Biryani: Its History & Variants

Biryani is a perfect mix of spices (chillies, mace, saffron, and cardamom etc), basmati rice, onions, lemon, meat (chicken, lamb or goat) etc. This dish is special as it is prepared in an intricate way. Meat is marinated for 10-12 hours and then it is soaked in yoghurt and sandwiched between rice and is cooked in a handi and is cooked on wood/charcoal. The perfectly cooked meat is irresistible and has good taste, fragrance.

Restaurants usually serve the dish with flavored yoghurt, salads and chilli sauce, thus making it a complete meal and a great value for money. For the vegans, there is a veg pulao version available which is loved by all.

Although it looks like the dish originated in India, but the fact is that it originated from very far away. Biriyani is derived from Persian word Birian, which means ‘fried before cooking’ and Birinj, which is a Persian word for rice. It is believed that biryani originated in West Asia.

It is believed that the Turk-Mongol conqueror, Timur, brought biryani to India in 1398. The dish, which is believed to be the war campaign diet of Timur’s army, an earthen pot which is full of rice, spices and any meats which were available would be buried in hot pit before being dug up and served to warriors.

According to another legend, the dish was brought to southern Malabar coast by Arab traders who visited there frequently. According to records of Tamil literature, a rice dish called Oon Soru. Oon Soru was prepared with rice, meat, ghee, coriander, pepper, turmeric and bay leaf. It was used to feed military warriors.

The most popular story of biryani traces its origin to Mumtaz Mahal, who was the beautiful queen of Shah Jahan and inspired Taj Mahal.

According to legend, Mumtaz once visited the barracks of army and found that the Mughal soldiers were weak and undernourished. She asked the chef to prepare a special dish that contained meat and rice, thus providing balanced nutrition to soldiers. The resulting dish was biryani. At that time, rice was fried in ghee, thus giving it a nutty flavour. Before cooking, meat, spices and saffron were added to it.

Biryani was also given promotion by the Nizams of Hyderabad and Lucknowi Nawabs. Throughout the world, their chefs were known for their signature dishes. These rulers had their own versions of biryani.

A perfect biryani contains a lot of ingredients. Biryani was traditionally prepared with dum pukht method(slow breathing oven). In this method, the ingredients are loaded in a pot and slow cooked on charcoal. The edges of pot are sealed around edges. This allows the steaming meat to tenderise and also flavours the rice.

Spices also play a major role in making good biryani. Some recipes use limited spices while others use more than 15 spices. The main ingredient is often meat or chicken. In some coastal varieties, crabs, prawns and fishes are also used. Some other commonly used ingredients include rose water, kewra and sweet edible ittar.

Biryani was traditionally prepared with long grain brown rice in the north. Today, it has been replaced by fragrant basmati rice. In the south, the biryanis are prepared with different kinds of rice like kaima, zeera samba, kaala bhaat and jeerakashala that give a distinct texture, taste and aroma to it.

There are 2 kinds of biryani, the kutchi biryani and pukki biryani. In kutchi biryani, the meat is mixed with raw rice in handi and cooked. If we consider pukki biryani, cooked meat and rice are layered in handi, thus giving it great flavours.

Some great variants of biryani include: –

  • Mughlai Biryani

The Mughal Emperors were fond of great dining and cooking was an art for them. Mughlai Biryani is a perfect dish that is prepared with delicious chunks of spiced meat that is kept in kewra scented rice. Due to its smell, you become instantly hungry.

  • Hyderabadi Biryani

This famous biryani came into being when Niza-Ul-Mulk was appointed by Emperor Aurangzeb as the ruler of Hyderabad. Almost 50 different versions were created by his chefs. These versions used quail, deer, shrimp, fish and hare meat. Most other biryanis are filled with flavoured meat. While, Hyderabadi biryani is filled with aromatic saffron.

