Lamb Biryani

This recipe may not quite match up to the photos, since when I was making biryani for New Year’s, I used leftover lamb curry as my base. But it’s basically the same concept. So luxurious — fit for a maharajah’s table. 🙂

Lamb Biryani (or Goat, Beef, or Chicken)

Biryani, derived from the Persian word berya, which means fried or roasted, is a rice-based dish made with spices and either lamb, goat, beef, chicken, egg, prawns, or vegetables—your choice! It is generally more strongly spiced than a pilaf (though closely related), and commonly layered as part of its preparation. Sri Lankan biryani is spicier than Indian, and generally served with curries and sambols.

This has a lot of ingredients and may look a bit intimidating, but it’s actually quite straightforward—mostly, you’re just adding everything to one big pot, step-by-step. It isn’t usually everyday food, given that it does take a while to cook, but if you have a special occasion to celebrate, biryani is an impressive crowd-pleaser. It will come out a bit dry, so I would serve it with a curry, or something else that offers a gravy. Even a yogurt raita would work!

Tip: If you don’t have an oven-safe dutch oven, you can start this in a regular large pot and transfer it to a baking dish for the final step.

2 cups basmati rice
2 lbs lamb (or other meat / poultry)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 TBL vinegar
4 TBL butter or ghee
1 cup cashew nuts
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
3 sliced onions
8-12 curry leaves
6 cardamom pods
6 cloves
1 stick cinnamon, broken in 3-6 pieces
1 cup thick coconut milk

4 boiled eggs, peeled and sliced in half

1. Cook rice via usual method and set aside.
2. Cut lamb into cubes and season with coriander, cumin, black pepper, and curry powder, together with salt and vinegar and set aside.
3. Melt butter or ghee over medium heat and lightly fry the cashew nuts and sultanas, stirring, and set aside.
4. In the same pan, fry the onions, curry leaves, cardamom pods, and cloves until golden brown.
5. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is cooked through and the liquid has cooked off, about 20 minutes.
6. Add the rice and stir gently; add coconut milk and cinnamon, mixing gently. Simmer over a low flame for about five minutes, until well blended.

7. Serve on a flat dish and decorate with fried sultanas, cashew nuts, and boiled egg halves.

Note: For a fancy preparation, I’ve read that some chefs fry papadum, cut it fine, until it resembles straw, and then use that to concoct a nest; they nestle the biryani with it, and mold chickens out of a combination of mashed potato, butter, and egg yolk. But I’ve never seen or tried that!

Poriyal

What do you do when you have some leftover limp cooked green beans and equally limp roasted carrots that no one in the household wants to eat ? I’d make a poriyal, a sautĂ©ed veg. dish common in Sri Lanka and southern India.

No precise recipe here, but basically, heat some mustard seed in oil, add cumin seed, turmeric, salt, a diced onion. If you have the energy to add in some fresh minced ginger and garlic, that’s always good, but not required. SautĂ© the onion ’til golden-translucent, then add in whatever veg you want.

I did a mix of fresh and leftover — I chopped up a bell pepper and added that to the onions, cooked a few minutes, then added in the leftover green beans and carrots. A few more minutes sautĂ©ing, to let it all blend together, and you’re all set with a much more appealing vegetable dish that you had previously. 🙂

Gouda Vibes Burger

So we tried another Hello, Fresh recipe. This time, we were much more ready to just modify as desired from the start, now that we had a sense of what it was about. It was supposed to be gouda burgers with tomato jam and potato wedges. When the box arrived, we just put the potatoes in the root vegetable bin, because potatoes + buns seemed like a lot of starch for us in one meal.

We made two plain burgers right away for the kids that night, on the potato buns provided, and they seemed to like them fine, which is not surprising. Kevin and I were having lamb curry, so we skipped the burgers.

Then today, I had a little time, so I tried following the recipe, sort of, for lunch. We skipped the buns, because we wanted a fairly light lunch. The sour cream + mayo + smoked paprika sauce was nice, and I wouldn’t normally think to make something like that, so that’s a nice addition to the week’s meals. There’s quite a bit left (even though we only used half of the sauce ingredients provided), so I probably will make potato wedges at some point for dipping into this. Probably with some grilled shrimp, which I think would be tasty with this sauce.

