Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lamb Biryani is a Royal Treat

I seem to be on an Indian trend of late. There are some few other things I have made, but outside of quick standards like chili, pizza or soup, Indian has been it. Part of this is just that we love Indian flavors. Part of this is that I have found some interesting recipes that intrigued me. Part of it is that we held an Indian dinner for some friends. And now, we are hosting another Indian dinner with the same friends and some new ones. This dinner will be November 3rd. 
Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

With this in mind, and the strictures of no nuts and no mushrooms, I have been working to piece together a meal that makes some kind of sense - both from my standpoint as hostess and cook, as well as from the standpoint of how an Indian dinner might be served. I had originally thought to make Korma, chicken or lamb. However Kormas use nuts, almonds and or cashews, as a ground up thickener to the sauce. 

Most of my Indian meals have had a sauce, curry style. This has been mainly as my husband doesn't care for plain rice, nor does he care for runny foods. If I serve white rice, or saffron rice, something has to be poured over it to make it palatable for him. 

Still, he does like things like Chinese fried rice, with a lot of things added in, so in planning for this upcoming Indian meal, Biryani occurred to me. Biryani is most often a special-occasion dish, often a royal dish, kind of an all-in-one, where the meat and rice are combined in savory harmony with a lot of spices and fried onions and such. Saffron is a must. In photos from Indian cookbooks, it is often shown served with dots of silver leaf. Royal, indeed.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani
In doing research on just how to assemble this amazing dish, I came across a word I had not seen before. The name of the Lamb and Rice Biryani is "Gosht" (Lamb) Biryani. In front of the word Gosht was the word "Kachche". I wondered what this might mean, so I went looking and finally found out that this means that the dish is made with the meat still raw. The meat (usually marinated) is set into the bottom of a pot and the partially cooked rice is poured over top. Liquid is added and then the dish is cooked either stovetop or in the oven. I wondered how the dish would taste, and if the meat would be cooked through properly. I found that the flavor was excellent and it was certainly cooked through and tender.

The alternative is called "Pakki" Biryani and this means the meat cubes are fried before adding to the pot. It appears that the most authentic method is with the meat still raw. That answered my question and also gave me incentive to try the dish out and ascertain if it worked, if the flavors were good and if it cooked properly. I made the dish yesterday and found the answer to all three questions was a resounding "YES!"

That said, there are a lot of steps to the dish. It seemed unduly complicated, or maybe just clumsy in the directions. I looked up various recipes online, as well as in some cookbooks of my own. Comparing styles and ingredients, I made what I felt to be a good approximation, but all my own. I cannot know ahead of time if it will all work out or not, but once I work on a dish like this, I can see where any difficulties lie, and correct them or facilitate them. One thing in particular was getting the onions fried early enough to have them for use IN the dish and not just as a decoration for on top of the finished product. The recipe calls for 4 onions to be sliced and then sauteed until well-browned (not burnt!). To get that many onions to cook down to browned and caramelized takes a good half hour, stirring quite often. I was running the ragged edge on timing for the assembly and the onions were still nowhere near caramelized. I will keep that in mind for making it next time, possibly making this step earlier in the day rather than so close to assembly.

While there are a lot of steps and a lot of ingredients and different methods of prep work involved, this makes a large amount, suitable for quite a few people. The fact that it is baked for about 45 minutes frees one up for other last minute tasks. All in all, it is a supremely worthwhile dish and a total delight to eat.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

Kachche Gosht Biryani

(Lamb Biryani Cooked with Raw Meat)

Serves 6 to 8

1½ pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons oil or ghee
4 large onions sliced, quartered

½ cup sultanas
½ cup whole raw cashews

1½ cups basmati rice

3½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 tablespoon garam masala powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cup yogurt
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon saffron 
¼ teaspoon kewra water, optional
¼ teaspoon rose water, optional

3 green cardamom slightly crushed
1 inch stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 black cardamom, slightly crushed
1 large tej patta leaf ("Indian Bay Leaf")

½ teaspoon black cumin (shahi jeera) lightly ground
2 inch piece ginger cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons melted ghee
1 cup water
½ cup milk

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Early in the day, place the lamb in a deep bowl, add the minced ginger and garlic. Mix well so that all the lamb pieces are covered. Cover the bowl with cling film and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Earlier in the afternoon, heat oil or ghee in a large skillet, add the onions and sprinkle on ½ teaspoon salt, then fry till well browned and caramelized. Drain on absorbent paper.

