Hyderabadi Biryani & a Trip With Dad Down Memory Lane

Eats: Easy, One-pot Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani
Tunes: Musical Memories of HYD trips through the years, via Spotify
Dinner Convo:  Dad’s childhood memories of Biryani, (and/or origins…)

Intro

I had posted this recipe once before but wanted to perfect it.  Mission accomplished, and here it is!  Authentic, Hyderabadi Biryani that is quick (maximum 1.5 hours, and that’s only if you have to chop the tomatoes and onions by hand), and only uses one pot!  It also makes enough for dinner for 8, with leftovers for lunches.  What more can you ask for?

This time, I think my husband’s heartbreak at dear daughter having the audacity to ask “what rice dish is this? Dirty rice?” was at least momentarily forgotten once he tasted it.  I had finally listened to his request to lighten up on the spices and he was in heaven.  This is one more example of that push and pull between “authenticity” and appropriation.  There are as many “authentic” Biryani recipes as Biryani cooks, and I’ve tasted the gamut on my trips to Hyderabad.  This version represents exactly what my husband wants his Biryani to taste like, so its HIS authentic version.

Meanwhile, for the record, I prefer my Biryani full-on and I have fond memories of the one time I hit that mark  the summer of 2008 the long, hard way with just a pot on the stove, for HOURS.  Our dinner guest Jim still remembers it, too, affectionately referring to it as “the most [he’s] ever sweat sitting still.”  I’ll save that version for the next time he’s back in town…

 

Tunes

We make a yearly trip to India to visit family, and each time there is at least one song that we hear non-stop during the trip.  This playlist capture them all in one place, so that when listening to it, it brings us on a virtual, fast-foward timeline of our trips to India.

A few notes:

Technology – This playlist will be continually updated.  As of today we are missing several years because they aren’t on Spotify and I don’t have a copy I can upload… or it’s a song that I don’t know the name/artist of, but upon hearing it, I’d say “oh! this song is the one we heard the year cousin __ got married,” or whatever.  So as I come across them, I’ll update the playlist.

Timing – “1942 a love story” and “Meri Zindagi Mein Ajnabee” represent the time leading up to my first trip in 2005.  I have vivid memories of listening to those at work as I coded reports in BusinessObjects, and thought excitedly and apprehensively about my first trip to India. Would they accept me?  …..  Memories…

Globalization – The last song isn’t remotely Indian but for the month of August 2017, it was heard until my ears were bleeding.  I struggled with adding this on 2 counts: lyrics & origins.  During the trip I learned what my kids had been so joyfully (if ignorantly) singing in Spanish and it gave me pause. As a general rule, I don’t censor music in this family, but this felt different.  Ultimately I didn’t really address it because it was so catchy and pervasive, but when they are old enough to understand the lyrics we’d have a chat.

And just as I’ve been wrestling with “authenticity” vs “appropriation” in terms of recipes and following traditions, here came the musical version of that bifurcation of thought.  On the one hand, there is no denying that Despacito was the song we heard most in India this summer (case in point: I played a clip and asked my kids what the song reminds them of, and without missing a beat, my 4 year old son exclaimed, “India!”).  On the other hand, the organized and romantic librarian in me wanted an Indian song.  Keep up the tradition! Bollywood songs only, just as we’ve done for 12 years!

… but alas, this was the year that the same sort of twist/extensions that we embrace in our Diwali or Holi traditions, or in our foods (Butter Chicken) also now applies to our musical memories. So there it is: globalization.

 

Dinner Convo

It being the day after the Meatloaf dinner convo, when we many of mom’s childhood memories came up, with the Biryani, we asked Dad to take us down Biryani memory lane.

Insert yours here.  If you don’t have biryani recipes, maybe you have Uncle Ben’s memories (like me!).  In the meatloaf time capsule I also referred to this NY Times piece extolling the benefits of kids knowing seemingly mundane details about their family’s past

If instead you’d like to learn/teach more about the interesting origins of the dish, Wikipedia is there for you.

 

Eats

Ingredients

  • 5 tbsp ghee (or 5 tbsp of butter, nearly browned)
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 lg cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces
  • 5 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (homemade best, in 1:1 ratio)
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 3 finely chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 3 lbs leg of lamb, chopped into 1-inch pieces and cooked along w/ bone
  • 2.5 cups basmati rice
  • 3 cups water
  • optional accompaniment: raita or plain yogurt; thinly sliced red onions

Process

  1. Prep: Finely chop onions (by hand) and tomatoes (by food processor, if desired), cut up lamb (if you forgot to ask the butcher to do it for you, as we sometimes do), and put all spices & salt in a small bowl to keep at the ready.
  2. In a large pressure cooker*, melt the butter over medium heat, and when bubbling stops, add the onion.
  3. Cook the onions until golden brown, stirring frequently.
    Add ginger-garlic paste and fry for about 45 seconds, then add spices and fry for a minute, scraping up any browned bits.
  4. Add tomatoes, continuing to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pressure cooker pan. Cook until tomatoes start to break down and some water evaporates.
  5. Add lamb and sort of brown a teeny bit, mainly getting it covered in the onion/tomato/spices.
  6. Add 2 cups of water* and give it a stir to combine.
  7. Cover/lock pressure cooker and increase heat to high until it come up to pressure, then lower it without losing the pressure. Cook for 6 minutes, then turn off the heat and quick-release the pressure.
  8. When pressure is released, open the cooker, add 1 cup of boiling water, and give it a stir. Then add the rice, but only stir it enough to barely get rice covered (not to get it to the bottom where it will stick.
  9. Cover/lock pressure cooker a second time, and increase heat to high until it come up to pressure, then lower it without losing the pressure. Cook for 3 minutes, turn off the heat, and allow it pressure to release naturally (another 10 minutes or so).
  10. When it is time to open it, I hope it’s perfect like our was. Give it a gentle stir. If any rice is stuck to the bottom it may need a tiny bit more water mainly to just scrape any tomatoes or rice that may be sticking to the bottom.

Notes

  • I don’t have any relationship w/ Fagor but I do highly recommend their pressure cooker. I bought it five years ago after seeing it reviewed on Cooks Illustrated. I’d definitely recommend the 8 quart size so that you can make big batches of things and freeze some. The book it now comes w/ via the above Amazon link is great, too. The mac-n-cheese recipe was life-changing.
  • I resisted the urge to brown the lamb (I again checked that no recipes that I consulted did so) and I’m finally satisfied that it’s not needed. I have a mental note to look into browning of lamb vs beef, and browning in this sort of usage. Will report back!
  • Once again, I tried my food processor to speed along the chopping. I found that the grater was good to get the tomato small but not puree, but the grater wasn’t as good an idea for the onions because it released too much liquid from the onions which meant they took longer to brown (I think this whole meal could have been prepared in under an hour otherwise!). That said, I may play one last time w/ the slicer on the food processor, then maybe pulsing a time or 2… Again, I’ll report back!

Enjoy! And do tell us how it went…