I don’t know what it is with me and rice dishes. If I’m supposed to do something other than cook the rice in the rice cooker I just can’t seem to get into it. Risotto is easy for me to dismiss: that’s a whole lot of cooking time for slimy rice. And paella? An enormous effort for a dish that’s not too conducive to a veggie version, depending as it does upon both sausage and seafood for its flavor. But vegetable biryani seems within reach, sort of, though less so as afternoon turns to evening and I am still at my computer trying to get out my Cloud Nine Hooping newsletter. I sense Wayne about to appear in the doorway of the writing room again, hungry, wondering if I really am going to make anything for dinner.
I hear him scuffing across the carpet moments before his head, or more accurately the top third of his head pokes sideways into view: hair, forehead, eyes, and two ends of a fluorescent green rubber gear tie poking out Shrek style above his ears. “Should I put some rice into the rice cooker?” he asks.
All my biryani recipes say to cook the rice partway on the stove and then bake the dish with all the tasty flavors which have been separately cooked. I wrinkle my nose, but I have to admit that something needs to be done to expedite dinner. I change plans to quick and dirty mode: crude and inelegant, but workable, hopefully.
I am creating a table on my Cloud Nine Hooping webpage when the top third of Wayne’s head reappears. “Should I cut up some veggies?” He asks. We brainstorm which ones. A little later I hear tapping at the window. Before this room was a writing room it was a screened in porch, and before that (before I bought the house) it was just an outside deck. So behind me and over my right shoulder is a window leading into our kitchen and in the window Wayne is holding up a gigantic clove of garlic to ask if I really want to use the whole thing. I shrug and nod, sure. I’m thinking, who knows what this is going to taste like but a whole lot of garlic has got to help.
By the time I hit send on my newsletter, the kitchen is magically clean, the rice has finished cooking and a series of bowls of ingredients has materialized on the kitchen counter next to a large fry pan. It’s kind of like having my own sous chef, I think to myself, pulling out a few additional ingredients and finally beginning the actual dinner-making process.
As we serve ourselves the fragrant rice dish, I survey the kitchen and am reminded of a cartoon in this week’s New Yorker by Carolita Johnson.
The man leaning against a kitchen counter is surrounded by a genuine kitchsplosion. This is familiar: dishes overflow the sink. Pots, pans, blenders, mixing bowls, and utensils are piled up on every visible surface. A splat of something drips off a cabinet. Poor Wayne, I think. Well, at least I feel a little bad when I leave him a kitchsplosion to clean up.
My quick and dirty biryani turns out delicious, though, and the only thing missing is the fresh mint leaves which I forgot to buy. Afterward, I slip into the writing room to write this post. From the other side of the window I can hear the gentle clang of clean dishes being unloaded from the dishwasher and dirty ones going in.
Quick and Dirty Vegetable Biryani
Recipe Note: This version of biryani uses only ingredients I can find in my regular supermarket–nothing that requires a trip to the Asian Market, not even the spices. If you want to pare this down further, to my taste, the key spices are cumin, fennel, cinnamon, and garam masala with the additional flavors garlic, ginger, cashew and raisins. If you use the whole cardomom, you might want to fish them out before serving. It’s kind of surprising and pungent to find oneself chewing on a pod.
- 2 cups uncooked basmati rice (I used brown) cooked according to package directions
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 4 pods cardomom
- 1 medium or two small onions, sliced
- 2 carrots, sliced into disks
- 2 ribs celery, cut into moons
- 1 summer squash
- 1/2 bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 TBS minced fresh ginger
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground corriander
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek style)
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews
- salt to taste
- fresh mint leaves for garnish
- While the rice is cooking (or finishing cooking), add a small pool of cooking oil to a pan and heat the cumin, fennel, and cardomom until they are fragrant.
- Add the onions and cook until they get soft and begin to get a nice char.
- Toss in the other vegetables and cook until they begin to soften and brown at the edges.
- Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
- Pour in your canned tomatoes and all the spices. Stir and allow the mixture to begin to bubble. Add the yogurt, raisins and cashews and continue to stir until it is all well incorporated and the raisins and cashews have softened a bit. You want the veggie mixture to have a thick sauce so you may want to add more yogurt.
- Salt and taste.
- Put half the cooked rice into a big bowl and then spoon half the veggie mixture on top. Stir well to coat. Dump the rest of the rice on top and scrape the remaining veggie mixture from the pan on top again. Stir again until all the rice has a beautiful yellow-orange-brown hue.
- Garnish individual servings with mint leaves. If you want to get fancy, you can press the biryani firmly into a serving size bowl, place a plate atop the bowl and keeping the plate contacting the bowl, flip and carefully remove the bowl to create a molded serving of biryani.