Every other Chrismas holiday, we go to India. This year we enjoyed Nia’s first Christmas here, in America.
This has been a snowy winter overall and there was a snow storm a couple of days before the holiday, making it a perfect white Christmas for us. And when Nia was done playing outside in the snow, she was more than happy to help daddy decorate the “Kissmas Tee“.
While they were busy having fun, I was planning the dinner menu. My idea of a holiday dinner was something special but at the same time something stress free; something that could be made ahead of time so that I get to relax and enjoy it but definitely something traditional and something memorable.
Here’s a recap of our holiday dinner…..
Red Wine – Norton Reserva Malbec 2003
Norton Reserva Malbec 2003 is a smooth, medium-bodied red wine. Slightly fruity and earthy in nature, this rustic wine from Argentina is great for pairing with meat and stands up to the spicy Indian cuisine.
Herb Marinated Lamb Chops
I prepared the lamb chops using my own ‘signature‘ recipe presented earlier in one of my posts. They served to be an elegant first course and were a great accompaniment with the velvety, red Malbec.
(Layered Basmati Rice dish with Chicken and Vegetables)
Biryani is a definite party pleaser! Biryani for Indians is like Lasagna for Italians and is usually on the menu for special occassions. This rich and elaborate preparation is made by layering partially cooked basmati rice and vegetables/lamb/chicken/fish in a sauce that is flavored with exotic spices and . The vessel is then covered and sealed on with dough and everything is cooked together on a low flame for a long time.
I love biryanis – veggie, chicken, mutton, shrimp, all of them! I have made several attempts in the past to make biryani the traditional way using dum cooking method (process of slowly cooking partially cooked food in a tightly sealed vessel for a long time) but have failed time and again 🙁 Sometimes the rice and/or meat would be undercooked and then there were some other times when the bottom layer would stick to the bottom of the pot and get badly charred. That would permeate the whole dish with an unpleasing burnt -like taste and smell. Undeterred in my will, I have now figured it all out, by sheer trial and error. The skinny on this is, to fully cook all the different layers seperately (in a single pot!) and assemble them together (in the same pot).
So making my chicken biryani for the holiday dinner was a perfect idea. I took me a little over an hour in the morning of Christmas Eve and all I had to do was to pop it in the oven and finish off just before dinner. That way, by dinner time, the biryani had been sitting for a few hours and all the different flavors mixed and mingled well with each other.
Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Follow this easy recipe and see for yourself how to deconstruct and reconstruct the biryani into a one-pot delicious concoction!
1 lb chicken legs and thighs (this will be about 2 leg-thigh joint pieces that u will find in a packet at wholefoods)
1 cup yogurt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp Everest Chicken Masala (or garam masala)
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
3 cups of basmati rice, wash 2-3 times and soak for about 1/2 hour and drain the water
4.5 cups of water (proportion for this is 1:1.5 rice:water and not 1:2 as usual)
1 tsp oil
1 bay leaf
1-2 green cardamoms (elaichi), whole
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup oil (canola, corn or vegetable)
1 medium onion, sliced
handful of cashews and raisins
1/4 cup milk
1 pinch saffron strands
ghee (clarified butter)
handful cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 bolied eggs, halved (optional)
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 cup canned tomato sauce (= 1 small 8 oz. can of sauce…NOT PASTE)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 tbsp garlic paste)
1 inch ginger, grated (or 1 tbsp ginger paste)
(*I prefer to use the readymade pastes for the marinade and fresh ginger/garlic for the gravy/curry)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin (jeera)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp Everest Biryani Masala (or garam masala + 1-2 cloves, 1-2 cinnamon sticks,1-2 bayleaves, 4-5 peppercorns)
3-4 baby potatoes or 2 medium potatoes, quartered
handful fresh cilantro/coriander, coarsely chopped
Seperate the chicken legs and cut the thighs into smaller pieces. Make slits on them and mix them with all the ingredients for marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight or atleast for 6-8 hours.
Warm milk and soak saffron in it. With a spoon, try to crush the saffron in the milk to give the milk a beautiful yellow color.
Combine all the ingredients for rice and cook the rice seperately in pressure cooker/stove top/microwave or rice cooker.
