I generally love the diversity in cooking but it is true that there is one cuisine I particularly adore. A cuisine rich in flavors, colors, textures and spices. India is a country full of mysteries whose rich history shines through in its majestic and opulent cuisine.
It was obvious that India was going to be a must stopover during our trip to Asia. Indian cuisine is so diverse that I like to vary the pleasures of executing different recipes and techniques with every meal I cook. For this challenge, I decided to prepare a shrimp biryani with a typical side of baingal masaledar.
The religious precepts of Hindu and Jain cultures have made Indian cuisine a cuisine rich in vegetarian dishes. Indian cuisine has also been influenced by a rich history of invasions, colonies and international political relations. For example, the cuisine of northern India experienced Arabic and Persian influence during the Mughal Empire between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century.
Biryani comes from this Middle Eastern influence. The word itself comes from the Persian word beryā (n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted”. Although variations of this dish have spread in the rest of India as well as Southeast Asia, the states of Hyderabad, Lucknow and Delhi are the cradle of biryani, and most of the Mughal cuisine.
Obviously, there are several variants of biryani, both from the standpoint of the proteins as well as the spices used in the dish. The best known are the mutton, beef, chicken, goat, fish, shrimp or even vegetarian biryanis. I had already cooked mutton and vegetables biryanis in the past. So I had to try another recipe for 196 flavors.
Although there are several variations of this divine dish, the cooking technique remains the same. This technique differs from the rice pilaf (similar to the technique of paella). In rice pilaf, the ingredients are cooked together with the rice. For the biryani, the rice is cooked separately from the thick sauce. Rice and sauce are then assembled toward the end of the preparation. This cooking technique allows for complex, contrasting and intense flavors. The rice is cooked in order to obtain well separated grains, similar to a traditional Persian “polo”.
The biryani being rich enough, it is often served as a main dish, but it can also be served with a side dish. The shrimp biryani is traditionally accompanied by an aubergine dish from Hyderabad called baingan maseladar. I often cook baingan bharta (eggplant curry) but it was the first time I tried to cook this other eggplant-based dish. I really liked the technique for preparing this creamy sauce with onions, garlic, ginger and spices. But what I liked even more is the use of tamarind. Indeed, this was the first time I cooked this sour fruit. Until now, I only knew it as a condiment: a sauce made with tamarind and dates is traditionally served with Indian appetizers.
I also served this meal with raita (yogurt mixed with grated cucumber, ground cumin, fresh chopped mint and salt) and naan.
Recipe of Shrimp Biryani
Ingredients(for 8 people)
- 2 cups (400g) basmati rice
- 2 cups (400g) shrimps
- 10 cardamom seeds
- 12 curry leaves (or bay leaves)
- 10 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks (or mace)
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons garlic and ginger paste (or equivalent fresh garlic and ginger)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- Ghee / clarified butter (or neutral oil)
- 2 cups (500g) yogurt
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- ½ bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons biryani masala (blend of ground spices that may include clove, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, star anise, fennel seeds, cumin, bay leaves, coriander, turmeric, black pepper , poppy seeds, caraway, fenugreek, saffron)
- 8 tablespoons fried onions (canned)
- 1 tablespoon saffron (ground) diluted in a little warm water
- 1 tablespoon garam masala (optional)
Rinse the rice. Boil 1 gallon (4l) of salted water. Add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil, and 5 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick (or mace), 5-6 curry leaves (or bay).
Once the water is boiling, add the rice. The cooking of the rice is very important. It should be just cooked but not completely because it will continue to cook for a few minutes with all the other ingredients. At the end of the cooking (about 8 minutes), pour the rice in a colander.
Then put the shrimps in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of salt with the garlic, ginger and coriander. Mix well.
In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee (or oil), 1 cinnamon stick (or mace), 5 cloves, 5 cardamom seeds.
When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds. Sauté for one minute and add the shrimps. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Remove the shrimps, leaving the oil and spices in the pan.
Put the pan on low heat. Add yogurt, fresh mint, half the fresh cilantro and salt. Mix. Add biryani masala and half of the fried onions. Add the shrimps.
Pour rice on top. Add the remaining cilantro leaves and fried onions. Pour the saffron water and garam masala. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Mix before serving.
Recipe of Baingan Maseladar
Ingredients (for 8 people)
- 4 Chinese eggplants (long violet)
- 4 onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic paste / ginger (or fresh equivalent )
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 4 tablespoons sliced coconut (dry or fresh)
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, diluted in 2 cups of water
- 12 curry leaves
- A few leaves of fresh cilantro for garnish
- Neutral oil (or ghee, clarified butter)
Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and slice 2-inch (5cm) chunks.
In a skillet with a little oil (or ghee), fry the onions until they are translucent. In another skillet, toast the spices and coconut for a few minutes until they develop their aroma.
In a blender, add the onions, peanut butter, garlic, ginger and toasted spices. Mix to obtain a smooth paste. Combine with the tamarind water.
Fry curry leaves in a pan with a little oil (or ghee).
Add the eggplant and continue to sauté 3-4 minutes.
Pour the sauce over the eggplant and cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
Garnish with fresh cilantro.