Thursday, February 21, 2013

Turkey Biryani with Cucumber Raita

One dish that I have wanted to make for a very long time is Biryani, a "one-pot" dish of rice in a heavily spiced sauce with meat and vegetables.  The name "biryani" is Persian in origin, for "fried" or "roasted."  Legend has it, according to one blogger, that the dish was brought to what is known as India today by a Persian king named Taimur, who ruled between 1336 to 1405.  By contrast, Wikipedia claims that the dish was created in the kitchen of the Mughal Emperors.

Whatever the source, there seems to be an infinite variety of Biryani.  There are the regional versions, such as the Hyderabadi Biryani, Sindhi Biryani and Bhatkali Biryani.  There are also versions based upon different proteins, such as chicken, fish and shrimp biryanis, as well as a vegetarian version of daal biryani.  This range of different dishes presents a major challenge for myself, because I want to learn about the history and background of each version, as well as cook it for myself, family and friends.

Speaking of which, I recently had the opportunity to make a biryani, although a somewhat Americanized version of it.  I made a turkey biryani with raita.  The use of turkey is what "Americanizes" this dish, because the fowl is not widely available where biryanis are traditionally prepared.  The recipe comes from Atul Kochhar, a 1 star Michelin chef of Benares, Mayfair.  This dish was intended as a way to use turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving.  I changed it a little, using fresh turkey rather than leftovers.  I bought the equivalent weight of fresh turkey thighs.  (If you can get skinless and boneless thighs, that will save you a lot of work.)   I cut the turkey into pieces and sauteed it in batches.  Given the directions of this recipe, it worked out perfectly because the turkey was warm and ready to be added toward the end.

Recipe by Atul Kochhar and Reprinted at
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the Biryani):
2 pounds of cooked turkey meat
1.5 cups of basmati rice, boiled or steamed to just done
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick (about 1 inch)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
4 medium size onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of ginger, minced
1 green chile, minced
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
4-6 medium size tomatoes, blended to a paste
7 ounces coconut milk
Salt to taste

Ingredients (for the Raita):
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, toasted and crushed to powder
4 tablespoons of seedless cucumber, grated
Salt, to taste
1/2 tablespoon of mint leaves, finely chopped

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Heat the oil in a pan; add the cloves, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.  As the spices crackle in the heat, add the sliced onion and a pinch of salt, sauté until golden brown in colour.  Stir-in the ginger, garlic and chilli, sauté for 2 minutes or until cooked.  Add the turmeric, coriander, black pepper and garam masala powders and sauté for 1 minute before adding the tomatoes.  While stirring, bring to simmer and cook for further 2-3 minutes and then add coconut milk and simmer for further 2-3 minutes. Check for seasoning.

2.  Prepare the raita.  Whisk the yogurt and mix in the rest of the ingredients.  Serve chilled.

3.  Finish the dish.   When ready to serve, stir in turkey into the sauce and heat for a minute and add rice and mix lightly with a rice fork. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve with chilled cucumber raita.

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