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Archive for the ‘rice’ Category

Shrimp Biryani

I love Indian food, but I don’t make it often. Many dishes that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere, or that look very attractive in cookbooks, need ingredients that I’d rarely use, which wouldn’t stay fresh in my pantry. But I’m always happy to come across Indian recipes I can make from the regular items in my refrigerator and on my spice shelves.

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A good one was this Shrimp Biryani, which I made this week from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. The recipe requires basmati rice, which is a little exotic for me, but I had some on hand from previous experiments. And I had half a pound of shrimp in the freezer, which was the right quantity for half the recipe.

I’ve finally worked out an easy way to give basmati rice the many rinses recommended for it. I used to pour the rice repeatedly back and forth between a bowl of water and a strainer – always having to chase down and scrape up left-behind rice grains. Now I put the rice in the strainer, lower it into the water, swirl the rice around, lift out the strainer, refill the water bowl, and repeat until the water runs clear.
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While my cup of rice was having its 30-minute soak, still in its strainer, I peeled my defrosted shrimp; halved them, and sprinkled them with ground cumin, turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and crushed garlic.
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I rubbed all those seasonings into the shrimp, then sauteed them in olive oil for barely two minutes. With a slotted spoon I transferred them to a bowl and stirred in lemon juice and chopped parsley. The herb should have been cilantro, but the recipe allows parsley as an alternative. I’m very fond of cilantro, but the big bunches that I have to buy are hard to use up before they wilt, and unlike parsley, cilantro doesn’t freeze well.
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Back at the stove, I deglazed the shrimp’s cooking pot with 1½ cups of chicken stock; stirred in the drained rice, ½ teaspoon of salt (only a little, since bouillon-cube stock is salty) and 2 whole cardamom pods; brought it to a boil, reduced the heat to very, very low, and covered the pot tightly. After 25 minutes of gentle simmering, the rice had just about absorbed all its liquid. I mixed in the sauteed shrimp, covered the pot again, and continued cooking for just 5 minutes more.
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This turned out to be a huge amount of rice! Basmati is supposed to expand to three times its volume, the same as other kinds of white rice, but mine somehow grew much more. This quantity was to serve two or three persons. After the two of us had happily eaten all we could hold, with only green salad alongside, there was still more than two cups of rice left. (Fortunately, it makes useful leftovers.)

Well, we did start with an appetizer: good Indian fritters. Here’s our plate of five spinach pakoras and four samosas stuffed with potatoes and peas.
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I readily admit that I do not make these myself. I buy them, precooked and frozen, from Kalustyan’s, and reheat them in the oven. This evening we had them with three chutneys – hot mango, sweet mango, and green chili.
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Altogether, a very pleasant dinner. We like to drink Alsace white wines with most Indian dishes, so Tom opened a fine young Riesling: a 2020 Julien Schaal Grand Cru Brand. As he’d hoped, its bright fruit, strong minerality and medium body worked wonderfully with both the fritters and the biryani.
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Many years ago, when I started being interested in Indian cooking, basmati rice intimidated me. The first Indian cookbook I bought had a whole page on preparing it for cooking, then 2½ more pages on cooking it. Were they serious? Picking out foreign particles, washing in 9 waters, soaking 30 minutes? Too much work! I simply used American long-grain rice in Indian recipes and was happy enough with it.

Over time, several things converged: I became a more expansive cook, basmati rice packaging became cleaner, and recipe directions became more relaxed. (Now they typically say to rinse basmati in a few waters, or four waters, or until the water runs clear.) Gradually, I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of basmati’s long, slender, nutty grains.

My newest Indian cookbook is At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. I bought it after my friend Joan, who does a lot of Indian cooking, sent me an email saying, “I love this book. The recipes are homey, relatively simple, pretty foolproof, and delicious enough to serve to guests. (No standing at the stove brown-frying sliced onions for 30 minutes.)”

I can certainly agree about one of the first recipes I’ve made from the book: a pilaf of basmati rice. A half recipe’s worth was lovely in an everyday supper for two. There were only a few other ingredients: sliced onions, slivered almonds, golden raisins, a piece of cinnamon stick, and chicken stock from a bouillon cube.
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Of course, I did have to prepare the rice properly. My latest batch was perfectly clean, but it had a lot of starch that needed to be rinsed away. My system is to put the rice in a sieve, lower it into a bowl of cold water, stir the rice around gently, lift out the sieve, change the water, and repeat as often as necessary.
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That arrangement takes a few more rinses than pouring the rice directly into a lot of water and swirling it around lengthily, but I find the rice in the sieve easier to retrieve.

While my rice was having its 30-minute soak, still in the sieve in the final bowl of water, I began cooking the other ingredients. Here, the onions and the cinnamon stick are sauteeing over fairly high heat in olive oil – which Jaffrey accepts as a substitute for ghee.
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When the onions began to brown, I added the almonds; browned them, added the raisins and then the drained rice. I meant to take a picture of that stage, but I had to move fast just then and couldn’t get to the camera until the chicken broth went into the pot.
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I added just a little salt, because the chicken stock was pretty salty; brought the pot to a boil; covered it tightly; and cooked it undisturbed on the lowest possible simmer for 25 minutes. It was perfectly ready, and fluffed beautifully.
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That started as one cup of rice, which the recipe indicated would serve two or three people. Since rice triples in volume, I knew it would be too much, and it certainly was: It looked ample for four. But I’d planned to make the pilaf the centerpiece of the meal, along with only small leftovers of a braised chicken dish. So we ate as much as we could of the delicious pilaf, and I froze the rest for future enjoyment.

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