In the same skillet, still with some ghee or oil in it, sauté the sultanas and cashews for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the raisins puff and change color and the cashews begin to look golden. Turn out into a bowl and reserve for serving.

Set rice in large container with water to cover by at least 1 inch. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Take the lamb out of the refrigerator. Stir together 1½ teaspoons of salt, the garam masala, black pepper and turmeric, then add to the meat along with the yogurt, a third of the fried onions, half the fresh mint, half the cilantro and mix very well. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to marinate for at least thirty minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve saffron in warm milk. Add in the kewra water and rose water; set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drain the rice, then put it into a saucepan with plenty of water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to boil and cook till half done, about 6 minutes. Drain well, returning the rice to its pan. Stir in the saffron-milk mixture, then stir in the whole masala spices, another third of the fried onions and the remaining mint and cilantro.

Take a heavy duty pot such as enameled cast iron or a heavy braising pot with tight fitting lid and add in the melted ghee to cover the bottom. Spread the marinated lamb into the pot and top it with the rice mixture. Sprinkle the black cumin seeds and the ginger strips over the rice press in. Combine the water and milk and pour overall. Cover the pan with a lid. Set on a hot burner for a few minutes to take the chill off the mixture, then place the pot in the oven and time for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and time for a further 20 to 25 minutes. Check that the liquids are all absorbed, then set the covered pot aside until ready to serve.

To serve, pour the rice and meat onto a large patter. Scatter over the top the remaining fried onions and the reserved fried sultanas and cashews. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Punjabi Chole a New Flavor Sensation

In my last blog, started yesterday but just published, I wrote about the spices I ordered to use in this new (for me) Indian dish of Punjabi Chole. Finding that something like lichen might be used as a "spice" just totally blew me away. The spice mixture called Chole Masala Powder is outlined in the last blog post, and itself uses dried pomegranate seeds (actually arils), another "spice" I didn't own.

But as I have stated before, hearing about something new that is used as a spice or other flavoring agent always urges me to see if I can find it, and that's what happened with this dish. The dish called Punjabi Chole, or Pindi Chole is just "chickpeas / garbanzos made in the Punjab style". The fact that it called for three spices or flavoring agents more than I owned was just a call to hunt them down, and so I did. Some of them arrived directly from India!
Punjabi Chole
Punjabi Chole
The chickpeas in this dish are cooked (from dry chickpeas, soaked overnight) with this lichen called Dagad Phool (Stone Flower) and with dried Indian gooseberries called Amla. Between these two things, the water the
chickpeas cook in turns very deeply dark brown, and the chickpeas themselves are in turn a darker color instead of the light yellowish of regular chickpeas. This effect can also be accomplished by cooking the chickpeas with a couple of teabags. For me, that is cheating! I shared a photo of the Dagad Phool in my last blog. Here is a photo of the dried Indian Gooseberries.

Amla or Indian Gooseberries
Amla or Dried Indian Gooseberries

Seriously though, I just like to find the spices to make a dish as authentically as possible, so I went the route of ordering the spices, waiting for their delivery and only then making the dish. And yesterday was the long-awaited day.

Once the chickpeas are cooked and drained (water is reserved), the sauce is made. This dish is fairly dry, in that there is not a lot of liquid to it. But for cooking purposes, the reserved cooking water is added in small amounts, just to keep things from burning. I saw recipes for this dish made in various ways, and my choice was to add onion in two ways. One way is pureed with some tomatoes. Another is just to fry the onions. I did both instead of either/or. I fried one chopped onion, and also pureed another one with the tomatoes. This resulted in a very surprisingly bright pink mixture! It doesn't stay that way for long.
Cooked Chickpeas, Onion & Tomato in Blender, Onion Tomato Puree
Cooked Chickpeas, Onion & Tomato in Blender, Onion Tomato Puree
Other things that are added to the sauce are the ubiquitous garlic and ginger paste, along with some of the Chole Masala and Garam Masala. 