  • Calcutta Biryani

The legendary gourmet Nawab Wajid Ali Shah tried to recreate his beloved dish in Calcutta. Due to budget constraints, the recipe was given a tweak by local cooks and they replaced meat with perfectly cooked potatoes. The dish, which has very low spices uses yogurt-based marinade which is cooked separately. Like most Bengali dishes, Calcutta biryani is sweet in taste.

  • Lucknowi Biryani

The dish, which is cooked in royal Awadhi style has softer textures and milder spices. The first step involves making yakhni from meat that is boiled slowly and is filled with spices for 2 hours or more. This makes the biryani more tender, moist and delicately flavored.

  • Tahari Biryani

Tahari biryani is usually cooked without meat. Rice is usually cooked with different vegetables in handi. Potatoes and carrots are the most used vegetables of India. According to legend, this biryani was created in Mysore when Tipu Sultan hired vegetarian Hindus as bookkeepers. Thus, a vegetarian version of this cult dish came into being. Tahari is also a very popular street food of Kashmir.

The Origin and Cooking Techniques of Awadhi Cuisine

The origin land for Awadhi Cuisine or Lucknowi Cuisine is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and its nearby places. In the early stages, the British termed Awadh as “oudh” which was derived from “Ayodhya”, a region in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This region was ruled by many rulers but the history was made during the reign of “Nawab of Awadh“. Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula was the first known ruler of Lucknow who began to change the city into a city of culture and enhance its cuisine. During his time is when they had gastronome of cuisine and many cooks began to arrive. During those days the experience cooks who cooked food for big gatherings in large quantities called “Bawarchis” who were brilliant at what they do. At that time lots of competition has happened where cooks used to compete with each other to show their culinary skills by providing with a wide variety of food to please their Masters (Daroga-e-Bawarchikhana).

It takes an Awadhi chef a long time to properly understand how to correctly use spices, how to select, toast and blend the spices together to create a proper flavour. It is much harder than it sounds. There are easily fifty spices used regularly, but in total it’s more than 150. The most common are Hing, Liquorice, Black Peppercorn, clove, Caraway Seeds, Cumin, Coriander, Chilies, Fenugreek, cinnamon, saffron, green cardamom, and mace.

‘Dastarkhwan’ is where people sit around and enjoy the food prepared by the bawarchis. This is the place dining spread is laid ceremonially. It is said that the richness of Awadh cuisine not only lies in the variety but the type of ingredient used to make the dish.

Some of their authentic cooking techniques include:

  1. Baghar:

    Baghar is a method of tempering a dish with spices in hot oil or ghee when making any curry dish. Tempering is done before the curry is made or before any dal preparation with the help of a ladle at last to give a finishing taste.

  2. Dhungar/ Dhunger:

    A smoking procedure used to flavor meat dishes, dals, and rice. A live coal is placed in the center of a betel leaf or shallow onion peel and placed along with the other ingredients to smoke it.

  3. Dum Dena:

    Dum means breathe, the process is done by cooking in a sealed large pot, wherein a semi-cooked ingredient is placed in a vessel which is cooked over slow charcoal fire. One of the famous dish cooked by this process is Biryani or Dum Pukht Biryani.

  4. Galavat/ Galawat:

    The process of adding softening agents to meat in order to tenderize it. One such preparation is Galavati Kebab. Papain, Kalmi Shora are few softening agents which are used in this process.

  5. Ghee Durust Karna:

    This is the process of removing the raw flavor from the ghee or oil so that it does not overpower the flavor and aroma of the dish. The ghee is reduced after adding the kevra water and cardamom and then stored after straining it for further use.

  6. Loab:

    It is a term used to refer a final stage of cooking when the oil used in the cooking rises at the surface and floats on the top giving a finished appearance to the dish. Roganjosh is one such preparation in which oil floats at the top after the dish is done.

  7. Moin:

    The process of shortening a dough by kneading the flour with fat. This makes the final product crisp and flaky. This process is used to make parathas and pooris.

  8. Gile Hikmat:

    A Persian influenced method where the whole meat is stuffed with nuts and spices and wrapped using a banana leaf, covered with a clay and buried deep about 4-6 inches deep, a slow fire is then placed on top for cooking. It is cooked for about 6-7 hours.