In the meantime heat the oil in a big non-stick pot (preferably with steel handles. Ultimately you have to put this pot inside the oven) and fry sliced onions for garnishing till brown. Drain on paper towel and set aside. Similarly, fry cashews till light brown and set aside. Lightly fry raisins in the same oil, for a min or so and set aside. Then fry raw potatoes till they get a light brown coating and set aside.
In the same hot oil, add onions, cumin, ginger and garlic and fry till onion is light brown. Add tomato sauce, turmeric, red chilli powder, salt, chopped cilantro and biryani masala. Mix well and saute till oil seperates out of the gravy. Add 1/4 cup water and continue cooking till oil seperates again.
Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
Add the fried potatoes and chicken, along with all the marinade, mix well, cover and cook till chicken is almost cooked, but not completely. Stir occassionally. If there’s a lot of liquid in the gravy, cook on medium high till the gravy is reduced.
Layer the rice over the cooking chicken. Sprinkle saffron milk and some ghee over the rice. Top it with brown onions, cilantro, cashews and raisins.
Cover with aluminium foil and finish cooking in the oven for 25-30 mins.
*If you are preparing biryani ahead of time, complete this last step of cooking it in the oven just before serving.
Mix gently and serve hot with the side of cool raita.
Cucumber, Tomato & Onion Raita
(Yogurt-based Cucumber, Tomato & Onion Salad)
Raita was born to be had with biryani ! This combination, made with cucumber, tomatoes, onions in yogurt, has a super cooling effect after a bite of the hot and spicy biryani. All the veggies are diced and combined with beaten yogurt and tossed with green chillies and cilantro. It is then seasoned with salt and a pinch of sugar. The sugar masks any sourness in the yogurt and the green chillies add a little zing.
Creamy and crunchy, chicken biryani is best enjoyed with this refreshing raita!
1 large or 2 small (Kirby or pickling) cucumbers, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cups beaten yogurt
fresh cilantro/coriander (dhania), finely chopped for garnishing
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
Toss together diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and yogurt. Add green chillies and fresh cilantro, season with salt and sugar and serve chilled.
*Have some carrots in your refrigerator? Go ahead and add shredded carrots to the raita!
(Cake Pudding with Instant Coffee and Walnuts)
Desserts usually get sidelined when I am cooking an elaborate meal. This time, however, I decided to take on the home stretch – my very own cake pudding.
This is a no-stress, no-bake cake pudding that can be whipped up in a matter of few minutes! It is my mom’s ‘signature’ recipe. All she does is pours cold coffee (instant coffee in cold milk) over crumbled cake and garnishes it with walnuts and heavy cream. After sitting in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, the cake soaks up all the coffee and turns into a soft, fluffy, creamy, bitter-sweet pudding. I have added my own twist to my mom’s original recipe by introducing chocolate and alcohol into the mix.
Simple and easy, this rustic pudding is my all time favorite homemade dessert!
2 store-bought or home-made plain pound cakes (or any other sponge or vanilla flavored cake).
If you are in the mood of baking , make your favorite vanilla/sponge/pound cake or even a box of your favorite plain cake mix. Allow cake to cool for 15 minutes before proceeding.
3 cups cold milk (your choice of whole/reduced/low fat/fat free)
6 tbsp instant coffee powder, like Nescafe
½ cup dark rum (Bacardi/ Old Monk)
1-1½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy/light whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate like Ghirardelli Espresso Escape
Break the cakes into small pieces/crumbs by hand into a large bowl.
Add a little water to the instant coffee and mix it to form a thick paste. Add the paste to the cold milk along with the splash of dark rum and mix well making sure there are no coffee lumps in the milk. Pour the mixture over the cake crumbs into the large bowl. Add chopped walnuts and mix gently so that the cake is evenly moistened with the coffee-milk mixture and the walnuts are evenly spread throughout the mixture.
Lay the moist coffee-cake mixture into a deep glass dish or triffle glass bowl.
In another bowl, beat the cream with a hand mixer or electric whisk. When it starts to thicken, add the vanilla extract and sugar and continue to beat until firm, about 5 mins on high speed setting. Spread the whipped cream on top of the cake.
With a vegetable peeler, peel the chocolate bar to create chocolate shavings. Decorate the pudding with a generous layer of chocolate shavings on top.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.