Bursting with eye-catching colors, strong aromas, perfectly balanced curry flavors coupled with nicely cooked rice, biryani truly represents the food culture in the Indian subcontinent. Let’s discover more about biryani, and why it’s regarded as an imperial dish in South Asia.
What is Biryani?
Essentially biryani is a rich rice dish featuring a hearty mix of meat curry buried under a mountain of spiced saffron rice. The rice is steamed over low heat to absorb the flavor of the curry underneath and is topped with caramelized onions and sliced lemon. In some regions eggs or potatoes are also added to give variety to the dish.
History of Biryani
According to many, biryani has its origin in Persia and was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by the Mughals. Legend has it that Queen Mumtaz Mahal once visited her army troops only to find out the soldiers were undernourished. She instantly asked the chef to create a dish that features meat and rice simultaneously to meet the nutritional needs of her army. As a result, what originated from the Moghul kitchen was biryani. Since Biryani was created by the royals, it was considered imperial feast food that’s reserved only for special occasions. Even today, it’s considered festive and an all-time favorite among people all over the Indian subcontinent.
What Does Biryani Taste Like?
Biryani is a very fragrant, flavorful, meaty, and greasy rice dish that’s also spicy depending upon the number of green chilies added. The Biryani gets its signature fragrance from spices and herbs including cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and star anise.
Biryani vs Biryan Isfahan
Biryani is not to be confused with “Biryan Isfahan” which is a native dish from Iran. This Persian dish is a fried lamb patty placed on a fresh taftoon bread, garnished with sliced walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, and served alongside a bowl of lamb broth, sliced onions, and greens. It’s called “Biryan Isfahan” because “birian” means “to fry” in the Persian language while Isfahan refers to the capital of Iran, from where this dish is believed to have originated.
The word biryani, on the other hand, is derived from the Persian “birinj” meaning “rice”. However, some historians believe that the word may have its roots in “birian”, which means “to fry or roast” as the Indian biryani is sometimes prepared by frying the meat separately which is then placed over the alternate layers of curry and rice, right before the dish is steamed and ready to serve.
How to make Biryani
Although you will find various ways and ingredients to cook biryani depending upon different regions of South Asia from Pakistan to Bangladesh and Afghanistan to India, however, there are two basic ways to cook it: one is where you cook the curry separately (with meat and/or veggies, desi ghee, and spices) and place a layer of cooked rice over it followed by a quick steaming to diffuse the curry flavors into the rice.
The second version is where meat and rice are cooked altogether in a single pot, somewhat like a pilaf. First, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and spices are lightly fried in desi ghee followed by the addition of protein like chicken or meat. Pre-soaked basmati rice is stirred into the prepared curry mixture followed by water, caramelized onions, fresh coriander, mint leaves, saffron and/or yellow food color, lemon slices, dried plums, and cooked until the rice is fluffy and fragrant. You can try out this recipe for one-pot Chicken Biryani that’s relatively easy yet incredibly flavorful.
Biryani is a complete meal on its own. It can be paired with yogurt, chopped vegetable salads, and chutneys.