BIRYANI

I HADN’T HAD A BIRYANI IN YONKS. Then, the other week, we were having a few days away in Sydney, stuffing as many of that fine city’s foodie-treats as we could into our fat faces, and my wife suggested we have tea here, because it’s a bit of a Sydney institution. I didn’t have to be asked twice.

Occupying the midway space between fast food joint and curry house, their specialty is knocking out plates piled high with meat or chicken, spiced to your preferred level, under mounds of long grained basmati, glossy, succulent, and with the occasional crispy bit. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This started a biryani craving, and my internet research led me to this recipe, which I followed almost exactly (for me) – I used skin-off, boned chicken thighs, cooked my onions in ghee, forgot to add the coriander before cooking, so added it after, did the final cook in the oven. This was a total success. If I’d had this in any restaurant, I’d have been raving about it…in fact, I was raving about it.

So, I strongly suggest you give it a go. It’s fancy enough to be a special, weekend/day off dinner, but not particularly time-consuming.

I served it with just a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Fancying a vegetable/vegan biryani, I thought I’d give it a go and it worked out really well.

INGREDIENTS::

Top layer – where you hope to achieve that combination of glossiness, crispness, lightness and fragrance.

Basmati rice 450 grams

Water 3 litres

1 star anise

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods.

2 tbsp salt

5 Bay leaves

Middle layer – where the onions bring succulence and sweetness and the coriander adds that soapy floral note.

5 or 6 medium brown onions

Vegetable oil, I used sunflower

Copped fresh coriander.

Bottom layer – where the protein and your own choice of seasonal/available vegetables, contained in a delicious sauce bring the texture and an intense hit of spicy flavour.

A few potatoes, cubed

A couple of carrots, sliced

Half a green capsicum, chopped

Half a cauliflower, broken into florets

Tin chickpeas, drained

2 cups soya yoghurt (or 1 tin coconut milk)

Vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

6 garlic cloves

2 tsp ginger

½ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp cayenne

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp paprika

Salt to taste (approx 1 ¾ tsp)

About a cupful of water

1. Slice onions. Gently fry them in the oil until caramelised, golden and sweet. Resist the urge to over cook them.

2. Bring water to the boil in large saucepan. Add vegetables according to length of cooking time (I added spuds and carrots, then cauliflower and capsicum 5 minutes later) and boil until they are partly cooked. Remove with a sieve or slotted spoon.

3. Add rice, spices and salt to water and cook for 4 mins, then drain.

4. I blended together the garlic, ginger, oil and yoghurt, (but you can do this by hand, if you prefer) then put it in a bowl with the spices and a drop of water.

5. Add the par-cooked vegetables and chick peas to the mix and make sure it’s well-mixed.

6 Put the veg and spicy sauce mix into the pan.

7. Layer on the caramelised onions.

8. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves evenly over the top.

9. Add the par-cooked rice (leaving the whole spices in).

10. Put the lid on the pan, and place in the oven at around 200°C for about 30 mins. You’ll smell when it’s done.

Once more, I’d forgotten to take a photo of the finished meal, so here’s one of some of the leftovers I took to work the next day.

There’s an interesting article on vegetable biryani here. I know you should never read the comments, but fuck me…!

VEGAN PULLED ‘PORK’

MY ONLY PREVIOUS CONTACT WITH JACKFRUIT was having once tried a smoothie made from it in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant. After doing a bit of internet research, I now realise I’ve seen the fresh fruit for sale in Asian grocers as well. I recently read something about it being the meat-substitute-craze-that’s-sweeping-the-nation and thought I’d give it a try. After all, I am rather partial to a meat substitute.

I regularly visit one or other of the Asian supermarkets round these parts and picked myself up a couple of tins of young green jackfruit in brine. I’m particularly glad to report that one of the tins was ‘Cock Brand’.

I must confess also, that I’ve never actually tasted pulled pork. I know it’s been everywhere over the last couple of years, but there’s always been something on the menu I’ve fancied more.

I had a quick squizz at a couple of recipes online and, basically, you boil the fuck out of the jackfruit, until it becomes stringy and pulled pork-like and you serve it mixed with a barbeque sauce. Recipes vary as to whether you cook the jackfruit in the sauce or cook it separately. Mostly, I reckon, this depends on whether you’ve already got your sauce made, in which case you’d boil up your fruit separately. If, like me, you’re making this up as you go along, it makes sense and saves washing up to do it together.

