When Chef Koluu and I discovered that we were to take part in the One Pot Meal seminar to be held on the main stage of the conference, we were a bit puzzled about what to do since there are no one pot dishes in Sri Lanka. So we decided to make biriyani–a dish that does not originate in Sri Lanka, but is none-the-less a huge favorite there.
A combination of rice, meat and vegetables all cooked together, biriyani can be traced back to the Mughals, a Muslim dynasty that ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the early 16th to the early 18th century. Direct descendants of Genghis Khan, they are known for their very rich cuisine, embodied by a dish like biriyani, which involves expensive spices like saffron and is often garnished with gold and silver foil. While there are many versions of the dish across the Middle East and India, biriyani was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Muslim community, who make up roughly 7% of the population, and they, too, have their own spin on this popular dish.
The recipe we used for our demo, however, came from my book, Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking (Hippocrene Books, 2011), and it is actually more like a biriyani that you would find in Pakistan–with the exception of cashews, shredded coconut, and, of course, Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, which is a spice blend like no other. In Sri Lanka, the biriyani is also usually served with several side dishes including cashew curry, pineapple curry, a mint sambol, and mixed pickle. If you ever have the chance to attend a Muslim wedding there, this will be on the menu, along with a lot of other tantalizing treats such as faluda, a sweet drink made of rose water and ice cream, and, of course, the rich, decadent wattalapam or coconut flan for dessert. That is if you have enough room after putting away a dish as dangerously delicious as biriyani!
2 lbs. (1 kg) chicken parts 1 lb. (500 g) basmati rice
1 tsp. black pepper 3 tbsp. ghee
1 tsp. curry powder 1 onion, chopped
1 tsp. cayenne powder or paprika 2 cardamoms
1/4 cup (65 ml) plain yogurt 2 cloves
1/4 cup (65 ml) tomato puree 2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. cashews, chopped 1 inch (2.5 cm) stick cinnamon
2 tbsp. desiccated coconut pinch of saffron
1 cardamom 1 1/2- 2 cups (375 ml) stock
1 clove 1 1/2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 Serrano chilies, chopped
1.) Wash, cut and dry meat. Season with black pepper, curry powder, and cayenne.
2.) In a food processor, blend yogurt, tomato puree, cashews, and coconut.
3.) Combine blended ingredients, cardamom, clove, bay leaves, and salt with chicken and marinate for 30 minutes. (meanwhile skip to rice prep).
4.) Heat ghee in a pan. Fry onions and chilies until onions are translucent.
5.) Add chicken pieces and stir-fry for 5-10 minutes.
6.) Add a little water to blended mixture and pour over chicken. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
7.) Place chicken pieces in casserole dish.
8.) Wash and drain rice.
9.) Heat ghee in pan. Fry onions until translucent. Add cardamoms, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon.
10.) Add rice and fry for a few minutes until rice starts to crackle. Add pinch of saffron and mix well.
11.) Pour over stock and cook until partially done (about 15 minutes). Add salt.
12.) Place rice on top of chicken in casserole dish. Cover with tin foil and cook in oven until moisture evaporates, about 25-30 minutes at 300 F (150 C).
Makes 6 servings