Sindhi mutton biryani with sour plums and potatoes

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Written by SUMAYYA USMANI

Cooked in small villages in Sindh and big city homes alike, this is a marriage of sweet, savoury and tart flavours. The use of pomegranates and sour plums are indicative of the Arabic and Persian influences in Pakistani cuisine, while potatoes are added to biryani traditionally to lessen the need for too much meat where it is either expensive or unavailable.

Serves 8-10

INGREDIENTS

For the biryani:

  • 1 kg Basmati rice, washed and soaked for at least 30 minutes before cooking
  • 5-6 tbsp corn oil
  • 4-6 green cardamom pods
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin (or black cumin if available)
  • 1 tbsp aniseed or fennel seeds
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 piece of mace (optional)
  • 3-4 medium onions, cut into half moons
  • 1 tbsp each of grated ginger and pureed garlic
  • 1 kg mutton/lamb, small pieces, on the bone
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 400 g Greek yoghurt
  • 500g tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into halves, parboiled
  • 1 tbsp dried pomegranate powder (anardana powder)
  • 10- 15 dried plums (aloo Bukhara)
  • 1/2 bunch each coriander and mint leaves
  • 2-4 fresh green chillies

To ‘dum’ (steam-cook) the biryani:

  • 1 tbsp kewra (screwpine water) or rosewater
  • 2 large pinches of saffron, soaked in hot milk for 15 minutes
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • A few mint leaves

METHOD

Heat water in a saucepan and once boiling, add soaked Basmati rice and cook until half-done (rice should still be firm to the touch and not break easily).

Heat oil in a pan, add all the whole spices and allow to release aroma (do not allow to burn). Add onions and brown, then add ginger and garlic paste, cook until the raw smell leaves the pan.

Now add the mutton/lamb and try until sealed. Add the turmeric, salt and red chilli powder. Keep adding splashes of water to avoid this getting burned.

Add the yoghurt and cook the meat down till the water content evaporates from the curry. Next add the tomatoes, potatoes, dried pomegranate powder, dried plums, coriander, mint, and green chillis. There should be about 2 cups of liquid.

Lower heat and cover slightly and allow to cook until the oil separates’ from the curry. There should now be about 1 cup of liquid remaining and a thick aromatic curry.

Take out about half of the curry with meat and place into a bowl. Layer half the half-boiled rice on top of the meat in the pan, then add the remaining meat and curry in the bowl.

Finish off with the remaining rice and then sprinkle with kewra (or rosewater), saffron and ghee. Push some lemon slices and mint into the rice. Cover tightly with foil, turn heat to low, cover and let it cook in its steam for about 20-30 minutes.

The key is that when you take off the foil, steam should rice to the top and the rice should be standing on end. Anything further and the rice will be overcooked.

When ready, carefully stir the rice with the layers with a spoon and serve hot with a simple raita (see following recipe).

TIP: Biryani always tastes great the next day. To reheat, cook in a saucepan, covered with a few splashes of water, until rice and meat is warm.

For more Pakistani recipes, check out Good Things magazine’s Pakistani dawwat banquet.


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