Pull the other one…

So, in a pan, place the following ingredients:

Water – start with half a litre and see how that goes. You can always add more if the fruit needs more boiling.

2 tins Young Green Jackfruit in brine (drained).

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

3 tbsp Sriracha (I used more and mine was blistering-hot)

Heaped tbsp smoked paprika

Tsp ground allspice

Tbsp ground cumin

Tsp celery salt

Tsp garlic salt

Tsp onion powder

Tbsp molasses

Tbsp cider vinegar

Black pepper

Salt, if needed.

Sugar, if needed.

All you need do then is boil until most of the water has evaporated and the jackfruit has gone stringy. I had to add more water for a second boil, but then used a wooden spoon, and then a potato masher, to break the chunks down.

I served mine with a brown rice salad (brown basmati rice, sweetcorn, finely chopped red onion, chopped yellow capsicum, chopped cucumber, grated carrot, chopped parsley, hemp seed – dressed with soya mayo cut with olive oil), which went really well, and took the edge off some of the heat from the sriracha overload.

It was delicious. Whilst it looks a lot like pulled pork, the ‘meat’ doesn’t quite have the same chewy texture. Bloody close though.

Arff, arff.

CHICKEN DUPIAZA

I had a day off yesterday and I’d received family requests for chicken curry. Rather than just make it up as I go along, I thought I’d dig out a recipe book that I picked up in a charity shop for a whopping 75p years ago and actually try to follow a recipe: Murghi do-piazza (Chicken with onions). Dupiaza was one of my frequent choices when we lived in Brum, and I’ve always got lots of onions to hand, so thought I’d give this a go.

The book is Michael Pandya’s Complete Indian Cookbook. Published in the early eighties, it gives a basic grounding in Indian ingredients and simple recipes for a wide range of vegetarian and meat dishes. I’ve referred to it a few times over the years, which makes it a success as a cookery book.

I failed to follow the recipe to the letter, but the dish was an enormous success. The only changes I made were using soy yoghurt, instead of dairy, because that’s what I had in the fridge, and swapping fresh ginger for the dried in the original recipe, slicing the tomatoes,rather than quartering them, and cooking the garnish onions in thick rings.

It worked well. Really well – the sauce, both sweet from the onions and zingy from the lemons, was really much more complex than it would have been if I’d just improvised.

Such are the comings and goings in our house, that we frequently all eat at different times, so I just tend to leave the pans on the side and the kids help themselves when they get in/get up/get hungry or whatever.

When I got up this morning it’d all gone. Which is about as good a recommendation as you’re going to get. If you’re reading this, Mr Pandya, I salute you!

The leftovers.

INGREDIENTS:

1 chicken

1/2 to 1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

175g ghee

4 large onion, coarsely chopped.

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 inch/2.5 cm ginger, crushed.

300ml yoghurt

300ml water

6 cloves

1 green cardamom pod

12 black peppercorns

2 x 1 inch/2.5cm peices cinnamon

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon chilli powder

Topping:

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 large tomatos, sliced.

1 onion, sliced and fried in rings.

Cut the chicken into pieces, feed the carcass and skin to the dog or use it to make stock.

Rub the salt and lemon juice into the chicken pieces and leave to stand for half an hour.

Heat the ghee in a pan and add the cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, then the chicken, onions, garlic and remaining spices. Cook gently for 15 minutes, keeping the ingredients moving to stop them catching.

Over a low heat, stir in the yoghurt, then the water and any juice from the slated chicken. Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender (40-50 mins).

Sprinkle with garam masala, arrange the tomatoes and onion slices on top and place, uncovered in a moderate oven (around 180C)for 10 minutes before serving.

We had ours with this delicious rice.

PULAU BROWN RICE

An acquaintance of mine in the 1990s moved to Balsall Heath and, being a bit of an obsessive sort of chap, set about immersing himself in the culture there. As a result, he lived almost entirely on food bought from the local south Asian grocers, eschewing supermarkets.

He did lots of research on how to make decent south Asian food and I still have a couple of photocopied sheets of recipes which he passed on to me, and which I still refer to all these years later.