  9. Ittr:

    Using perfume in many dishes is the key factor in Lucknowi cuisine, mainly they use perfume taken from the musk deer.

The Lucknow dastarkhwan would not be complete unless it had the following dishes:

  1. Qorma (braised meat in thick gravy)

  2. Salan (a gravy dish of meat or vegetable)

  3. Qeema (minced meat)

  4. Kababs (pounded meat fried or roasted over a charcoal fire)

  5. Bhujia (cooked vegetables),

  6. Pasinda (fried slivers of very tender meat in gravy)

  7. Gullati (rice pudding)

  8. Kheer (milk sweetened and boiled with whole rice to a thick consistency)

  9. Sheer khurma (a rich, sweet rice dish boiled in milk)

  10. Muzaffar (vermicelli fried in ghee and garnished with saffron)

As we dig deep into the Lucknowi Cuisine we discover the Characteristic taste and flavors of this region, this will make you recreate the authentic flavors of the Awadhi cuisine at your kitchen. It is often said that Awadhi cuisine is Mughlai cuisine but it is not, Awadhi cuisine may have a slight influence from Mughal but both the cuisine varies. Awadhi cuisine is one of the old & richest cuisines of India has now become limited in a small region.

History of Authentic Mughlai Recipes | India Canteen

In the 16th century, Mughlai recipes originated in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Emperor Babur. Authentic Mughlai recipes were rich and cooked with aromatic spices, nuts, and dry fruits during that time in Indian history. The flavors of Mughlai can range from mild to spicy and are associated with their distinct aroma and use of whole, dried and ground spices.

Evolution & Distinct Features:

The autobiography of Babur named ‘Babarnama’ mention about various Mughlai recipe items including Kebab prepared out of sheep. Authentic Mughlai recipes have an extreme influence on the culinary styles and regional cuisines of present-day India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and its cooking style are applied in traditional Indian Cuisine, particularly in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as also in the South Indian city of Hyderabad. The cuisine also marks its influence in Karachi (Pakistan), especially among Muhajir who migrated from different regions of India during the Partition of India and Pakistan. The Mughal cooking techniques also had a deep influence in the Awadh region which eventually led to the development of the Awadhi cuisine of Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).

The Mughals were Muslims by religion and thus did not eat pork and as Hindus did not consume beef thus meat of these two was not a part of Mughlai cuisine. The primary non-vegetarian dishes would comprise of meat of goat, sheep, and venison. The most special feature of Mughlai cuisine is the unique use of ground and whole spices and the remarkable aroma that gives each dish a different and exotic taste. Extensive use of dairy products like milk, cream, and butter in various gravies and curries makes the traditional Mughlai cuisines quite rich and heavy and also make the dishes mouth-watering with foodies ending up licking their fingers.

Making of Indian Mughlai Food

The making of Mughlai food is likely time-consuming and involves a number of flavored sauces and butter based curries. Nowadays most Indian restaurants convert Mughlai dishes as mild to medium-hot cream and nut-based gravies, rice dishes with lots of nuts, dried fruits, and rich creamy desserts where you should expect spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. These famous Mughlai gravies pair well with rice and bread.

The Mughlai dishes vary with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, common dishes that feature traditional Mughlai flavors include biryani, kebabs, kofta (meatballs), pulao (or pilaf), and different tandoori items. Examples of these traditional dishes include Mughlai chicken, Mughlai biryani, Mughlai paratha, malai kofta, reshmi kebab, kadhai gosht, and murg tandoor. A wide range of traditional Mughlai sweet dishes like bread pudding shahi tukra, barfi, kalakand, and falooda.

Let us have a quick look at some of the most famous recipes:-

Popular Mughlai Dishes:

Biryani:

Biryani is a mixed rice made with aromatic spices and seasonings among other ingredients and prepared with great accuracy giving it a yummy and exotic taste. There are two major categories of Biryani like vegetarian and non-vegetarian that vary in ingredients used according to different regions they belong to or according to the meat used. Hyderabadi Biryani is the most famous variety of Biryani, also a signature dish of the Hyderabadi Muslims. The vegetarian biryani is also called Tehari. It was developed so that the Hindu who works for the Muslim Sultans can taste this rice delicacy.