Ultimately I cannot say if there is any particular flavor that jumps out in this dish despite the unusual spices added. It makes no difference to me, it was a very delicious dish and it went exceedingly well with the Grilled Pork with Indian Spices for dinner.  

Another spice if you will, is dried pomegranate arils, which I mentioned in my last blog. These go into both the Chole Masala Powder as well as the dish while cooking. I could not find dried pomegranate powder, so with the whole, dried pomegranate arils, I toasted them in a dry skillet, then ground them in a spice blender. These impart a sour note to the dish, and it is recommended that if the dried pomegranate powder is not available, one should add more dried mango powder (amchur) in its place. 
Dried Pomegranate Arils
Dried Pomegranate Arils

All well and fine, but the average cook will not have dried mango powder on hand either. Lime juice is the next best thing. While lime juice is also added in this dish as a part of the recipe, more juice would be needed if either the pomegranate or mango powder is not available. 

And yet one more spice mixture that is sometimes called for, generally a finishing spice mixture, sprinkled on a food at the end of cooking, is Chaat (or just Chat) Masala. I have this spice mixture already made, so I added a little bit. It does have salt in it, so use it sparingly.

Chaat Masala

Makes about 1/3 cup
Chaat Masala
Chaat Masala

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 1/2 teaspoons dried mango powder (amchur)
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon dried ground chili powder
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4 teaspoon citric acid
2 teaspoons black salt

In a very hot, dry skillet, lightly toast the cumin seeds, peppercorns and cloves. Once very fragrant, add the asafoetida, to counter the strong odor. Pour out onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, place the cooled spices into a spice grinder and process to powder. Turn out to a bowl and add in the remaining ingredients and stir well. Store the mixture in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.

Punjabi Chole (Chickpeas Punjab Style)

Punjabi Chole
Punjabi Chole
makes 4 to 6 servings

1/2 pound dry chickpeas (1 cup + 2 tablespoons), soaked overnight
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pieces Stone Flower Lichen (Dagad Phool), optional
2 pieces dried Indian Gooseberry (Amla), optional 

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida, optional
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 medium/small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced finely
1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced finely 
1 medium/small onion, in chunks
2 medium/small tomatoes, in chunks
2 tablespoons Chole Masala Powder
2 teaspoons Garam Masala Powder
2 teaspoons dry pomegranate aril powder, optional
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 fresh green chile
8 to 10 fresh mint leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon black salt, or regular salt, if needed
1/2 teaspoon Chaat Masala, above, optional
Juice of 1/2 lime, or more if needed

Set the soaked chickpeas in a saucepan with the water and next 3 ingredients if available. If the lichen and gooseberries are not available, add in 2 black tea teabags. Cook the chickpeas for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water aside.

Wipe out the saucepan and heat over medium low. Add the asafoetida powder and toast lightly, then add the oil and the chopped onion, frying until the onion is nicely golden brown. While the onion is cooking, place the second onion and the tomatoes into a blender and puree. Now add the minced ginger and garlic into the pot and cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add in the onion & tomato puree and stir, then add in the Chole Masala, Garam Masala, dried pomegranate powder and turmeric.  Stir in well. Poke little slits in the green chili with the tip of a knife and add in the whole chili. Now return the cooked chickpeas to the pan and cook for 8 to 10 minutes over low heat, to meld flavors. 

Tomato puree added, dry spices to add, then added to the pot, finished mixture
Tomato puree added, dry spices to add, then added to the pot, finished mixture
Add in the mint leaves and cilantro, the salt and Chaat Masala if using, and squeeze in the lime juice. Remove the chili and discard. Stir and serve.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

New Spices and a New Indian Dish

New spices and new dish for me, that is. 

Caveat on this blog. Most people will never make either this spice mixture or this dish (probably in a blog tomorrow), just because of the unusual ingredients called for. Still, I find all these new ingredients fascinating, though I might exist in a small minority.

I have been watching an Indian TV series through Netflix which delves into the foods of different areas in India, how they came to be, why they are as they are and the history behind them. There are no recipes, but sometimes the name of a dish is given. I have a lot of foods to look up, eventually. I have been watching this show every few days, so it is keeping me very attuned to Indian food and culture. Not like I need more inspiration. I love Indian food!

