It is snowing here and we are deep into Winter, “the season that refuses to be ignored,” as so eloquently put by Jerry Apps. He is a great storyteller and in his PBS documentary, A Farm Winter, he remembers fondly the warmth he experienced coming home from school to a simmering pot of homemade soup. I love the image and I know first hand that food and their aromas can conjure up vivid memories of times pasts. It doesn’t matter what food it is but if made with love it exudes a warm and cozy comfort.
Seeking comfort on a recent cold day coupled with the need to use leftover turkey, I made this rice dish that was both deliciously satisfying and helped make the weather feel less severe. It can be made with chicken, turkey, goat, or lamb, either fresh or leftover. It is also often served vegetarian using vegetables and possibly fish. Although this is not a dish I experienced as a child, it is a serious comfort food and one you might want to incorporate into your repertoire. Biryani (beer-YAH-nee) is a rice based dish popular in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and surrounding countries. Although there are many variations it is basically a mixture of rice, herbs, spices and other ingredients such as vegetables and/or meat or fish. Each country has its own version and method of cooking, either cooking in layers or mixed all together. I have come up with a simple preparation that comes together to form a composed dish with many layers of flavor and texture.
Here’s how it goes down.
CHICKENBIRYANI Makes 6 servings Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
1 ½ c basmati rice
2T ghee or unsalted butter
I medium yellow onion, quartered and sliced thin
1 bay leaf
¼ t ground cardamom
¼ t ground cinnamon
¾ t turmeric
¾ t sea salt
4 boneless, skinless thighs or breasts (about 1 ¾ lb.), cut into small pieces
(or use leftover turkey, chicken, lamb or add another vegetable and make it vegetarian)
5T mild curry paste
½ c currants or golden raisins
3c chicken stock
¾ c frozen or fresh blanched peas
½ c fresh cilantro, chopped, divided in half
½ c slivered almonds, toasted, divided in half (sliced almonds could also be used)
- Soak rice in warm water for 10 minutes, then rinse in cold water until water runs clear, drain well.
- Heat ghee or butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan or pot with tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and bay leaf and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and chicken (if raw, otherwise wait until step 4) and curry paste and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the rice currants or raisins and stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 15-20 or until chicken is cooked through and much of the liquid is absorbed. Uncover, (if using leftover precooked meats, add it at this stage) and cook, stirring until liquid is gone, about 5 minutes.
- Turn off heat, scatter the peas just over the top, replace lid and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the peas, ¼ c of the almonds and ¼ c of the chopped cilantro. Top with remaining almonds and cilantro. Serve hot.
The sweetness of the currants or raisins, the crunch and nuttiness of the toasted almonds, the subtle heat of the curry paste and the softness of the rice and veggies make this a an incomparable mouth celebration. My husband’s comment was, “every bite gives you a new experience.” This is so true and each experience is pure delight. As I mentioned this is a great way to use leftovers and I provided a guideline for cooking whether you are using raw or cooked ingredients.
Remember comfort in the eyes of the beholder so make this recipe your own, add your special love and you will be serving a great big delicious hug. I will leave you with this thought written so nicely by Judy Rogers in her book, The Zuni Café Cookbook, “Recipes do not make food taste good, people do.”
Until next time, stay warm and keep spreading the love and comfort, one dish at a time. From my kitchen to yours, Queen Jeanne.