Friday, February 11, 2011

Qorma Biryani of Lucknow

My husband's mother's family is from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. This city was a seat of North Indian Muslim culture and the Urdu language, and this is a great source of pride to my mother-in-law. Qorma biriani is the preferred type of biriani in their family home. Qorma biriani is not particularly spicy. Its virtue comes from the richness of the ingredients, the warmth of the garam masalas, and the savory red-brown fried onions. The toasted ground white poppy seed, or *khashkhaash (khaskhas in Hindi), and the mace and nutmeg are also characteristic seasonings of Lucknavi cuisine.

The onions give a lot of flavor, but be light handed with them in layering with the biryani rice. You don't want an overpowering fried onion flavor hiding the delicious yet delicate qorma flavor. Traditionally, only the highest quality Dehra Doon basmati rice would be used, so you must use the best basmati rice you can find. I like Tilda as well as India Gate brand.

*If you are not familiar with white poppy seed, here is how to use it. Purchase it at your local Indo-Pak market. Black poppy seed is NOT an acceptable substitute. Heat a pan to medium-high, pour in white poppy seeds and toast until they become a darker color and you can smell their roasted nutty fragrance. Once toasted, set on a plate and allow to cool. When cool, grind to a smooth paste (it will be very slightly gritty) in your spice grinder. Store in the freezer, as it goes rancid like nuts. I grind in small amounts and keep mine in a ziplock baggy in the freezer.

The Qorma

¼ cup oil
1.5 lbs bone-in mutton pieces in 1-2 inch chunks, ribs and shin meat best
2 medium onions finely sliced, brown fried, and crush half of them, keep the other half uncrushed
6 green cardamoms, husk popped open by pressing with knife
2 black cardamoms (bari elaichi)
2 bay leaves (tez patta)
1 piece of cinnamon bark, about 2 inches long
1 tsp garlic paste
1 cup yoghurt with ½ tsp garam masala , 1 tsp red chile powder, and 1 tbs ginger paste whipped in
12 skinless raw almonds  soaking in warm water to just cover
1 tbs toasted ground white poppy seed
1 cup water
¼ tsp mace powder (jaavitri)
¼ tsp nutmeg powder (jaiphal)
1/4 tsp freshly ground green cardamom powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp salt or to taste

The Rice
½ tsp kewra jal (pandanus flower water)
¼ tsp  orange food coloring powder (biriani rangi) soaked in ½ cup milk 
3 cups raw rice parboiled with a few green cardamoms (see here for method)
3 tbs butter or ghee

Garnish: mint leaves, some extra fried onions


Have crushed, fried onions on hand.  Grind soaking almonds with their water to make a paste.

Heat oil and add in whole spices for a minute. Add in meat and brown well, add in garlic paste and allow to turn golden, lower flame add in yoghurt mixture, stir to mix well on low heat (to avoid curdling yoghurt) when oil rises above yoghurt, turn up heat and stir in white poppy seed and, mix well. Stir in one cup water and salt. Bring to boil, lower heat , and cook for 1.5 hours until mutton is tender  and falling off bone. Stir occasionally. Add a tiny bit of water if necessary, but you want a fairly dry clinging gravy at the end, so don’t add too much water. If you have too much liquid at the end of cooking, turn up the heat for a few minutes to boil out any excess water. Finally, stir in the crushed brown fried onions, and all of the additional powdered spices, and ground almond paste. Keep covered on a very low flame for five more minutes. Set aside.

Have the uncrushed fried onions on-hand for layering.

To see a more detailed explanation of how to layer biryani, look here at my Sindhi biryani recipe.

Have your parboiled rice ready. In a deep pot, put in some ghee/butter and then a layer of biriani gravy. Add a layer of parboiled rice, then top with a sprinkle of fried onions and ghee/butter, another layer of qorma, another layer of rice, ghee, and fried onions. On the final layer of rice, pour your orange milk in one small spot on the rice. Sprinkle with kewra jal. Put the pot on a high flame, covered for 3 minutes to get the steam going. Then lower heat and cook 20 minutes until rice is done. Allow to rest, then mix and serve on a platter garnished with mint leaves and a bit more fried onion.

Serve with lime wedges and plain yoghurt, not a raita.