If procrastination was an Olympic sport, then I would definitely win a gold medal. Whenever I have a deadline dangling in front of my nose, I am immediately gripped with an urge to do a million and one things totally unrelated to the task at hand. “A 500 word feature due by 9am you say? Why, this presents me with the perfect opportunity to alphabetise my record collection!” Of course, I’m not alone in this. The esteemed Mr. Cay once wrote and recorded an entire album while procrastinating from a writing assignment. Putting things off until we absolutely positively have to do them or else appears to be all the rage in my house.
So, seeing as my diary is full of deadlines at the moment – the most important of these being get married – and I have a million and one things to do, it felt like the perfect time to make a dish for dinner which used practically every spice in my cupboards and every saucepan I own. “It will be a good chance for me to relax and de-stress!” I told myself as I inwardly wondered what insults would fly from my other half’s lips when he witnessed the vast amounts of washing up this would inevitably result in.
The recipe this Lamb Biryani is adapted from comes from a Saveur feature called ‘Queen of Spices’. After taking one look at the ingredients list, it’s not difficult to see why. Seeds and brightly coloured powders are sizzled, simmered and sprinkled throughout the cooking process, staining fingers and t-shirts alike. While lamb is the preferred protein here, it’s definitely not the star of the show. That’s left to the morass of different flavours that assault your tastebuds with every bite. Sometimes it’s cinnamon, other times it’s a hint of smoky black cardamom, or the sharp nasal-clearing hit of clove. It’s a dish which will make your kitchen smell like a souk – which is great if you live somewhere like Bootle, where the atmosphere usually smells of rotting grain or dockside tyre fires.
While this is a great dish to serve immediately (topped with a nice blob of natural yoghurt garnished with fresh mint and coriander), I would suggest making more than you need, as this produces some pretty sensational leftovers. As procrastination techniques go, this is the tastiest one I’ve discovered yet.
LAMB BIRYANI (Serves Four)
Adapted from Saveur.com
You will need:
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. garam masala
- 1 tsp. dried chilli flakes
- 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric
- 10 black peppercorns
- 6 pods green cardamom
- 3 pods black cardamom
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 4 green chillies, chopped
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 400g lamb shoulder, cut into even sized cubes cut into 2–3″ pieces
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- 200g plain yogurt
- A fistful of roughly chopped mint leaves
- A fistful of roughly chopped coriander leaves
- A pinch of saffron
- 200g white basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
- 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 4 cloves
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Red/orange food color (optional)
- Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable cup in a medium sized saucepan over a high heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 20–25 minutes until they become dark brown and caramelised. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil over a high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the garam masala, dried chilli flakes, turmeric, 5 of the black peppercorns, 3 green cardamom pods, 1 black cardamom pod and 1 cinnamon stick. Cook the spices for one minute until they become fragrant. Add the garlic, tomatoes, green chillies, and ginger; and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring all the while.
- Add the cubed lamb, season with salt, and cook for around five minutes until lightly browned. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium; and simmer for an hour until the lamb is fork-tender. Add the fried onions, yoghurt, a sprinkle of mint, and a good handful of coriander. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes more and Set aside.
- Put the saffron strands into a bowl, cover with 100ml of hot water and set aside. Bring 700ml of water to the boil in a good sized saucepan (alternatively, you can use your rice cooker for this step if you own one). Add the remaining peppercorns, green and black cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick, along with the rice, cumin, cloves, and bay leaves, and season with salt. Cook rice for 5-10 minutes until al dente. When done, drain and set aside.
- Transfer half the lamb curry to a large pot. Top the lamb curry with half of the rice. Pour half the saffron mixture onto the rice and mix with your fingers (the mixture will be hot, so take care not to burn yourself!) Top with remaining lamb curry and remaining rice, drizzle with the remaining saffron and mix. Steam, covered, for around 10 minutes until the rice is fragrant and tender, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the remaining mint and coriander, and serve.