How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Biriyani #3

This evening's entry reflects a true Nueva Receta moment. That is, I walked over to the cookbook shelf, selected a volume, and looked through it until I found something I could make with the main ingredient (chicken breast) on hand. I then went shopping for the rest of the ingredients. In addition to celebrating good food in general, the purpose of this blog is to push us to open those books that fill our shelves. (Our numbers are pretty good, actually -- a few dozen cookbooks, and about 50 new recipe attempts each year.)

The book I chose is a bit of ephemera known simply as Mélange: An International Cookbook. It has neither author nor publication date, though it emerged around the year 2000 from the International Club at the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth, maybe?) and was printed by Fundcraft, a small press in Tennessee that specializes in cookbooks for non-profit organizations.

The introduction describes how the book evolved along with international programs at the university, and reminds me very strongly of the mainly international community that lived in student apartments that we visited frequently when we attended the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Michelle Diegnan is listed as editor of this spiral-bound volume. We can only imagine the hours she poured into this effort, working with "recipes" that originated more as oral traditions from around the globe than as any specific set of instructions.

As I paged through the volume, I found a recipe for Biriyani, a chicken-curry-rice dish whose directions were just a bit too complicated for me to grasp right away. Turning the page, I found simpler approach to the same concept -- the differences between the two implying that a great deal of flexibility is allowed in the preparation of this south-Asian dish.

Drawing on the two recipes, I will simply describe how I made it.

Knowing that this dish would not look as good as it would taste, I did not photograph it. Rather, here is a nice photo of our recently-upgraded lanai, moments before serving!
I began by blending 2T vanilla yogurt (plain was specified, but vanilla was fine) with 1T each of turmeric and chili powder into a paste. I then cut up two chicken breasts into large chunks, and coated them with the yogurt paste. In a separate bowl, I washed by soaking and then sieving, 1-1/2 cups of basmati rice.

I set these aside and then heated 2T butter in a dutch oven.

To this I added five cloves and one cinnamon stick. When these were "popping" I added a finely chopped onion, cooking until brown. I added minced ginger and garlic, heating a bit more, and then added the chicken and two chopped jalapeño peppers (serranos were called for, but we live in a pepper-deprived part of the world).

I stirred this fairly often, until the chicken was almost cooked through. Then I added 3 cups of boiling water (I liked this idea -- boiling water in a kettle so that adding water does not slow down the cooking) and the juice of one lemon along with quite a bit of finely chopped cilantro. To this I added the rice, reduced the heat to simmer, and covered until cooked -- 15 more minutes.

The result: win-win-win. This is relatively easy, quite spicy, nutritious, and delicious. It went well with a bit of Chardonnay.

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