I just refuse to eat biryani anywhere else but home. On the rare occasion that I do, the rice will be too greasy, meat not tender enough, coloring too excessive, saffron not enough – or too much of it, and a basketful of other complaints that I attribute all to years of growing up on the Bestest Biryani Ever.
Don’t for a second be under the misconception that this post will reveal mom’s biryani recipe and all the trade secrets that get baked into this complex symphony of meat, basmati and spices…my lips are sealed. What can I share is this heaped up plate of mutton biryani from our biryani dinner party last week. Non-greasy, perfectly fluffed apart colorful rice grains, meat that’s been blasted into tenderness in a pressure cooker, and soaked through and through with a yoghurt-based marinade, and that rich biryani essence throbbing with pure ghee and saffron that slams your senses as you bring a mouthful of fragrant meaty rice close to your face…
See that layer of cashews and fried onions up on top? Salty, crunchy, nutty, and addictive as all hell…mom always makes the mistake of leaving the nutty garnish on a plate in some obvious visible corner of the kitchen, right within reach of greedy paws that may be lurking around [turns to grin at sister accomplice].
Mom even made a vegetable biryani this time around, and it was phenomenal. While I love the meat biryani, sometimes the meat gets you distracted from the other spices and aromas going on in this multi-layered dish. With the veggie version, the saffron and spices really came alive to a whole other level.
Other treats accompanying the biryani…
Lukmi [aka look me!]. The deep-fried minced meat in pastry starter than nearly risked killing everyone’s appetites before the plates of biryani emerged. Lukmi is a close relative of the samosa...though in my opinion, the dough casing is far more thick, crunchy and flavorful than the thin samosa skin.
And like all things deep-fried and crunchy, lukmi deserves to be dunked into some tamarind chutney, lemon pickle, or my all-time simple but super versatile sauce, ketchup.
Up above you've got Kachori. Another deep-fried starter, though a veggie one with the distinct taste of fennel seeds and coriander powder. Best had with chai, or as breakfast, or during snack time…anytime really if you’re a big time kachori fan *points vigorously to self*
Crunchy papad. Can't have an Indian party without papadums.
Raita, the most simple and traditional of biryani side dishes made of yoghurt, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, coriander powder and if you like a touch of heat, some red chilli powder. There’s something so good, so ridiculously comforting, about having that cool yoghurty shower in your mouth accompanying a biteful of steaming hot rice and spicy meat. Every biryani worth its rice deserves a fat spoonful of chilled raita.
Bagare Baigan…whole eggplants simmered in an uber-nutty, earthy gravy pulsing with sesame, coconut, cumin, peanuts, lemon and a host of other South Indian spices, all tossed in with a true-to-mom artistic flair that escapes anyone trying to document the magic in a recipe.
Tomato Kut – tomato gravy infused two prominent South Indian flavors, coconut and curry leaves. This has been an all-time childhood favourite of mine…I can lick bowls of Tomato Kut clean, right down to the last curry leaf soaked in tomato gravy (ever tried munching on a curry leaf? If you haven’t, GET ON IT.)
And finally for dessert, custard withtraditional Hyderabadi Qubani ka Meetha…thick stewed apricot compote. Over the top sweet, rich and fruity, it’s one of those things whose sweet decadence is best mellowed out with custard or yoghurt or ice cream. Or with thick fresh cream, aka malai, befiitting a traditional Hyderabadi wedding.
Those teeny almond-looking things are apricot kernels. My google attempt to find a more technical term than 'almond-looking things' resulted in some shocking findings...I found a few references to how these innocuous looking babies release cyanide in our bodies…wha…?! um, mommie? Mom and I are still in shock - years of (non-fatal) tradition being questioned in one fell Google swoop. Worse, online references are fairly lacking in proper information on this topic. Anyone out there have solid, conclusive info that they can share on the subject? I've got to confirm whether this scare is real or whether there's another layer to it that I'm missing. Anyhoo, till we find more intel on the topic, no kernel garnish in the future.
On a full belly that night, there were two thoughts that drifted in and out of my food coma’d head. First, that moms are so selfless. I groan and take cover in some unreachable place of the house every time she asks me for computer advice or to help about with little odds and ends…and here, the same lady goes and cooks this feast for my sister’s and my friends on Tuesday. By the law of what goes around comes around, I’m still waiting for life to smack me in the face for this gross injustice. Some sage people in my life have said that the smack will be delivered with a heightened sense of poetic justice when I have my own children. Till that day, I’ll sit brat-faced and comfy on my computer chair, eating biryani leftovers and feeling helplessly wretched about my shameless take, no-give equation with mom.