Thursday, September 27, 2012

Taste of Fall: Saffron-Infused Biryani

Admission is the first step to recovery.

It's quite possible that I'm an Indian trapped in an Armenian woman's body.

If Mom is cooking, I admit I could easily eat to death.
She’s a master at inventive rice dishes. What she calls cleaning out the fridge, I call sheer genius. 
Biryani is one of those dishes, a different flavour bursts with every bite. 

And, I've got to tell ya - it really is embarrassing, because I just 
to stop.

Biryani hails from the exotic East. Rice is the foundation, fluffed up with layers of dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, meat, rich in flavor with a signature sauce.
The warmth of the spices in this cozy dish is so comforting now that Fall is starting to show its face.

On a lazy weekend afternoon, I indulge in making everything from scratch, even fresh spice mix, ground from whole toasty cardamom, coriander, cumin seeds. 
Sounds like a lot of work, but it's cheap therapy for me.
That's how I keep my smile.

Plus, I've tried ready-made dry spice mixes. Those are usually weak and bland. Who knows how long they've been on the shelf at the store? Ground spices quickly lose their essence. 

So, when you have a few minutes, 
DIY your own garam masala!

You don't have to have a culinary degree to do it. Just check your spice rack and make sure you have all the basics: Cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, 
coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, etc. 

Missing something?
Already wearing your bunny slippers?
Don't worry about it. Just go with whatever you do have.

Toast them whole, then grind a small batch every now and then.
It's the secret to making a fragrant sauce or paste.

But, this was nothing-special Tuesday and I was pooped.

So, I went for the jar.
In fact, we have a whole pantry full of pretty jars of Patak's, the good stuff. 
There’s always a back-up jar, too, in case of an unexpected blizzard keeps me from getting to the store.

Ok, yeh, yeh,  we live on the *American Riviera* sunny Southern California. But, who knows what sort of weather YOU have to battle? I'm just lookin' out for ya here. Next time you're at the market, be sure to grab a couple of jars of Patak's .

Then, when you get home, put on your bunny slippers and head for the kitchen.
Raid the fridge for more supplies: Green beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas, zucchini. Whatever you have on hand is fine. This dish is very forgiving.

Cooking the rice is the hardest part. The meat is optional, but you should have some sort of protein there, maybe beans or quinoa?

My version is a bit non-traditional. Fresh ginger and rare saffron earn Mom's nod of approval. 

Saffron-Infused Biryani
Serves 6 (or 4 lumberjacks)

What you need:

5-6 threads saffron

pinch sugar
2 TB hot water

2 medium onions, chopped

2 TB 7-spice
2 lbs ground meat (optional) or 1.5 cups quinoa, cooked

3 cups basmati rice

4 cups water
5 heaping TB of Patak's biryani paste

1 head cauliflower

1 knob fresh ginger, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup green beans
2 tomatoes
3 large carrots
3 zucchinis

1/2 cup cashews or almonds

1/3 cup frozen peas
handful fresh coriander/cilantro

What to do:

Thoroughly grind the saffron threads with the sugar.

Add the hot water and allow the saffron to steep and become fragrant.

Cook the rice in water, biryani paste and saffron.

While the rice is cooking, clean, trim and cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Brown the onion in a bit of olive oil and salt. Add turmeric, ground meat, if any, or quinoa and brown for another 10 minutes or so.

Once the water has been absorbed (~10 mins), gently fold the vegetables (all but the peas) and meat/quinoa into the rice and cover the pot. Reduce the heat and allow the vegetables to cook (~20-30 mins).

Turn off the heat and gently mix the frozen peas into the rice. 

Sprinkle few sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro) and crunchy toasted cashews on top for a sexy finish.

I did my homework and found many different formulas for biryani. 

That means no rules!

Don't let the list of ingredients intimidate you.
Remember there's a lot of freedom in cooking. 
Have fun. Don't be afraid to omit or include something. 

What's in your fridge?


  1. Your mum sounds like a genius my friend :D
    I can see it is in the genes!

    Choc Chip Uru

  2. This looks absolutely delicious! And I adore the cooking dish!

    1. Thanks, V! The dish is called a karhai and can be found at most Indian shoppes.

  3. Thanks, Valentina. The dish is called a karhai. Look for it in the Indian shops.

  4. Yum. Love biryani - one of my favorite ways to use leftover rice. Your version looks amazing, and the best part is - I have ALL the ingredients in my pantry and fridge. I need to hunt for biryani paste though. We have the Pataks range at our supermarket but I haven't seen biryani paste before... I'm popping on my super sleuth hat and going hunting...

    1. Hi, there. You can make your own biryani paste. I'll post a recipe soon.

  5. I love Biryani! This sounds unique, never made with ground meat before! Awesome idea & fantastic pics!

    1. Thanks, love. It turned out surprisingly delicious.

  6. That is a dish I could eat over and over!

  7. I am so glad that I stumbled upon your blog. You have a such gorgeous space. Delicious looking biryani and love the addition of saffron flavor. Total YUM!

  8. Totally agree that cooking can be extremely therapeutic... not just for mind, for tummy too :p

    Your saffron-infused biryani looks fabulous and I think I can "smell" is fragrance from my computer screen.

    Now following you via Twitter and blogger :D


  9. This is gorgeous and inspired. I love saffron. I bought a wonderful little bag of it at a farmers market. The smell immediately makes me happy. This would make me even more happy.

  10. Thanks for sending me a note. I am looking forward to paging Through your blog. I love biryani -I so need to maw it one of these days.


  11. Colette - this is beautiful! Thank you for finding Cocoa & Lavender so that I could find you! The photos are gorgeous, but I can only imagine the aromas and flavors are better! Happy cooking!

  12. Hi Coco, dishes like this are my absolute favorite, love, love it!


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