Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chicken Biryani

When I was a child, my mother occasionally made a biryani side dish from Trader Joe's. It was mysterious to me at the time - who wants raisins in their rice? And funny spices that they don't recognize? Not me, I thought.

I thought wrong. The trick is the "little bit of this, little bit of that" mentality. I found this incredibly simple version of chicken biryani in an issue of Cooking Light, and it was like the light bulb flicked on. So that's why this whole raisins in your rice thing actually works! With delicately exotic garam masala and ground cumin, a hint of garlic, a whisper of cilantro, onion and tomato, it's like a family reunion of gentle flavors. And they all add up, thanks to the help of a minced jalapeno, to be quite powerful indeed. (And really, you skeptics out there, there are very few raisins here. You'll barely notice them.)

If you're looking for a more fun twist on the same-old chicken and rice, here it is. This is a one pot wonder that will whip up in about 40 minutes, and keep everyone happy. Even if they think they don't want raisins in their rice.

A note: this needs some kind of refreshing side dish. I served it with chopped cucumber drizzled with a little lime juice. Some kind of raita would be lovely as well.

Chicken Biryani
adapted from Cooking Light
serves 2-3


1 teaspoon canola oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 large (or 1 small) onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon garam masala*
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of salt
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 cup uncooked basmati (or similar) rice
small handful of raisins
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
handful chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 lime, cut into wedges for serving


1. Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and saute for 3 minutes. Add onion and jalapeno and saute for another 3 minutes, until onion is starting to soften.

2. Add ginger, garam masala, cumin, salt, and garlic, and stir. Add tomato, rice, raisins, and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. Let simmer 15 minutes, or until rice is tender.

3. Stir in cilantro and almonds. Serve with lime wedges.

* garam masala is available in most markets. It is an Indian spice mix made up of peppers, cloves, bay, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, mace, star anise, and coriander in varying combinations. Try it. You'll like it.


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