A little taste of India

The first time I ever tasted Indian food was while I was still living in Toronto (10 years ago). A couple of my co-workers were Indian and they would bring their lunch in which was prepared by their spouses. Out of curiosity and because the aromas were so inviting, I asked what was in their lunch. Both asked if I wanted to try the food and I couldn’t resist. From that day onward, Hitesh and Sanjay brought extras for me to sample. I must say, Indian’s are very hospitable and they enjoy sharing their food with others.

As in many countries, the food varies from North to South and India is no different. Indian cuisine changes with its regions, with its people and with the changing economic times. At one time one could instantly identify the cultural heritage of an Indian simply by looking at the food he or she ate. Today it is open to all. Eating out was once taboo to the upper classes but today if there is one thing that unites Indians it is the food. However there are still some restrictions with respect to religion and preferences. The Hindus, the Sikhs and the Zoroastrian Parsees do not eat beef. Pork is taboo to both Hindus and Muslims but is popular in Goa among the Christians.

The following recipe is from Atul Kochhar’s book, “Indian Essence”

Gosht Ki Biryani (lamb cooked with rice – North India)

500g lean boneless leg of lamb (cut into 2.5cm cubes and place in a shallow dish)

6 medium onions, finely sliced
oil, to deep fry
200g natural set yogurt, whisked
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste (finely chop garlic & ginger)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

For the marinade, deep fry the onions in the hot oil until crisp and brown, drain on paper towel and cool. Put the cooked onions in a blender and whiz to a paste, then add the yogurt with the rest of the marinade ingredients and process briefly until smooth. Coat the lamb with the mixture and leave to marinate in the fridge for 2 hours. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a heavy based pan and sauté the whole dried red chillies for 1 minute. Add the lamb with its marinade and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes, or until the meat is cooked.

To Cook:
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 dried red chillies
5 cm cassia bark or cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cloves
10 black peppercorns, crushed
500g basmati rice, washed and drained (this removes the starch so the rice doesn’t stick together)

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in another pan and sauté the whole spices and crushed peppercorns for a minute until they splutter. Add the rice and sauté for 2 minutes, then add 1.5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and boil for 12-15 minutes until the rice is almost cooked. Drain the rice and spread to 2.5cm thickness on a tray. Allow to cool slightly and pick out the cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves.

To Assemble:
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons mixed almonds, cashew nuts and raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoon garam masala
Pinch of saffron threads, infused in 100ml warm milk
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

Deep fry the thinly sliced onion until crisp brown; drain on paper towel. Deep fry the nuts, and raisins if using, until the nuts are light brown and the raisins are plump; drain.

Brush another heavy based pan with a little melted butter and add half of the cooked lamb in a single layer. Cover with a layer of rice, 2.5cm thick, and sprinkle with garam masala and butter. Repeat these layers once more, then drizzle the saffron milk over the top layer of rice. Scatter the fried nuts and crisp fried onion over the surface, cover tightly and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Uncover, fork through to mix, then sprinkle with the mint and coriander leaves. Serve at once, garnished with tomato strips and accompanied by the raita.

To Serve:
Tomato strips, to garnish
Cucumber and mint raita

Cucumber Raita:
Lightly whisk 200g Greek yogurt, then stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 diced red onion, 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves and 1 tablespoon grated, peeled cucumber.

The Culinary Chase’s note: I wish recipes came with tangible measurements. For example, a medium onion; what size is a medium onion? Is it the size of a tennis ball or ping pong ball? I used what I ‘thought’ was a medium onion and ended up with too much marinade. It was a shame to let it go to waste so I added it to the layers of rice and meat. Ok, so my version turned out a bit darker. Nonetheless, the flavours were delicious. I’d make this again!