Sunday, December 26, 2010

Karachi Food Diary Day 15 - 17 (Biryani, rice casserole)

December 21, 2010 Tuesday- Day 15
Life has become much more chaotic. The house is full of people and kids. Meals are now not within my control. I eat as I am served but still somewhat consciously by keeping my breakfast regular and healthy and eating lots of vegetables on the side with all my meals.
In the evening, we ordered in food from a local restaurant called Bundu Khan. They have been in business for a good 60 years or so and are famous for their delectable, delicious kababs and tikkas. This is the place to go to for local food!
Seekh kabab
Chicken Tikka
It was out of this world. Juicy, tender, perfectly seasoned and fresh of the grill.. with hot naan and paratha. Heavenly. Thankfully, I had a small bite as we were invited to drinks later which actually turned out to be a elaborate feast of Hyderabadi food; my favorite. I couldn't not indulge in khatti daal with beans, baghare baingan (stewed eggplant-yum) and various other delicious foods.

December 22, 2010 Wednesday- Day 16
My dinner tonight was with my father-in-law. The menu was biryani and fried fish (despite having an aversion to fish, he always has it cooked for me when I visit). Biryani is an elaborate rice casserole usually cooked with a meat; either chicken or beef. The meat is first marinated with spices and cooked completely and then covered with a layer of parboiled white rice. It is then garnished with saffron, fried onions and fresh coriander, covered tightly to steam and cook without the addition of any more liquid. Before serving, the dish is mixed so that the meat and the rice combine yet retain their individual taste and appearance. It is an art and a process but the result is so worth it. Guiltily, I indulged in a double portion. The fish, on the other hand, was not crisp enough. In this part of the world, I feel the best form of eating fish is in a curry. Other versions are somewhat disappointing.

December 23, 2010 Thursday- Day 17
Light lunch and a dinner of khichri, kababs and yogurt. The reason for this being that I had a happy hour invite and then a dinner invite for later. In true desi fashion, dinner is served much after midnight after the guests have over-imbibed and danced their feet off. So, it is always wise to line the tummy before stepping out. The first event was a 1920's jazz party and the theme was taken very seriously. The guest were almost all in costume; pearls, head bands, feathers all around. The host had taken the initiative to provide accessories for the errant guest who came out of costume, like me. Much dancing, chatting and drinking later, we headed out to the dinner. The vibe here was different; bigger, smokier and a more intoxicated crowd was spread out between a few rooms and around the pool area. At this point, I had had enough. Mercifully, the food was served soon.  It was a spread of rich desi dishes; twice-cooked keema (minced meat), kababs, tikkas and the delicacies of nihari (traditional beef stew cooked over a couple of days) and pae (goat feet in curry). I had a small, restrained bite and happily called it a night soon after. It is dawning on me that this is definitely not the right season to embark on a quest for mindful eating!
Biryani originated in Persia and made it's way to South Asia, either through the Arabian Sea or Afghanistan. It was introduced to the military by Mumtaz Mahal (wife of Shah Jehan for whom the Taj Mahal was built and who lies buried there) as a 'whole meal'. The dish grew to gain immense popularity with regional versions abounding, each more delicious than the other. Wash 1 cup rice in several changes of water. In a heavy pot, bring water to a boil with 2 cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves, 4 cardamom pods and salt. When boil is reached, add rice, turn the heat down and cook till half done (the trick to determine doneness is to squeeze a rice kernel between the thumb and forefinger. If the rice breaks into three, soft ends and hard center, then it is ready). Remove from heat and spread out on a tray. Salt and pepper half a chicken, on-the-bone and cut up into several pieces. Thinly slice a large onion and fry in a preheated heavy dish on medium heat till golden brown. To the same oil, add the chicken pieces and also cook until golden. Remove the chicken and set aside. Now to the onions, add 2-3 alubukhara (dried plums), 1 tsp. ginger paste, 1 tsp. garlic paste, 2 tsp. coriander powder, 2 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. ground garam masala, 1 tsp. cayenne and salt to taste. Now cook on medium- high heat till all the spices are blended into a smooth paste. Add the chicken pieces and 2 tbsp. yogurt. Mix well and keep cooking till the chicken is cooked through and the oil starts bubbling. Now the layering process starts. In a separate heavy pan, layer half the rice. Next, layer the chicken mixture*. Finally, add a layer of the remaining rice. This is then drizzled with a mixture of saffron soaked in warm milk and 1/2 tsp. sugar which should have been prepared 3-4 hours ahead of time. Next, the dish needs to be tightly covered. In the past, the lid of the pot was sealed by a roll of dough along the edges. If you want to take the extra step that is up to you. Move the dish to an oven preheated to 425 degrees and cook further for another 30 minutes. To serve, mix well. Enjoy with a side of plain whipped yogurt.

* At this point, I sometimes add another layer of thin lemon slices, julienned green chillies and chopped coriander. This is not the traditional preparation but adds a delicious burst of flavor. 

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