Haleem:


Haleem also known as Khichra is a very famous casserole prepared with wheat, barley, lentils, rich spices, rice, and meat. This dish is cooked very slowly that takes up to seven to eight hours and ensures a fine blend of all the ingredients to give it a perfect paste-like consistency. This dish is a street food and occupies a special place across the globe during the months of Ramadan and Muharram.

Mughlai Paratha:

Mughlai Paratha is prepared with whole-wheat flour stuffed with a mix of ingredients including keema or minced meat, eggs, chopped onions, green chili and pepper among others. This bread delicacy remained among many Mughlai cuisines that made their way to the undivided Bengal and today counts among the most popular heavy snacks items of Kolkata, India as well as in Bangladesh.

Murg Musallam:


Murg Musallam is one of the most exquisite Mughlai dishes that according to sources was a favorite dish of the Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq of Delhi at that time and also remained popular among the royal Awadhi Mughal families. The dish comprises of a whole chicken prepared with different spices and seasonings with the main ingredients like egg, tomato, ginger, and onion.

Navratan Korma:


Navratan Korma is a vegetarian delicacy from the Mughal kitchen, a vegetarian korma that is prepared out of vegetables, nuts, and paneer. Navratan means nine gems and this dish is usually prepared out of nine different vegetables.

Kebabs:

The origin of the variety of Indian Kebabs that are usually eaten as snacks or starters trace back to the Mughalai cuisine that includes appetizing dishes like Boti Kabab and Reshmi Kebab. Traditionally each of these dishes based on grilled meat has a distinct set of ingredients including an exclusive combination of spices and unique cooking procedures. With time, cooking procedures including grilling and roasting developed in preparing varied forms of kebabs, some of the popular ones being shish kebab, shammi kebab, doner kebab, Tunde ke kebab, and tikka kebab.

Rogan Josh:


Rogan Josh is originally a Persian lamb dish that was brought to Kashmir, India by the Mughals and has now become one of the staples of Kashmiri cuisine. Traditionally it is a gravy dish comprising of braised lamb chunks prepared with browned onions, ginger, garlic, and yogurt and seasoned with spices like clove, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.

Pasanda:

Another delicacy from the royal Mughal kitchen is Pasanda, the name of which is probably derived from the Urdu word ‘pasande’ which means favorite. It is traditionally a rich lamb curry made of lamb legs that are flattened into strips and marinated with ingredients like chili powder, yogurt and a combination of spices for hours. The marinated lamb legs are then fried with other ingredients like onions, coriander, and chilies among others.

Sweet Dishes/Desserts:

Kulfi:


Kulfi is a popular frozen dairy-based dessert that probably originated in the 16th century during the Mughal Empire. The term Kulfi is derived from a Persian word which means a covered cup. It is a mixture of thickened milk seasoned with saffron and pistachios that is frozen in a metal cone and later served with falooda, a kind of noodles prepared from starch, and garnished with pistachio nuts, saffron and ground cardamom.

Sheer Khurma/Korma:


It is a very popular Muslim vermicelli pudding that is prepared during festivals like Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The main ingredients of this dish, the name of which literally means milk with dates, are whole milk, vermicelli, dates, and sugar, while rose water, almonds, raisins, pistachios, saffron, cloves, and cardamom are added depending on the choice of the region.

Firni:

Firni is a kind of rice pudding that is set and served in a shallow earthen dish. This rice-based sweet is garnished with saffron, pistachios and chopped almonds.

Shahi Tukra:

Shahi Tukra is a rice bread pudding that is especially prepared during Muslim festivals like Eid and on the month of Ramadan. The ingredient of this delicious dessert includes bread, dry fruits, and condensed milk and is seasoned with cardamom.