Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Biryani: In Honor Of My Mother

I've been divinely inspired this year to blend my traditions and create a unique dish: Christmas Biryani. Biryani is a festive dish and growing up, my mother cooked biryani every Christmas. Sadly, I don't have her recipe and I've never been able to re-create it. Now, God, in his grace, has inspired me to come up with my own.  I cooked it, a couple of times this year, in honor of my mother who went home to glory when I was a teenager. I'm sharing the recipe below and some of the symbolism too as many of you wanted to know the full story. My Christmas biryani uses Zizania aquatica black wild rice that grows naturally in the Great Lakes region to represent my patriotism and love for America. Traditional biryani rice, white aromatic basmati, stands for my beautiful Indian heritage. The red and green bell peppers give the dish its Christmas colors. They also symbolize red for my new life in Christ that was bought with his blood. Green is for the hope that Jesus, Messiah, Savior, is to our dark world; Christmas is the celebration of his birth as Emmanuel, God with us in human form. If you're curious to know more about other meanings of the Christmas Biryani, ask when you see me next, in person. Meanwhile here's the recipe.

1/2 cup, North American Black Wild rice (naturally grown aquatic Saskatchewan rice)
1 cup, Indian White Basmati rice (aged, grown in the foothills of the Himalayas)
1 to 2 sticks of butter (1/2 lb, 16 oz.)
1 medium size white or yellow onion, sliced thin and long
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1/2 tspn, powdered cardomom
1/2 tspn powdered cummin
1/4 tspn powdered turmeric
4-5 bay leaves
2 or 3 green bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 or 3 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup, cashews
1/4 cup, raisins
1/4 cup, almonds
1-2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1 lemon (optional)
1 tomato
a few sprigs of coriander (cilantro) & mint (half for frying in dish and the other half for garnish)

Optional: For a meaty dish, add 1 lb of chicken or a whole chicken (breast cut into 2-inch pieces, drumsticks, thighs, wings). If you decide to add the chicken, rub a small amount of the spices (cummin, cardomom, and turmeric) directly onto the chicken. Set aside.

Roast the uncooked white rice in 1 tablespoon butter until brown and then set aside. Cook the black wild rice and set it aside.  In a pan, using a mid-flame, heat about 1/2 cup of the butter. Add the onions and fry. Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry slightly.  Add the coriander and mint and fry. If you've opted for a meatier dish, add the chicken now and fry until the chicken is brown on the outside. Add 2 cups of water, bay leaves, and the white rice. Lower the heat and cover. Cook until the rice is done. Add the chopped bell peppers towards the end when there's very little water. When there's no water left, remove from fire. Transfer the contents into a casserole or 10x13 baking dish and add the cooked black wild rice. Carefully mix it in. The basmati rice is very fragile and can be easily broken; be very gentle when stirring the back rice into it. You can also squeeze the lemon juice into the dish during this time.  Remove the bay leaves so that they aren't eaten accidentally.

Fry the cashews, raisins, and almonds separately in butter. Mix them into the rice saving some for garnish. For a colorful look arrange alternating slices of lemon and tomatoes with springs of mint and coriander (cilantro).

Christmas Biryani can be served alone or Indian-style with raita and pickle.  Unbelievable as it may seem, like most Indian foods, the Christmas Biryani improves with age :). That is, leftovers taste even better.  Enjoy and God bless.

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