A Royal Treat

Amrita Prasad and Alisha Shinde
Thursday, 5 April 2018

Amrita Prasad and Alisha Shinde talk to chefs to know how the biryani has been evolving over the years and the healthy choices, and fancy accompaniments

You will seldom find a person who will say, ‘I don’t like biryani’. Whether it is the spicy, flavoursome Hyderbadi Biryani or the mild, aromatic Kolkata Biryani, this rice preparation has fans the world over. But meat lovers argue that there is no such thing as a Vegetable Biryani. Some also wonder what a potato has to do in a dish like biryani. And we all know how raita and biryani are made for each other, but it’s not a sin to find other partners. City chefs give us the lowdown on this royal treat and how it has been evolving.    

Veg Twist
You may have come across debates and jokes on social media about Veg Biryani. Some say there’s nothing like Veg Biryani. Does that mean vegetarians should not indulge in this Mughal treat? 

Nishesh Tripathi executive chef, Radisson Blu Hinjawadi, says, “Why deprive vegetarians of the great tantalising flavours of the heavenly biryani? Also, it gives us (the chefs) an opportunity to be creative and think out of the box in developing new tastes and aromas for our valued guests.” 

Echoing the thoughts of Tripathi, Deepu Alamchandani, chef, Rustom Battliwala, a restaurant at Balewadi High Street, says, “I strongly believe there should be a Vegetable Biryani so that vegetarians also can experience the rich aroma and spice-infused rice preparation.”

Although Vegetable Biryani is available in restaurants, not everybody is convinced that it is authentic. But do we really have a vegetarian variant in certain regions of the country given that a majority of Indians are vegetarians? 

Tripathi says that the moment one hears biryani, they almost start to imagining a particular variety. “The best version of a Veg Biryani, which I can recall, is Tahiri. Tahiri means to shallow fry the rice with the vegetables in the same oil and cook them together using the most traditional preparation called dum. It is prepared in all parts of Uttar Pradesh around the year, with the vegetables and proteins changing with the seasons. For instance, in winter, fresh cauliflower and green peas are used and in summer, soya wadi and dal wadi are used. The main flavouring is achieved by putting fresh methi in winter and dried methi in summer. It’s an absolute delight to have it with Burhani Raita in summer and Cucumber Raita in winter,” quips Tripathi adding that one of the most common versions of Veg Biryani is Subz Dum Biryani which is available in most places.

Potato Punch 
Have you ever wondered why potato is added to biryani? While explaining the importance of Kolkata Biryani, which is incomplete without the flavoured potato, Tripathi narrates an anecdote. “In 1856 after losing the war against the British, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was deported to Kolkata but never lost his special memories of Lucknow. He was fond of the city’s royal tastes and indulgences, and to ensure that he didn’t have to compromise on either, he brought the entire entourage of khansamas and bawarchis along with him to Kolkata (then Calcutta). But the Nawab wasn’t wealthy enough to afford such indulgences. So the cooks decided to innovate and came up with the local variant of the much-loved biryani, by cutting down on meat and adding potatoes and boiled eggs to it. Potato was brought to India by the Portuguese and was considered an expensive commodity since it was imported. However, it was cheaper than meat so it became a part of Kolkata Biryani to increase the quantity and make it more filling,” he explains.  

But if you think that potato is a speciality of Kolkata Biryani, you are mistaken. Alamchandani says, “Not just Kolkata Biryani, Hyderabadi, Pakistani and Sindhi biryanis too have flavoured potatoes added to them. This is based on one’s preference.”  
Healthy Bites 
With more and more people getting health conscious and taking their well-being seriously, a healthy version of the biryani had to be invented. Telling us more about it, Pune-based home chef Jyotsana Jadhav, who started her catering three years ago, says, “When I started out it was all about the meat and the masalas, and people would hardly pay any heed to the rice that was used, but now the perception has changed. I have clients who are opting for healthy options.” 

Apart from Basmati rice, other aromatic varieties like Jasmine rice is being used in making biryani nowadays. “We also  use brown rice, which is expensive. So this is only for orders of less quantity,” she adds.

People are also exploring different types of accompaniments than the regular salad which was initially just onion, cucumber and tomato. She says that people have become experimental with their tastes and are ready to try dishes like Baigan Salan with biryani.

Veena Jacob, another home-based caterer, says that there is a huge demand for Veg Biryani. “I have come across several online posts that ridicule the Veg Biryani. But this perspective is changing and people are realising that Vegetable Biryani is a healthier version. Initially, peas and potatoes were used but now we also add carrot, diced beetroot, mushroom, along with paneer, which makes the biryani not only tasty but healthy as well,” she says. 

She too says that brown rice is a healthy option adding that people are now opting for biryani that is cooked in ghee and not oil. “At restaurants, biryani is cooked in oil, so people turn to us (home cooks),” she quips. 

Jacob suggests customers to either go for Beetroot Raita or Mirchi Ka Salan (curried chili peppers). “Being from Nagpur, Mirchi Ka Salan was probably the only biryani accompaniment I knew of but living in a city like Pune where the crowd is cosmopolitan and prefers to eat healthy I have switched to Beetroot and Carrot Raita which is an absolute favourite among many,” she adds. 

Good Company
Although biryani  is a complete dish in itself, the perfect accompaniments  can enhance its taste further.  Chef Praduman Bisht of Marriott Suites Pune, Koregaon Park, says that the basic accompaniments for biryani are raita, salan and pickle, however nowadays, biryani is also served with Baghara Baigan, Mirchi Ka Salan, Burani Raita, Kachumber Salad. 

Talking about how the accompaniments differ from region to region across the country, Bisht says,  “Ambur Biryani from Tamil Nadu is served with Onion Raita, Brinjal Gravy. Dalcha Malabar Kozhi Biryani from Malabar region of Kerala is had with its own Chicken or Mutton gravy and Kachumber Salad. Kolkata Biryani is accompanied by Chicken or Mutton Chap and Dahi Raita. Hyderabadi Dum Biryani is savoured with Salan and Burani Raita. Chettinad Biryani from Tamil Nadu is served with Nenju Elumbu Kuzhambu (a tangy, spicy mutton gravy). Awadhi or Lucknowi Biryani is served with Pyaaz Ka Raita and side gravy. In a few parts of India, Chicken Biryani is served with Dhansak.” 

He further adds that apart from India, biryani is popular in other parts of the world. “Sri Lankan Biryani is served with Malay Pickle, Cashew Curry, and Mint Sambal. Biryani in Myanmar (Burma) is known as Danbauk which means dum pukht, and is generally eaten with a salad of sliced onion and cucumber.” 

Chef Sahil Sabhlok, The Westin Pune, Koregaon Park, suggests some of the popular combinations of biryani and the side dishes 

- Memoni Biryani, also called the Kutchi Biryani from the Gujarat Sindh side, is a yoghurt-based lamb biryani with potatoes, and a few tomatoes, and is served with kebabs (usually skewered minced lamb) and raita. 
- Ambur Biryani, which hails from the Vellore district in the north-eastern part of Tamil Nadu, is a yoghurt-based biryani with more meat and less rice. It is served with  Dalcha (Brinjal Curry), Peanut Raita or onion, tomato and chilli. 
- Calicut Biryani is a combination of rice, ghee, spices, nuts, and dry fruits usually cooked over fire which has coconut shells too. Sweet and Spicy Date Pickle, and Kerala Poppadum make for perfect accompaniments. Raita made with finely chopped tomatoes, fresh coriander, ginger and green chillies also enhances the taste of the biryani. 

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