My mom's best friend hails from the famous Malabar region(the northern part) in Kerala and was born and bought up in a traditional Muslim family. Being also a childhood friend, my mom had the privilege of learning many traditional Malabar Muslim dishes from her. One among those being the Malabar Biriyani.
Since I loved Malabar cuisine, I researched more into it and as said in one of my previous posts I came across this book Malabar Muslim Cookery by Ummi Abdulla during a book exhibition in my home-town which enabled me to know more about Moplahs and their cuisine. The Malayalam speaking Muslims of the northern part of Kerala are known as Moplahs-the word Moplah being a variant of Mappilai, which means Bridegroom or Maha Pillai, which means a person held in esteem. It is an indication of the respect accorded to Kerala Muslims. They descended from the intermarriage of Arab traders, who came for trade initially, with local Kerala women. Later they proliferated with accretions to their ranks by conversion to Islam.
Many Moplah speciality dishes are for special occasions, the most festive one being a wedding in the family. Neichoru or Ghee rice is served during Mehndi night, the eve of the wedding when Henna is applied on the bride's hands and feet. Biriyani is served on the wedding night. Muttamala(Egg yolk garlands) is served with Pinnanathappam(Egg snow pudding) at the wedding.On the next morning a festive breakfast is served with pathiris-a pancake with rice flour, curries, puttu(another breakfast item of traditional Kerala cuisine made with rice flour), followed by tea etc.
Hence this biriyani is rightly called Moplah Malabar Biriyani. The dish is known for its mild flavour. The meat and rice are cooked separately and finally layered in an oven safe dish. The dish is then placed in a hot oven for about 20-25 minutes so that the flavour of the meat is infused into the rice. Traditionally the meat is cooked on a stove top till tender but to reduce the cooking time I cooked the meat in a pressure cooker, then later added to the gravy. If you have lots of time at your disposal you may follow the traditional cooking method.
1 lb mutton(with bones preferred) chopped
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
Chicken masala/Garam masala-3/4 tsp
Salt to taste
1 cup Basmati rice/Long grained rice
2 1" cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
Few cardamom seeds
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp ghee
Salt to taste
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For preparing gravy:
1 tbsp ghee
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 large ripe tomato
Ginger- a small piece(12 g approx)
Green chillies-5(depending on your level of spiciness)
Poppy seeds-1/2 tsp
1/4 cup curd
1.5 tsp chicken masala/garam masala
Few Coriander leaves(Cilantro)
Few mint leaves
Salt to taste
1 big red onion thinly sliced
Few raisins-1/3 cup
Sliced cashews-1/2 cup
Few saffron strands
Ghee for sauteing onions, cashews and raisins
For cooking rice:
- Wash rice and drain well in a colander.
- Grind together cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds.
- Heat ghee in a pan and saute the ground spices and bay leaves for few seconds.
- Add rice and saute at low heat for about 7-8 minutes or until the grains turn crisp. Do not allow the grains to change colour.
- In a heavy bottomed vessel add coconut milk, water, lemon juice and salt and bring to a boil.
- Add rice, reduce heat to simmer and cook with a closed lid till done and water is absorbed. Remove from heat and keep aside.
For cooking meat:
- Marinate mutton with ingredients mentioned under meat. Keep aside for 35-40 minutes.
- Cook the marinated mutton in a pressure cooker till tender.
For preparing the gravy:
- Grind ginger, garlic, green chillies and poppy seeds together. Keep aside.
- Heat ghee in a pan and saute onions till it turns brown.
- Add the ground paste and saute till raw smell goes.
- Add chopped tomatoes and saute till mushy.
- Add curd, cooked mutton, chicken masala and salt along with the water oozed out while cooking mutton.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and add coriander leaves and mint leaves.
- Cook till the water is absorbed. Do not make it completely dry.
- Remove from heat and keep aside.
Preparing the garnish:
- Heat about 1 tbsp ghee in a pan and fry the onions till golden brown. Add little sugar while frying to give the caramelized flavour. Remove from heat and keep aside.
- Add more ghee and fry cashews and raisins. Remove from heat.
- Dissolve saffron strands in 2 tbsp warm water.
- In an oven safe dish greased with ghee add some prepared gravy at the bottom.
- Put some cooked rice as a layer on top of the meat gravy.
- Sprinkle fried onions, cashews, raisins and saffron water on top of this. This forms a layer.
- Repeat with any number of layers you wish to have depending on the quantity of meat and gravy. In this case I made 2 layers.
- Preheat oven to 350 F(180 C).
- After the preheat mode place the dish in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
- For serving the biriyani you need to slice through the layers at one go to get a serving size. Repeat the process.
- Serve with tomato-cucumber raita and hot lemon tea(believe me, this is a great combo!