This recipe is one of them. I’d no idea what book it was taken from, until my extensive internet research this morning led me to Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jack Santa Maria, – long out of print, but still available as an ebook. My yellowing and stained photocopy bears the handwritten quantities for using brown rice instead of white, which works really well, especially if you can find brown Basmati rice.

I’ve made and enjoyed this hundreds of times, and there is no greater recommendation than that. It works well in either a pan (on stove top or in the oven) or a rice cooker, although you need to fry the onions in a pan first if you’re using the latter. And it’s delicious, either fresh and hot or as a cold rice salad the next day.

INGREDIENTS:

255 grams Brown Basmati Rice (if you can’t find brown Basmati, use whatever brown rice you’ve got).

2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped.

1 inch/2.5cm piece of ginger, finely chopped.

6 cloves

2 inches/5 cm cinnamon, broken

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 pint/just under 1/2 litre water

Coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

Fry the onion in the ghee until it’s starting to turn golden, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes more. You want soft-golden-caramelised, not crispy-brown-burnt.

Add the rice and the rest of the ingredients and stir until coated in the ghee/oil and cooked a little bit.

If using a rice cooker, transfer ingredients into the cooker, de-glaze the pan with the water and add that to the rice.

Otherwise, add the water to the pan and cook gently, covered, either on a stove top or in a medium oven

Garnish with the coriander, if you choose.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished rice, but this is what it looks like when you’ve added the rice and other ingredients to the pan.

SOUPE AU PISTOU

I FIRST TASTED THIS DISH when it was cooked for me by my then prospective mother-in-law, a woman with a bit of an Elizabeth David fixation, when I was a vegan. It moved straight into my repertoire of delicious winter dinners, where it has remained ever since.

Essentially, this is a mixed vegetable and white bean soup, more of a stew, really, with some pasta added and served with a basil/garlic ‘pistou’ (the French version of pesto). It’s healthy, wholesome, can be easily made in either vegan or vegetarian versions and pretty cheap.

It’s a good recipe to use up those vegetables that have seen better days from the crisper drawer of the fridge and is good for freezing.

In my humble opinion, if people on the bus/in the lift/in the street aren’t asking where that strong smell of garlic is coming from two or three days after you’ve eaten this, you’ve failed.

If you want a better example of my haphazard method, you won’t find one. I decided to cook this for tea on a whim at lunchtime on a day off work. In a perfect world, I’d have gone out and bought the right veggies, rather than digging out what was in the fridge, and soaked the beans overnight, but…

INGREDIENTS

For the soup:

White beans (Cannallini, Haricot, Great Northern – whatever) – either dried or canned. I used dried Great Northern

Olive oil

Chopped onion

Crushed garlic

A leek would have been nice.

Chopped celery

Diced carrot

Diced capsicum (mine was kind of 50/50 green/red)

Diced potato

Diced zucchini/courgette

Glug of leftover prosecco

Water

Few bay leaves

Some chopped bits of tomato, leftover from breakfast.

1 tin tomatoes (these were mini ones, but chopped or full size ones will be just as good)

Some recipes include chopped fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any, so used a bit of dried thyme instead.

Salt

Black pepper.

Small pasta shapes (added 10 minutes before serving) – I used little shells.

For the pistou:

Bunch of fresh basil leaves

Garlic

Olive oil

Salt

Black pepper

Parmesan (or similar) cheese, if desired. This can be incorporated into the pistou or,a swe did, sprinked on top after, using pecorino the first night and walnuts the second. Walnuts work really well if you want to replace the cheese for a vegan.

I notice that Rick Stein adds a tomato to his, but I haven’t. Ponce.

If you’re really pushed, or if basil isn’t cheap and plentiful where you live, then use a jar of shop-bought pesto.

Essentially, what you do is make a veg soup (by cooking down the vegetables in more or less in the order listed above, then adding fluid, whilst cooking the beans (or opening the cans), then add pasta and beans to the soup and adjusting the seasoning…et voila!

You then blend the pistou ingredients into a paste and serve a dollop on each serving.

In my case, I pressure cooked the beans for far too long, so I ended up adding a panful of bean pulp + disengaged husks. Never mind, though – still delicious.