Known to be the spiciest and the most aromatic cuisine of India, the Chettinad cuisine is one of my favorites. I’ve spent many glorious evenings in Chennai wiping away plates of Biryani and sucking on spicy succulent crab meat while my totally vegetarian best friend V, looked on with great amusing interest. I’m sure her smirk would disappear in a tick had she only known the great void (tragedy) her vegetarian life had conferred on her.
Anyway, coming back to serious cooking, here’s a vegetarian version of the popular Chettinad biryani which is so flavorful that I’m sure even a die hard meat eater would easily go for a second helping .
1 lb veggies of your choice. (I used, cauliflower and broccoli florets, diced bell peppers and carrots, peas and potatoes cut into long strip like fries)
3 cups basmati rice
1 large or 2 medium sized red onions finely sliced
3 large tomatoes, diced in chunks
2 tbsp chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
11/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp chopped mint
4, 1/4 inch pieces of cinnamon
2 bruised whole cardamom
1/2 tsp red chili powder, alter this based on tolerable spice level
2 tsp paprika, for color
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
refined vegetable oil
2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup curd
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Spices for Grinding
2,1/4 inch pieces of cinnamon
seeds from 1 cardamom
1 tsp of fennel seeds
Soak washed basmati rice with 4 cups of water and set aside for an hour.
Dry roast the spices mentioned for grinding and grind to a semi coarse powder
Heat refined oil in a wide bottomed pan that can be fitted with a tight lid and doesn’t let steam escape and fry the veggies one at a time until almost cooked and set aside.
In the same pan add ghee and add more oil if necessary,
When hot, add the whole cloves, cinnamon and cardamom and let them puff up.
Add the chopped onions and sauté until deep brown (the onions should look fried).
When the oil comes clear, move the onions to the sides of the pan and add turmeric and the ground spices to the oil accumulated at the center of the pan and sauté for 30 secs.
Add remaining ginger-garlic and sauté for a minute.
Add in the diced tomatoes, chili powders and sauté until oil separates.
Reduce the flame to low and add the coconut milk, curd, lemon, salt, cilantro and mint and let it simmer.
Add 1 tbsp of ghee, salt and cook the rice until the water boils and the rice is only 3/4 done.
Drop in the fried veggies into the masala mixture mix well and flatten it at he bottom of the pan
Pour in the boiling rice into the pan making the rice form a layer on top of the masala and veggie mixture and has no direct contact to the bottom of the pan.
Close the pan tight shut and let it sit on the very low flame for 15 – 20 min or until the rice at the top is done.
Remove from the stove and mix in the rice and masala
Serve with raitha and mango pickles.