Beyond Curry: Lamb or Chicken Biryani

2014.20.02 Indian Lamb Biryani.jpg
Prasanna Sankhe

Sometimes I worry that it's wrong to love a dish so much. But the heart wants what it wants—in this case, a big helping (or two) of biryani. And, packed with meat, potatoes, rice, and spices, it certainly makes for one of the heartiest meals in my repertoire.

There are many varieties of this dish, which was originally brought to India by the Mughals—each state has its own unique and closely guarded version. The last time I counted, there were more than 15 types (and that's on the conservative side). The most common choices for meat are lamb and goat, but chicken, shrimp, and even fish have been known to find their way into this aromatic preparation.

My recipe is for home-style Bombay biryani. Yogurt is used to tenderize the meat—usually lamb, though chicken works well, too—and a slew of spices, both powdered and whole, add layers of flavor. Each has its part to play, and roasting and grinding them gives a distinct, deep intensity to each one. Indeed, this dish is big on aroma, and I've always found that it has an intoxicating effect as it finds its way into the corners of my home.

Biryani is not a complicated dish to prepare. Time consuming, yes. But not difficult. And it's one of those dishes that's diverse and satisfying enough to be the only one on the table. Some like to embellish it with a raita (a yogurt-based salad of cucumber, onion and tomato) or just garnish it with a few onion rings and lime wedges. Either way, I always try to make a little extra, because I think it tastes even better the next day, when the spices and meat have all rested together long enough to really get along.