Project Food Blog Challenge #2: Ready to tackle a classic dish from another culture? Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with. You should include how you arrived at this decision in your post. Do your research then try to pull off successfully creating this challenge. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal, and document your experience through a compelling post.
I really love Indian food. I think I've loved it since elementary school, when I went over to friend AK's house for a birthday party and her mom served us tandoori chicken with naan bread. That was probably my first exposure to Indian food and I loved it that first time. In high school and college, friend PJ's mom would make tons of delicious Indian food and I would get to partake, by virtue of being PJ's friend and roommate.
After college, I no longer had opportunity to eat homemade Indian food and it wasn't until moving to Hong Kong that I started my love affair with it again. However, I had severe and dangerous allergic reactions while eating it and couldn't figure out why, until I made the discovery that I was highly allergic to cashew nuts. A lot of Indian dishes use ground up cashew nuts as a thickener and a rich base and the nuts continually caused me problems when eating Indian food out. Even when carefully asking the restaurant which dishes had cashews, I repeatedly had problems. Husband then made the decision for me; there was NO MORE Indian food, as each incident meant that I was rushed to the emergency room, windpipe closing up, face swelling up and a variety of rather unpleasant reactions.
Around the same time of discovering this cashew allergy, I started becoming friends with GWK. She was Indian, born and raised, living in Hong Kong, an expat much like I was. We quickly became fast friends as we realized that we had much in common, our love for hikes up the mountain, our appreciation for nature within the hustle and bustle of the city, and our enjoyment of good food. Our husbands were already friends so our friendship was the icing on the cake for them.
GWK would often ask me to eat at her house after our hikes through the hills of Hong Kong (yes there are beautiful verdant hills in Hong Kong) and I would politely refuse. I didn't want to tell her why, so I would make excuses, such as I had eaten too much before, or I was dieting, or I just wasn't hungry. Each time she would look a little bit sad, as I was refusing her food, so I finally had to tell her my allergy to cashews. She nodded solemnly when I explained and then she said, "I will cook you Indian food WITHOUT cashews."
She fed me and our friendship blossomed. I'd like to say that it was our strong relationship that allowed us to become fast close friends, but I have to admit that the way to my heart is through my stomach. The food, the excellent food, definitely did not hurt the friendship. GWK's incredible generous heart did not hurt the friendship. Her ability to make me food often and her desire to feed me often did not hurt the friendship. Lest you think I just took from this relationship, I also cooked for her in return plenty. (She was, in particular, partial to my brownies.)
This dish is my favorite of the dishes that she cooked. Often her husband VK and she would invite Husband and me over, and we'd eat plates of this dish, one after the other. VK would often tease me that the amount of food I put away would feed an elephant, and warn me not to sit on the more "fragile" pieces of furniture in his house, but I didn't care. The biriyani, with all of its spices, richness and fantastic colors was simply too good to pass up. At VK and VWK's biriyani parties, I would be the first one at the dish, scooping out the amazingly fragrant rice and the last person still eating.
But since leaving Hong Kong, and parting from my dear friend, I've not had it, as Indian food is once again off limits. Without someone purposefully caring about me and my allergy when cooking Indian dishes, I cannot eat it. I have lived without for seven years, dying for a fix of Indian food. However, when the Project Food Blog challenge came up, asking for a classic dish from another culture, I decided that I would take my blog to India. I emailed GWK, asked for the recipe, and she so generously obliged, making notes for me from her head as she makes the biriyani mostly without measuring. To answer my questions about certain techniques, she called me all the way from Bombay to help me out. This is her dish, from her kitchen to mine. In it, I taste our laughter, our pleasure in each other's company, and our years of friendship. GWK, I miss you so much and you know it's not just because of the food, because I can now make Chicken Biriyani on my own.
Before making this dish, I had always assumed that making Indian food was super complicated. However, beyond the gathering of a long list of spices and having them ready, there is nothing in here that difficult. This dish about making a flavorful chicken, and layering it with rice and saffron milk. It's similar to the idea of a lasagne, different components layered together to make one uniform dish. If you're not sure about making the layered rice biriyani, definitely make the chicken and serve it with naan or rice as it is excellent just on its own. It is a fun dish to take you out of your comfort zone, and I assure you is worth experimenting and trying once.
**Preparation note: I bought most of my spices at a local Indian store in my neighborhood. The spices are available at a good supermarket, although the prices at the Indian store are far cheaper.
**Preparation note: Use time wisely. As the list of ingredients is very long, before cooking, take time setting up and gathering up all your ingredients.
2 1/4 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 cup of yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup of milk
3 saffron threads
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cups of basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 whole black peppercorns
4 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
3 onions, chopped finely
1 green chili, chopped finely (I used a serrano chili)
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
28 oz can of pureed tomatoes
4 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of yogurt, mixed with a spoon
1 1/2 cups finely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped mint leaves
Preparation of components
Cut chicken thighs into nice big chunks (Each thigh became about 6 pieces.) . Mix yogurt and salt together. Add chicken to yogurt. Refrigerate and set aside for a few hours.
Mix milk and saffron together. Set aside, allowing the saffron to turn the milk a lovely yellow color.
In a non stick pan, heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat. Fry onions until crispy and golden. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Set aside until needed.
Cook rice according to package directions. (I cooked mine in my rice cooker, 3 cups of rinsed rice to 5 1/4 water)
Preparation of chicken
Heat oil over high heat in a non stick pan. Add the peppercorns, cardamon pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaf, and star anise. Let them crackle and change color, about 1 minute.
Add onions and brown them, about 6 minutes.
Add ginger, garlic, green chili and chicken. Stir then shut the lid so that the chicken absorbs the flavors. Reduce heat to low and cook until the chicken lets out its juices, about 10 minutes.
Open the lid, increase heat to medium and reduce the liquid by half, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. The chicken will become a darker richer brown.
Add the tomato puree, coriander powder, cumin, cayenne, turmeric and salt. Continue stirring on high heat so that the chicken gets cooked with the tomatoes and spices, about 5 minutes. Add yogurt and stir. The chicken gets a creamy sauce. Add the chopped coriander and mint leaves.
Layer the chunks of chicken with a bit of the sauce and cooked rice alternatively. (You may have leftover sauce as I did. That's okay. It tastes fantastic with plain rice.)
Drizzle saffron milk over the rice to garnish and top with fried sliced onions.