I am a bit of a food snob. There! I said it. I don't share the usual desi love for masala chai. Yuck! I like my tea very propah, brewed in a tea pot, milk and sugar served separately. Some might call it a slavish remanant of the raj. I just call it good tea. And civilized!
And I feel the same way about biryani...the snobbishness I mean. It might be unreasonable but many people cook biryani like pullao and call it biryani. Now I've only recently learned how to cook biryani from my sister who is the best biryani cook in my opinion. But even before that I knew you couldn't just make the curry and then boil the rice in it, somewhat similar to pullao (which is cooked in the meat broth) and call it biryani. Heresy!
The curry is cooked and thickened so it doesn't make the end result soggy and squishy. Each grain of rice needs to stand apart from the other. Then you boil the water until the rice is almost done...but not quite. Then you layer the rice with the thickened curry and simmer until it's done. No gooey biryani please.
It's a precise process, part science, part art...and totally delicious. And yes, no vegetables in the biryani. I am a Muslim biryani snob....no potatoes and peas in mine please. It's a meat and rice dish. Period!
And yes, no food coloring either. Gasp! Like a good paella a good biryani gets part of its color and its unique fragrance and subtle flavor from saffron. I dissolve mine in kewra water and that's when the biryani becomes what it is. Not an overtly spicy-hot dish but with layers of complex flavors, fragrance and appearance.
I miss wedding biryanis from Allahabad and Kanpur. Mine is a cheap imitation of a good imitation (my sister's recipe) but man those U.P. muslim wedding cooks, their biryani can make you weep. As do their salan and their kebabs. And the sheermal...just sweet enough and heavenly with a spicy wedding curry. And the naan, not the overly-white and soft naans from Indian restaurants, but the good stuff, slightly rough (whole wheat flour) and porous to soak up the spicy curries. I WANT SOME!
I need to get invited to a U.PMuslim wedding.
But until tha happens I am thrilled about my own quite decent, chaste and pure biryani. I just made a potfull yesterday and we've finished almost all of it already. Maybe there'll be some for dinner. Can't wait.