So somewhere along the way, I found a mention of a dish called either Punjabi Chole or Pindi Chole. The word "Chole," or alternatively "Channa" means garbanzo beans. Punjab is the area this dish is from. Once I find something new, I research as much as possible, looking at many different takes on a given recipe, seeing what people do differently, and how it is Americanized in many instances. 

Dagad Phool or Stone Flower Lichen
Dagad Phool or Stone Flower Lichen
Once I have a variety of recipes, I take a look at them and decide what sounds good to me, out of all the myriad ingredients possible. And of course, I love spices. The more, the merrier. I may have mentioned this a few times. (Maybe 50 or so?!) As a matter of fact, I have a very hugely healthy spice collection, which expanded by 3 in the past few weeks. This was due to the ingredients listed in some of the Punjabi Chole recipes I perused.

The garbanzo beans, apparently, are cooked with some dried lichen called Stone Flower or "Dagad Phool," and also with dried Indian Gooseberries called "Amla." These two things give a particular flavor and also darken the beans as they cook, giving the traditional deep dark color of this dish. The Americanized version calls for tea bags to be cooked with the garbanzos, to give the darker color that would result from the lichen and gooseberries. Also, a certain tannic quality. But teabags are just too easy! I wanted more authentic.

Postage Stamps from India
Postage Stamps from India
Then after the garbanzos are cooked, a sauce is made, using various other spice mixtures, Garam Masala, Chaat Masala and Chole Masala. This last I had to create from scratch also. I always make my own mixtures where possible. This way I know what's in them. A part of the Chole Masala powder is dried pomegranate arils. I suppose I could have attempted drying my own, but I ordered them instead. Two of these spices came directly from India! I saved the postage stamps, quite an exciting thing all on their own!

In preparation for the Punjabi Chole dish, first I had to make the Chole Masala powder, so here is that recipe, with the actual Punjabi Chole dish in my next blog:

Chole Masala Powder

makes 10 tablespoons (enough for 5 recipes of the Punjabi Chole) 

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons dried pomegranate arils, optional
2 teaspoons green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon black cardamom seeds
3-inches of true cinnamon
1 or 2 Indian bay leaf (tej patta), crumbled
1/4 teaspoon Carom / Ajwain seeds

1 star anise, broken
1 1/4 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
1 teaspoon dried mango powder (amchur)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon powdered dried red chili 
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon black salt, if available

Combine the first 12 whole spices in a dry skillet and set over medium high heat. Toss the seeds and spices continuously until they become lightly browned. Pour them out onto a plate to cool. 
Making Chole Masala Powder
Making Chole Masala Powder: spices in skillet left; finished powder right.

Place the dried fenugreek leaves into a spice grinder and set aside. Once the toasted spices have cooled, add them to the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.

In a small bowl mix together the final 5 spices and add to them the mixture from the spice grinder. Mix well and store in a glass jar with tight fitting lid in a cool, dark place.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Indian Treat Called Gulab Jamun

It may seem strange that though these little fried milk balls are one of my favorite desserts (even outside of purely Indian cooking), today is only the second time, ever, I made them. One of the biggest reasons for this apparent lapse is in the word "fried". 

I absolutely despise frying things. I hate the mess, the hot oil, the drips all over the place to clean, and then what to do with the leftover oil. All that oil, wasted. Because guess what? I hate to fry things! Oh well. Today I made the exception, because I am having guests over next week for an Indian meal, and I am going all out. 
Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun

I am making things for this meal that I have made before, so there is no surprise anywhere. I am going to have Rogan Josh as the main entree with two side dishes: Indian Cabbage and Rice and Palak Paneer (creamed spinach with milk cheese). I will have three chutneys. Two of these are authentically Indian: Imli, or Tamarind Chutney, and Dhania Poodina, a fresh cilantro and mint chutney. The third is a Mango Chutney I make, and which my husband loves. For breads, I am making Naan and also Aloo Parathas, or Parathas filled with spiced potatoes. And for dessert? Gulab Jamun.

Gulab Jamun in tiny 4-inch bowl
Gulab Jamun in tiny 4-inch bowl

What are Gulab Jamun?

As already stated, these are little balls of a milk dough, which are fried and then soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom and rosewater. The word Gulab means rose, and this is because there is generally rose water flavoring the syrup these little balls are soaked in. Jamun is a reference to a fruit called a Java Plum, and may refer to the size of the little balls. 

