flame till the veggies are well coated with the spicy yoghurt sauce. Check for salt and adjust as per taste. Keep this aside.
  6. Meanwhile bring to a boil around 3-4 Litres of water in a large pot - add around a tsp of salt, 2 bay leaves and 1 tbsp ghee / oil and add the drained soaked rice grains. Let this boil for around 5-7 minutes and check if nearly done. At the 75% done stage drain the rice out in a colander. Turn this onto a large plate, spread it out gently with forks and let it cool.
Assembly (for the stove top method)
  1. In the large pot (that fits inside of another pan), first layer the half the rice. Add half of the vegetable-paneer-yogurt mix. Top with half of the browned onions, fried nuts-raisins and chopped herbs.
  2. Add a cup of beaten yogurt on top of this.
  3. Top with rest of the rice and repeat the remaining onion-nuts-herbs layer over the rice.
  4. Cover the pot with 2-3 layers of thick aluminium foil. Cover with a fitting lid.
  5. Place 2-3 cups of water in the larger pan. Keep over high heat. Place the covered pot with biryani in this pan and let the water simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove the pot from the pan and keep aside for 30 minutes or so for the flavours to develop fully before serving.
  7. Serve with any vegetable / fruit raita that is chilled.

For those of you who would like to bake off in the final stage, layer as above in a oven proof deep pan and seal well with foil. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve as above.



Although this was not as good as my favourite restaurant's biryani, this is mighty good for a first attempt and I would give all credit to Chef Sanjay's video, which you might check out for a quick recap. I hope the quantified ingredients here make it a tad simpler for those of you wanting to try out the Great Indian Vegetable Biryani.

This recipe serves around 6-8 people for a main course along with raita made from 1 Litre yogurt.
I understand that the list of ingredients runs pretty long, but really you'll find most of the stuff in your pantry. The paneer is optional here, but it adds a nice variation to the texture of vegetables. You could also try boiled chickpeas as a protein addition instead of paneer.
(all ingredients for this recipe are marked in bold in the various stages of description)

Wacky Banana Cake



There are some blogs I follow because I know their tried and tested recipes will come to my rescue each time I'm facing a dilemma as to what to cook! Then there are some other blogs which I visit purely for reading pleasure - either because I cannot procure most of the ingredients they use or they write predominantly about meat based recipes. Home Sick Texan is one of them. It gives such a view of Texans whose culture, food and general way of life seems so different from the regular American life. I love to read the stories accompanying each recipe and these are more interesting for me that the recipe itself. But this one time, I found a recipe that made me say ' I must try this RIGHT now'. It was her granny's Wacky Cake recipe. The name itself is so appealing, so cute and so retro, and it is indeed a blast from the past. And what's more - no butter, no eggs, no mixing bowl required. Can baking ever get better than this?

If you ever want to bake with your kids, I can only imagine what a deterrent breaking eggs in front of them is - an invitation to gooey mess and not to mention the fear of salmonella from raw eggs, especially in India where the local panwalla who sells them loose (betel leaf vendor) is the nearest source for eggs in a hurry. This is also the best possible cake to bake in the morning for a breakfast for friends who've stayed over. Waking up to the aromas of fresh home baking will make it an unforgettable morning for them. Also, this is the perfect one if you're calling your girl pals over for tea - considerably low cal, ready in a jiffy and just the perfect sweetness to go with tea / coffee.

I have just wiped my hands off after tasting the first piece and it was soft enough to melt in my mouth (even without butter!!!) and then I had to break my prolonged silence here by posting about it. We're having this for our pre-Diwali breakfast and it makes me very very happy and indebted to Home Sick Texan for sharing this recipe - I finally found a vegan recipe for a lovely cake for DH, who's gotten off eggs for a couple of years now and he strictly abides by his no egg policy even when faced with some delicious desserts in the best of places.

Home Sick Texan's Wacky Cake and Wacky Apple Cake Recipes here
I've used a chopped banana in the apple cake recipe along with a part whole wheat flour replacement, and walnuts instead of pecans. Here's my version.

Wacky Banana Cake
Serves 6 atleast
Time to table - 45 minutes
Adapted from here

Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used Ashirwad Atta)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup of sugar - run for a short while in the mixer
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
5 tablespoons of sunflower or any unflavoured cooking oil
1 cup cold water (not iced)

1 large banana finely diced
1/3rd cup crushed walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C
2. Combine dry ingredients in flour sifter and sift into an ungreased 8x8 square or a 9-inch round baking pan. You can also use a 9-inch cast-iron skillet.
3. Poke three holes into the flour mixture. In the first hole, pour the vinegar. In the second hole, pour the vanilla. In the third hole, pour the oil.
4. Then pour one cup of water into the pan and mix very well.
5. Stir in the diced banana and nuts - shake pan to level off and sprinkle some powdered cinnamon.
6. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or till done.
7. Cut in squares and serve warm.

You'll find all the ingredients for the plain wacky cake in your pantry, so what are you waiting for??

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