Biryani is a rice dish similar to a casserole or paella. Usually it is made with lamb or chicken, and vegetables although it makes an excellent vegetarian entrée as well. Made from scratch, it has a long list of spices but many in the Indian diaspora in the UK, US, and elsewhere use one of the spice pastes that are widely available. This recipe uses the biryani paste made in the UK by Patak’s and is adapted from the recipe on the label.
Raita is shredded cucumber in yoghurt and makes cooling accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.
1 medium cucumber
2 cups plain yoghurt, low-fat is best
6 ounces, scant 1 cup, basmati rice (you could use long-grain white rice but the dish would lack depth)
1 tbsp. canola oil or ghee
1 medium onion
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into ¾” dice
4 ounces, about 6 tbsp., Patak’s Biryani Paste
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped, or 7 ounces of canned tomatoes
4 ounces, about 1 cup, fresh or frozen peas (you can use any other vegetable(s) of your choice)
1/8 tsp. Indian chili powder or cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Shred coarsely with a hand grater or food processor. Place in a strainer and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Set aside to drain.
Line another strainer with cheese cloth and add the 2 cups of yoghurt. Set aside to drain.
Rinse the basmati rice well and put in a large bowl of cold water. Set aside to soak at least 30 minutes.
Peel the onion, cut it in half lengthwise, and slice into ⅛” thick semicircles. Heat the oil in a deep pan with a tightly fitting lid (I use my indispensible 3-quart enameled Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring from time to time, until deep brown. Don’t worry if they burn a bit.
Add the biryani paste to the onions and fry for about 2 minutes or until the spices become fragrant. Add the diced chicken, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 minutes until nearly done. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for another minute, then add the water. Raise heat to bring to a boil while scrapping up any spices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the peas, cover, a simmer on over very low heat for about 20 minutes.
While the biryani is cooking, finish the riata. Put the yoghurt into a bowl. Rinse the cucumber thoroughly until most of the saltiness is gone. Squeeze the water out of the cucumber and stir it into the yoghurt. Add the chili powder if using, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Place in refrigerator to cool or leave at room temperature.
When the biryani is done, stir in the chopped cilantro and serve with the riata and other Indian pickles accompaniments you choose.