8.31.2014

PANEER BIRYANI

Sorry for the long hiatus in blogging. To make it up to everyone, I thought I'd come back with a really good recipe. This one is certainly up there as one of my favorites, as well as one that has received the most repeat requests from friends and family.

Without much further ado, here is my recipe for a Paneer Biryani.  A biryani, is a traditional Indian rice dish that's full of spices, colors, and aromas. It is commonly made in one pot with two or more layers of meat and rice, cooked in a savory spiced broth. The things I like the most about a biryani is the richness of flavors it provides, and the way all the ingredients complement one another in each bite.

Although a biryani is traditionally made with meat, this particular recipe is made with paneer, a hard non-melting cheese.  If you don't know what paneer is (or can't find some), you can try making this dish with tofu, but I highly recommend finding yourself some paneer (or another cheese that can stand up to frying, like halloumi or a firm ricotta). Okay, so why the paneer? Well, simply put, my wife is a vegetarian. I always wanted her to have the experience of eating a biryani, and she would never back down from her vegetarian ways even to sample a bite off my plate at a restaurant. So I thought I'd try and create a briyani that captures all the elements of what I like in the dish, but completely vegetarian, just for her.


The development of this recipe was truly a journey, being built upon a very long period of trial and error. I started experimenting with my biryani recipes sometime in early 2008. Much of what I tried early on just didn't come close to hitting the mark. I must have tried over ten different chicken biryani recipes, attempting to convert them into a vegetarian version. I tried two or three vegetable biryani recipes, and even ones that used paneer as the meat substitute. I tried different methods of introducing the spices, playing around with sieves, cheese cloths, mortars and pestles, and spice grinders. I tried marinating the paneer (sometimes even a combination of paneer and tofu) in a combination of spices and herbs. But, all those attempts failed. I didn't develop a recipe that captured all the elements of a good biryani until almost a year-and-a-half later, in the fall of 2009. And even after I discovered it, I ran it through a few variations in ingredients and cooking methods, until I perfected it. For example, once I found the right ingredients, I started to experiment with different cooking methods and equipment. I settled on this one, which requires the use of a cast iron dutch oven.  Get out your Le Creusets!


In the end, what I present to you here is, by far, the most experimentally-true approaches I've taken to cooking. And, when my daughter is old enough to understand, this recipe will certainly be one that I'll use in teaching her about never giving up in the pursuit of perfection, and to never settle for something that's "just good enough." 




Special Equipment:

A cast iron dutch oven. Get out your Le Creusets!

Set-Up:

Rinse rice under cold water to remove starch.  The way I do this is to place the rice in a mixing bowl and run cold water over it.  I allow it to sit for a few minutes until the water get cloudy. I exchange the water a few times (6-8 times) until no more starch is extracted.

Preheat oven to 375 F.


Ingredients:

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2 Tbsp
3 Tbsp
1 Tbsp
1 tsp
1/2 cup
1 cup
1/2 cup
2
1 quart
2 cups
4 Tbsp


Block of paneer, cubed
Large red onion, julienned
Large cloves garlic
Ginger root, finely chopped
Tomato paste
Garam masala
Turmeric
Full bodied red wine (I use a Shiraz)
Cilantro, chopped
Serrano peppers, chopped
Slivered almonds
Tomatoes, diced
Vegetable broth
Basmati rice
Canola oil

Directions:


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Fry paneer cubes in batches, drain on paper towels, salt with 1/4 tsp salt and set aside
Heat dutch oven to medium heat and caramelize onions
Add ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant
Fold in tomato paste and stir to incorporate
Add garam masala and turmeric, stirring vigorously until fragrant (1 minute)
Pour in red wine and deglaze the dutch oven.  Reduce to near dryness
Fold in the paneer and stir to coat in the gravy
Pour in vegetable broth to cover contents and allow to cook for 10 minutes
Add 2 Tbsp cilantro, Serrano peppers, salt and pepper 
Reduce the mixture down to a thick gravy (test for salt, ensure that the gravy tastes salty)
Remove the dutch oven from the heat
Carefully layer the rice atop the gravy
Drizzle the vegetable broth down the sides of the dutch oven to cover the rice
Cover the dutch oven and place into the pre-heated oven
Bake for 45 minutes
While the biryani is in the oven, toast the slivered almonds in a pan
After 45 minutes, remove the biryani from the oven, fold in the diced tomatoes
Top with slivered almonds and cilantro prior to serving