August 14, 2013

Shrimp Biryani

Grace, one of our talented non-blogging Daring Kitchen members, was our Daring Cooks' August hostess who shared with us some of her family's tried and true Bengali Biryani recipes -- all of them delicious and all of them prepared fresh from our own kitchens!

I've said it before. Rice strikes the fear of God in me. I know the formula: one part rice to two parts water. But I've had enough undercooked and overcooked rice (not to mention two destroyed rice cookers) to know that that formula is by no means foolproof. 

So you can imagine my apprehension when I saw that this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was biryani. I grew up eating biryani. It's an Indian dish of rice, layered with a tasty meat or vegetable mixture, strewn with fried onions and potatoes.

It's a special occasion dish. It takes time. And effort. And skill. Because you don't just cook everything and layer it. No. You cook the rice partway through. Then you layer it with your meat or veggies. Then you cover it tightly and steam it until the rice is just cooked through and the flavors of the curry permeate the entire dish.

Done right it's a sight to behold and a pleasure to eat. Done wrong, it's a travesty. 

Due to my (aforementioned) fear of rice, I'd never attempted biryani. Good thing Daring Cooks is around to kick my butt.

As expected, the most difficult part — for me — was the rice. The recipe called for the rice to be boiled until it was three-quarters of the way cooked. What? How are you supposed to judge that? Not to mention, I'd mistakenly thought I had basmati rice in my pantry. I was wrong. I substituted a different long grain rice. But that meant I couldn't even fall back on the recipe for guidance on cooking time.

In the end, the biryani was a bit of a miss, but mostly a hit. In an effort not to undercook the rice, I steamed the final, layered mixture for too long. That left me with a hard, dry layer of rice on the bottom and part way up the sides of my pan. But when we scooped around the hardened crust, what remained was a flavorful mixture of tangy, spicy shrimp, mixed with fragrant rice and bits of fried onion and potato scattered throughout.

Marinate shrimp in turmeric, chili powder, ginger garlic paste and lemon juice. Refrigerate for a few hours or up to overnight.

Soak rice in cold water .

And start heating the water for cooking the rice. Adding salt, bay leaf, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon to the boiling water results in wonderfully fragrant rice.

Now prepare the shrimp masala. Start by sauteeing cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf in hot oil until fragrant.

Add onions and cook down until deep golden brown. Add ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute.

Add tomatoes and cook until completely cooked down and disintegrated. Mix in salt, chili powder and turmeric.

Add shrimp and saute until just cooked through. Sprinkle in lemon juice. Turn off heat and set aside.

Prepare the garnishes. Start by cooking sliced onion in oil until crisp and golden brown.

In the same oil, cook potatoes until crisp and golden brown.

Drain soaked rice.

Slowly add rice to boiling water.

Boil for about 7 minutes, until about 3/4 cooked. Drain and remove whole spices.

Now it's time to layer the biryani! Spread a bit of oil on the bottom of a large pot. Add 1/3 of the rice and spread over the bottom of the pot.

Top with half of the shrimp mixture. If you have some extra fried onion and potatoes, sprinkle a bit of those on top of the shrimp. Repeat with another 1/3 of the rice, then the remaining shrimp, then the remaining rice. Sprinkle onion and potato garnish over top.

Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil. Then place a cover on top. Steam over medium-low flame for about 30 minutes. It's best to put a flat pan on top of the flame, then put the pot on top of that. (I didn't do that and ended up with a hard bottom crust of rice.)

Remove cover and aluminum foil and behold!

Dig in carefully, straight through to the bottom and admire your carefully layered biryani.


Shrimp Biryani

Shrimp Marinade:
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp lemon juice

Shrimp Masala:
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp canola oil
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
marinated shrimp
1 tsp lemon juice

2 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 tsp oil
1 tsp salt
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf

1 onion, sliced thin
1 potato, sliced into thin rectangles

Marinate shrimp:
1.    Marinate shrimp with ginger garlic paste, chili powder, turmeric and lemon juice for a few hours or up to overnight.

Prepare the shrimp masala:
1.    Heat oil in a saute pan. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and fry for a few minutes until fragrant.

2.    Add the onion and cook until they are dark golden brown.

3.    Add ginger garlic paste and saute well.

4.    Add tomatoes and cook down until all of the moisture is gone and the tomatoes have disintegrated.

5.    Add the turmeric, chili powder and salt.

6.    Add the shrimp and saute until the shrimp are just cooked through. Add the lemon juice and mix.

7.    Turn off the heat and set aside.

Prepare the rice:
1.    Soak the rice in a bowl filled with plenty of cold water for 30 minutes.

2.    Fill a large pot 3/4 full with water. Add oil, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf and salt. Bring to a boil.

3.    Drain rice, then add it slowly to the boiling water. Cook for about 7 minutes, until it is 3/4 cooked.

4.    Drain the rice. Remove the whole spices.

1.    Shallow- or deep-fry onion until golden brown and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel covered plate. Sprinkle with salt.

2.    Repeat for potato.

Layer and steam biryani:
1.    Take a large (preferably nonstick) pot. Spread a tiny bit of oil on the bottom. Add 1/3 of the rice and spread it evening across the bottom of the pot.

2.    Top with half of the shrimp and tomato/onion mixture. If you have enough fried onions and potatoes, you can scatter a bit of those on top of the shrimp.

3.    Top with another layer of rice and then shrimp. Then top with the final layer of rice.

4.    Sprinkle the remaining fried onions and potatoes on top.

5.    Cover the top of the pot with a piece of aluminum foil. Tightly seal the edges so that no steam escapes. Put a cover on top of the foil.

6.    Place a flat pan on top of the stove, then put your pot on top of the pan (this helps prevent the rice from crisping).

7.    Heat over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.


Serves 6

August 1, 2013

Thai Basil Tomato Salad

Caprese salad, the classic Italian combination of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It's a summer standard at my house. The salad, as is, makes a great a light lunch on a hot day. Sometimes I leave out the mozzarella and serve it alongside grilled fish. Or I throw in some minced garlic and we pile it on top of toasted bread. Recently I even blended the basil into a pesto and tossed the cheese and tomatoes with pasta to make a Caprese pasta salad.

But one thing I hadn't done was change the basic flavors of the salad. Then I came across a recipe for Thai basil crostini. The concept was simple, but brilliant. Take the elements of a Caprese salad, then swap in Asian ingredients. It went like this:

Caprese Salad                         Thai Basil Tomato Salad
tomatoes                                 tomatoes
Italian basil                              Thai basil
garlic                                       shallots
balsamic vinegar                      rice vinegar
olive oil                                   sesame oil

The substitutions were simple and straightforward. But the change was remarkable. It was still a tomato salad. But on an Asian adventure.

Start with cherry or grape tomatoes. I found these beauties at a farmer's market.

Halve tomatoes and place in a bowl.

Add shallot, sesame oil, rice vinegar, salt and pepper.

Stir and let the tomatoes sit for 15 minutes.

Stir in Thai basil and serve!

Thai Basil Tomato Salad

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 small shallot, minced
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup thinly sliced Thai basil leaves

1.    In a bowl, combine tomatoes, shallot, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 15 minutes to let flavors meld.

2.    Mix in Thai basil.

3.    Serve.

Makes 2 cups