In India, these milk balls are made using milk that is cooked down over a long slow period, leaving a very thick curd-like mixture, called khoya or mawa. To read more about this process, go to this site

Despite this being the traditional way to come to the dough for these treats, there are various other simpler methods to make them that do not require so much extra time. Many recipes I have seen say that khoya is sold in the freezer section of grocery stores, next to other Indian foods. All I can say is - not where I live! So then it comes down to the fact that it is a very thickened version of milk we are talking about, and so there are other recipes using various mixtures of milk powder, milk / cream, and / or flour. Some use ground nuts in the dough, or ghee, some add ground cardamom. As with most recipes, though the end product is similar, there are many ways to get there. 

The recipe I have used, sort of cobbled from various recipe techniques, is to make the dough with whole milk powder, flour and cream. The syrup is equal parts sugar and water, with a few saffron threads and cardamom pods thrown in. 

Size change from dough to fried to syrup
Size change from dough to fried to syrup
The totally shocking part of this recipe is the change in size in the Jamun from dough balls, to fried, to soaked in syrup. Look for at least a doubling in size (diameter) from start to end. The first time I made these, I was looking at a recipe that said to make the dough balls "golf-ball-sized." I tried a couple, fried them and found how much bigger they got and resized down to a walnut size. This still left me with very large Jamuns, and once soaked in the syrup, they seemed huge. In restaurants, the size of the Gulab Jamun served are approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inches in diameter. In this case, the dough balls to start should be about 3/4-inch in diameter, or slightly less. 

Knowing that I am making a very large meal next week, I opted this time to make my Jamun much smaller, about 5/8-inch. Once fried, then soaked in syrup, this left me with Gulab Jamun that were just over an inch wide. I like this size. I can fit 4 or 5 in a small dessert bowl and this should make them just right for after-dinner.

Making the balls this small left me with 95 of the little things. If I serve 5 of them in a little bowl as shown, that would serve 19! Luckily, before putting them in syrup, these can be frozen for a month or two, so they are available whenever you would want a few. I packaged them in little zip-top baggies in portions of 20. In the freezer they went. And all I have to do when I want more is make up the syrup, which takes no time at all. 

Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun

Makes 50 to 90 balls, depending on size. 

1 1/2 cups dry whole milk powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 quart oil, for frying

SYRUP (For about 25 - 30 jamun. Double as needed.):
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 - 3 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 - strands saffron, optional
2 - 3 drops rose water

DOUGH: Sift together into a bowl the milk powder, flour and baking powder. Add in the heavy cream and stir just until the mixture comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and let set for 10 to 30 minutes, as needed.
The dough, the formed jamun, frying and draining
The dough, the formed jamun, frying and draining

Form the dough into balls about the size of a grape. You may need oil or ghee on your hands to roll the balls very smooth. While the rolling process takes place, heat the oil in a saucepan. It will need to be at about 320 to 325 degrees. A thermometer helps to keep tabs on the oil. Do not over heat.

Once the jamuns are all rolled, begin adding them carefully into the hot oil. Use a slotted spoon to move them around in the oil so they color evenly. They should get to a deep mahogany brown. This can take from 6 to 8 minutes, depending on how hot the oil. I fried mine in batches of 25 or so. Once browned, remove to a platter lined with paper toweling. 
The syrup, the jamun just added, the jamun after a few minutes of soaking
The syrup, the jamun just added, the jamun growing after a few minutes of soaking

SYRUP: If making all of these at one time in syrup, you may have to triple the syrup recipe. Mix the sugar and water together with the cardamom pods and saffron strands. Bring to boil, lower to a simmer and cook gently for about 10 minutes, to bring out the flavors.

When syrup is ready, add in the fried, drained jamun. Let them soak in the syrup for at least 3 hours, or overnight.  If refrigerated, bring them back to just tepid, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. 

To serve, sprinkle on some crushed pistachios or organic rose petals, if available.

MAKE AHEAD:  If making these in advance (which I highly recommend, as they take some time and mess), once they are fried, but before making the syrup, either refrigerate them for up to 3 days, or pack in a tightly sealed container or zip-top bag and freeze for a month or two. When ready to use, prepare the syrup and add in the jamun to absorb the syrup. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.