Day 1: Biryani
A biryani is a rice-based dish and a recipe usually makes a substantial amount. Biryani recipes can also be very elaborate, but this one is fairly simple. There are only three of us at our house so I tried to come up with ways to keep it interesting for the duration. This recipe lasted through three dinners. On the first night I served the biryani with homemade yogurt, grilled flatbread, and asparagus spears.
So here’s one recipe and a couple of more ideas to stretch it.
Chicken, Mushroom and Rice Biryani Casserole
Adapted from American Masala by Suvir Saran
You can find curry leaves in the produce section of Indian grocery stores. I keep a bag of them in the freezer.
10 cups water
6 whole black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
A 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
2 cups basmati rice
¼ cup canola oil
6 whole black peppercorns
6 green cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
36 curry leaves, roughly torn (optional)
1 to 6 dried red chiles (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 pounds white button mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
2 cups cooked chicken or ground lamb (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup water
¼ chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Bring the water to a boil in a large pot with the whole peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Stir the rice in and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to a vigorous simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 6 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F. For the casserole, heat the oil, whole peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cooking until the cumin is browned and the mustard seeds start to pop, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the curry leaves, chiles, and turmeric and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the coriander, and cook while stirring, until the chiles start to darken, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and salt to the skillet and increase heat to medium high. Cook, stirring often, until, the mushrooms release their liquid and cook down, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the meat, if using, curry powder and buttermilk. Bring to a low boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half and slightly thick, 8 to 12 minutes (You still want it to be quite saucy). Stir in the ground pepper and turn off the heat.
Grease a 10 cup oven safe casserole dish or Dutch oven (use one with a lid) with the butter. Spread 2 cups of the cooked rice evenly over the bottom of the dish. Layer on half of the mushroom mixture and sprinkle with a third of the chopped spinach. Spread another layer of 1 ½ cups of rice over the spinach and cover with the remaining mushrooms and spinach. Evenly spread the remaining rice on top and pour the water around the edges of the dish. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and put the lid on. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with some cilantro and serve.
Day 2: Fried Rice
Fried rice is my go-to dish with leftover rice. It’s one of the few things my mom made when I was growing up that I still make. She always made it with leftover pork roast. I love to improvise when there’s leftover rice in the fridge. Never leave the rice behind at a Chinese restaurant!
My two most important pieces of advice for cooking in a wok are: Get the wok hot enough and don’t stir too soon. Actually, I have a third piece of advice. Don’t use a nonstick wok because if you do, you won’t be able to heat it up to smokin’ hot.
I heat my wok over high heat for several minutes. You want to see whisps of smoke rising from it. On a home stove, if you’re not sure if your wok is hot enough yet, it probably isn’t. Then I carefully add 1-2 tablespoons of peanut or canola oil in the very center of the bottom of the wok. Don’t pour it down the side; you want a puddle at the bottom. Let that heat until it is almost smoking (It will start smoking on the edges).
While your wok is heating up, mix a few eggs with salt and and about 1/4-1/2 tsp. sesame oil. Add peanut or canola oil to the bottom of the wok and let it heat. Gently pour the eggs into the center of the oil. If everything is hot enough they will immediately puff up around the edges. Let them sit for a few seconds and then start to gently fold the edges over into the middle, letting the uncooked mixture run out the sides. Keep gently turning it over and over, but leaving the eggs in one piece. When it’s done, remove it to a plate and set aside. You can also use this technique to make egg foo yung at home.
Because I was already using a flavored rice dish, as opposed to plain white rice, I kept any additional ingredients to the bare minimum. I heated more oil in the wok, stir-fried some onion and then threw in about half of the leftover biryani. I let it sit to develop a bit of crust on some of the rice and then gently started stir-frying it. I added a few shakes of some mushroom flavored soy sauce, which is very dark and concentrated. The scrambled eggs were stirred back in. It took about 10 minutes, start to finish.
Day 3: Indian Tacos
Recently I had lunch at a friend’s house and she introduced me to boondi raita. Boondi are little fried chickpea flour balls that look like Kix cereal, but these have a savory flavor. You can buy them in the snack aisle of Indian grocery stores. They’re highly addictive!
To make boondi raita, mix some plain yogurt, toasted cumin seeds, and some spicy chile pepper seasoning, or whatever spices and seasonings you’d like. Stir in some boondi right before serving so it won’t become soggy.
I cooked some paratha bread on a griddle, sliced some avocado and tomatoes, and reheated the last of the biriyami.
We assembled a sort of Indian taco, using the boondi as a topping. A party of textures and flavors. Crisp flaky paratha, creamy avocado, crunchy boondi, tart yogurt, tomatoes, and the biriyani. Great comfort food.
And that was it! We were out of biryani.