The tomato jam was less successful, in my opinion. Slice an onion, fine, sautĂ© until browned a bit, good. Add more smoked paprika was interesting — it’s not a spice I normally cook with, and I admit, I found the scent of it once heated in oil a little overwhelming. But I’m sure I’d get used to it. The flavor isn’t too overpowering.

The real problem was the tomatoes — they said to chop these two plum tomatoes, add them to the pan with salt, sugar, chicken stock concentrate, and water, and stir for 2-3 minutes until caramelized. People, you can’t actually caramelize anything in 2-3 minutes. So it was definitely going to take a little longer to cook down to a somewhat jammy consistency — also, the tomatoes in dead of winter were not great, unsurprisingly, and really could’ve used a little tomato paste added in to amp up the tomato flavor. The end result tomato-jam produced according to their recipe was okay, but also a little sad, because it wouldn’t have taken much to make it a lot more flavorful.

We ended up splitting two burgers (no bun) with the sauce, melted gouda, and tomato jam on some sliced cucumber, which was a pretty reasonable lunch for us (1/2 a burger each). Tasty, not too much effort, nice for a change.

I think if you’re going to do a meal kit like this, it really helps if you amend it to the actual portion sizes you want; their original recipe of theirs probably made a meal that provided at least twice the calories we’d normally eat for dinner.

A Delectable Roast Meat Curry

It turns out that when you’re used to making a roast leg of lamb for Christmas dinner and you’re generally serving 6-10 people, but this year you only have two adults and two kids who don’t actually eat masses of lamb on the regular, then you might end up in our situation. Three days after Christmas, we still had a solid three pounds of roast lamb in the fridge, and I had actually had my fill of sliced roast lamb with mint sauce and stuffing, roast lamb sandwiches, etc.

Luckily, it is easy to transform leftover roast meat into a delectable Sri Lankan curry. I don’t have a precise recipe for you here, but basic procedure:

– chop three onions
– chop plenty of garlic (I think I did half a head)
– cube the meat (fairly big cubes are fine)
– sautĂ© onions and garlic in oil with 1 t. each mustard seed and cumin seed, cinnamon stick, 3-5 cardamom pods, 3-5 cloves; if you have curry leaves on hand, toss those in too
– add 1-2 T cayenne (to your taste)
– add 1 heaping t. Sri Lankan curry powder
– add 1 – 1.5 t. salt
– add 1 t. tamarind paste (the liquidy paste in the Tamicon jar — if you’re using a different kind, you may need a different amount)
– add a few T ketchup or 1/2 can tomato puree

– add 1 can coconut milk (I like Chaokoh)

You should now have a delicious sauce. The meat is already cooked (hopefully on the rarer side for best results), so just add it now, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer it for 10-20 minutes, covered, just to let the flavors blend.

Have finished lamb curry with bread or rice. If there’s STILL more than you need, it will freeze beautifully this way, to pull out a month or two from now when the thought of roast lamb is a distant, fragrant memory.

Alternatively, you can now take your lamb curry, and use it to make either a lamb biryani or lamb kottu roti, which would make for a pretty fabulous New Year’s feast dish, letting you take that 3 lbs. of lamb and make enough food to feed a dozen people. We don’t have a dozen people around our place at the moment, but next year…

So We Tried Hello, Fresh

So, we tried signing up for Hello, Fresh, one of those meal kit places. The idea being that it would make it easier to teach the kids how to cook, since all the components would come together and we could skip the menu planning, grocery shopping, gathering ingredient phases.

I think that part basically does work, but I have a pretty mixed review of our first dish. The idea was that it would be roasted tomatoes and garlic with spaghetti and pan-seared chicken breast in a creamy sauce . The end result was quite pretty. Kavi (age 13) was able to do most of the steps, and Anand (age 10) helped a bit too. BUT.

