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Vegetable Biryani

What do Indian food and Muslim traditions have in common?  I know close to nothing about either...that's what!   Sure, ask me about Mexican food and you're bound to get a quick response.  Ask me about Indian food...then bask in the uncomfortable silence well, silent except for the crickets in my brain...chirping away.  I am all set to remedy that situation, because I am nothing, if not an eager student.  I love learning about different cultures, religions, beliefs, countries and the food and people that go along with them. 

There were a few motivating factors behind todays post.  One being that we've been eating a lot more veggies on a regualr basis at home than we used to.  On purpose.  I decided for all of us that we were going to eat more mindfully...the majority of the time.  So, we've been eating a lot less meat.  Not that we stopped liking meat...but, since I am no longer working on a regular basis, meat is more of an occasional meal contribution now.  As Michael Pollan suggests, we treat it more as a garnish.  Another factor being that I'm really enjoying the book Real Food Has Curves lately.  Great tips, great references, delicious recipes...Biryani being one.  And yet another motivator being that I happened upon an event over at Taste of Pearl City that asks for submissions of recipes that can be eaten during Ramadhan, a month-long Muslim holiday. When describing Ramadhan, Umm says "Ramadhan is the month, where muslims fast from dawn to dusk without food or water. This fast is obligatory on all adult muslims - men & women - unless exempted. Hijri is the Islamic calender which starts commemorating the year when Prophet Muhammed (SAW) immigrated from Mecca to Medina with his companions. Iftar is the event where muslims break the fast at the end of the fasting day at dusk.  Normally we break the fast with few dates, juice, porridge but after that we have a meal which will be based on different ethnicity. So this meal can include rice, pasta, bread, noodles, roti's , curries etc."  Well, okay then...I'm always up for new adventures...and everything just sort of came together as the inspiration and driving force behind me trying something new.

Okay then...Biryani.  According to Wikipedia, Biryani (or Biryanibiriani, beriani, بریانی) "is a set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice (usually basmati) and meat, fish, eggs or vegetables. The name is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means fried or roasted."  Muslim travelers & merchants were supposedly responsible to introducing Biryani to India.  Pretty fitting to learn that my reasoning all comes together, just so.

Vegetable Biryani
slightly adapted from Real Food Has Curves by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough
yield: 4 svgs.

1/2 c. long-grain brown rice, such as brown jasmine or brown basmati  I used regular long-grain brown, as it's what I had
1 1/4 c. water
1 Tbs. Sesame oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped 
1 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger
6 c. mixed vegetables...cut small.  I used a mixture of fresh corn, yellow beans, carrots, cauliflower, purple cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, kale
1 1/2 Tbs. Garam Masala *see recipe below
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. plain yogurt
1 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. almonds, walnuts, or pecans, chopped
 1/4 c. raisins, preferably golden I used purple, chopped
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish

Mix rice & water in medium pot; bring to simmer over med-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cover the pot, reduce heat to very low, and simmer slowly until rice is tender, ~35 mins.  Set pot aside, off heat, while you prepare rest.

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sesame oil, then add the onion, tomato, garlic, and ginger.  Cook until the onion has begun to soften & tomato breaks down, ~5 mins., stirring occasionally. 

Stir in veggies, garam masala, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir over heat until quite aromatic, ~5 mins.  Stir in yogurt and lemon juice.  Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer slowly until veggies have begun to break down, ~20 mins, stirring occasionally.  Stir in nuts & raisins and set pot aside, off heat.

Spread half the rice in bottom of a 9" square baking dish.  Pour all veggie mixture on top; spread evenly to corners.  Top the dish with remaining rice, again spreading it evenly across the baking dish. 
Cover with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes.  Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.  Preheat broiler and place rack ~6" from heat source.  Spread melted butter over casserole and set under broiler just until rice begins to get a little crisp.  Set aside at room temp for 5 minutes before turning whole thing upside down onto serving platter.  I wish there was a way to crisp the rice on what ends up being the top...well, if you have a torch, you probably could. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. 
Fortunately, I have a very well-stocked spice cabinet...and although Garam Masala wasn't included in it is now!!  I made my own using the method given in the book.  I had everything I needed; I just had to grind up the coriander seed, allspice, and cardamom (after extracting the seeds, ugh).  Well worth it...just made sure to make extra so I could jar it up and save it for future uses!

Garam Masala
Mix together: 1 part ground allspice, 1 part cayenne, 2 parts fennel seeds, 4 parts mild paprika, 4 parts ground cumin, 4 parts ground cardamom, and 8 parts ground coriander. 
Biryani was a flavor sensation like I've never experienced...warm, crunchy, comforting, sweet, and soft- all packed into each bite!  I can't wait to try more variations on Biryani and to sprinkle some Garam Masala on my scrambled eggs tomorrow morning...

Wait.  There are Indian curries.  I've made them... I'm totally NOT rewriting this post.  I'll just say, I'm not completely unfamiliar with Indian food...I adore Indian's all the rest I'm pretty unfamiliar with. 

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