a) the components would have been noticeably cheaper (maybe half the price?) if we’d bought them ourselves (and, in fact, we had almost all of them on hand already) — I mean, I knew that going in, and it’s okay, given the ‘easier for learning’ aspect, but wanted to note in case that wasn’t clear to anyone

b) they had us pan sear chicken breast for 5-7 minutes on each side, and even doing it for just 5 minutes each, the chicken did end up rather dry, as you might expect — it’s just not a great way to prepare chicken breast. I would definitely have used thighs instead, but Americans have this thing about chicken breast, which I guess is why they used it, but if you’re going to use breast, then you want to do something to keep it moister — brine it, maybe, or poach it and then give it a quick sear. Something.

c) for the sauce, they had us melt butter in a pan, and then add four little tubes of cream cheese and the pasta water. It felt somewhat wasteful having all those little separate tubes of cream cheese, and also, the resulting sauce still mostly tasted like cream cheese, instead of like a cream sauce, which I think is what they were trying to approximate. It was…OKAY, I guess, in terms of being slightly simpler than teaching Kavi how to make a roux and a cream sauce, but not that much simpler, and really kind of felt like it was mostly a way of advertising Philly cream cheese.

d) finally, the big complaint, is that they had us take two cloves of garlic (I don’t even want to know what they charged for the two cloves of garlic, but anyway), wrap them in foil, and roast them with the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes. I was pretty dubious about that method, and when we took it out and tried to crush it (which Kavi was really excited to do), she found, unsurprisingly, that the garlic was completely overcooked and pretty burnt. It was uncrushable, and we couldn’t use it. We added some garlic powder to the pan sauce instead, which was okay. We’re going to show Kavi how to properly roast garlic sometime soon, because actual roast garlic is a thing of great beauty.

So…I mean, I’m not cancelling this. We have burgers coming up later in the week, and next week’s meals ordered, and I think we’ll do it for a little while at least. It did get all four of us cooking together, which we haven’t done in a while, with everything being so harried, so it might be worth it just for that. I think it’s a good way in for beginner cooks, or even intermediate cooks who want to be pushed to try new things.

And it is nice, even for me, to have some of the decision-making taken out of weekly meal prep.

But I think going forward, we’re also going to feel free to critique their recipes and amend them as we feel necessary.

A Common Dish

This is a common dish around here — I learned the basics of it right after college, when I was working as a secretary for Fetzer Vineyards; they sent us home with a bottle of wine every Friday, and they had these little recipe cards that went with their wine. I didn’t actually use a Fetzer chardonnay for this — just a random white wine I had around. Still yummy. Good quality Italian sausage takes it up a notch!

This is a great meal for feeding a family of four dinner, and usually makes enough that everyone gets either lunch or dinner the next day too. Reheats well!

Basic process (about 20 minutes):

– cook some pasta (we like spinach rotini to get some extra veggies into the kids), drain, and set aside

– while pasta water is boiling and pasta is cooking (remember to set a timer so pasta doesn’t overcook — rotini takes 7 minutes), work on the next steps

– chop an onion or two and sautĂ© in olive oil

– if you feel like chopping garlic, do that, and add some in; garlic powder also works

– cut up some mild or spicy Italian sausage (take off skin first if it’s already formed into sausages) and add it to the pan, brown for a few minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally

– cut up a couple chicken breasts and add to the pan, brown for a few minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally

– stir in 1/2 t. salt & 1 c. of white wine; cover and turn down to medium high and simmer 5-10 minutes, so chicken and sausage will cook through

– chop up some bell peppers (ideally a couple different colors), remove lid, and add them in

– add some frozen peas for more veggie goodness

– stir in 1/2 – 1 c. heavy cream, turning down to medium-low, so cream doesn’t curdle

– taste sauce and add more salt if needed, but usually the sausage adds sufficient

– add cooked pasta to pan, stirring to coat with sauce

– if sauce is a little thin, you can simmer it down a bit to thicken

– if you want, grate fresh Parmesan in (don’t use shaker Parmesan, as that has additives to prevent clumping that will also keep it from blending smoothly into the sauce); alternatively, serve with shaker Parmesan, which is frankly what we’re likely to do most of the time, because the kids love it and it’s easier during a busy week

Stretching Leftovers

Had some Thai seafood curry sauce left from takeout a few days ago, and some rice that was starting to dry out. Sauteed a filet of red flapper in a tiny bit of oil, added the sauce, added some frozen peas, stirred in the rice — that’s dinner, breakfast, and lunch, all v. tasty.