The perfect ending to a Sumptuous meal

As a child, I could never fully understand my selective liking for sweets and for Indian sweets in particular. For a very long time the only sweet dishes I loved were – caramel custard and bread butter pudding. An occasional piece of Gulab Jamun or Jalebi was ok too.

I never gorged on chocolates, cookies, muffins, cakes and I used to turn my face away even at the sight of milk based sweets… All this made no sense.

Over a period of time, I accepted milk in my diet in all its forms. I also gradually developed liking for chocolates (limited mostly to bitter chocolates). The range of sweets I liked widened but I remained choosy.

It is very recently that I figured out the real reason for my sweet aversion.

We Indians have this strange affinity for Cardamom. We add cardamom to almost every sweet dish we cook. So much so that at some point all the dishes smell alike and taste almost the same. This was the reason for my sweet intolerance – Cardamom.

This revelation changed my perspective towards eating and cooking sweets in a big way. I try to retain the fundamental taste or essence of the dish I am making.

The recipe I am going to share today is one such Indian dessert that has a distinct taste of its own. My favourite – Firni.

It’s a pudding like rice based preparation. Tastes best when made using finest quality Basmati rice.  In fact I would suggest if Basmati rice is not available, don’t make it.

 

Ingredients;

 1 cup Basmati rice (at least a year old)

3 cups milk (don’t use skimmed / slim milk)

1 cup sugar (can reduce or increase the quantity as per your desired level of sweetness. I recommend not making it too sweet.)

A few strands of saffron

Some water (keep it handy, use it in case needed)

Rose water

 

Coarsely ground rice

Coarsely ground rice

Saffron strands soaked in water

Saffron strands soaked in water

 

Procedure;

  1. Soak rice in water for 45 to 60 mins.
  2. In a separate small bowl soak strands of saffron in water. Many soak saffron in milk. It is my personal experience that the colour and fragrance of saffron comes out better when soaked in water.
  3. Spread the soaked rice on a kitchen towel so that excess water is absorbed. Leave it to dry for 15 mins. Grind the rice coarsely while it is still moist.
  4. In a bowl, bring milk to boil on a low flame. Add the coarse ground rice and keep stirring on a low flame. The milk will start to thicken.
  5. Add sugar. Keep stirring. If the mixture is very thick at this point, don’t add water yet. Sugar when cooked has a tendency to release water. Wait for it.
  6. Add the saffron water along with the strands.
  7. Keep stirring the mixture till the rice is fully cooked. If the mixture gets too dense and the rice is not yet fully cooked, then add a bit of water (quarter cup at a time).
  8. 8.       Lastly, once the rice is cooked add a drop of rose water (Just a drop. don’t go overboard with it, excess of rose fragrance will kill the dish)
  9. Take the mixture out in a serving bowl. Let it cool down to the room temperature and then refrigerate.
  10. Serve it cold.

 

Firni - refrigerated and served

Firni – refrigerated and served

Who does Biryani belong to?

No one knows for sure. If you dissect the recipe to understand its roots, you will be misled.

The spicy richness of Biryani points its origin to Northern part of India. This part of India is known for its wheat consumption and a delicacy with Rice at its heart Rice cannot possibly belong to North India. Also, the place famous for its Biryanis is down south… Hyderabad.

I would like to believe Mogul invaders (or may be Persians as the word “Biryani” is derived from some Persian word) brought Biryani to India along with the other culinary treasures.

There are two methods of cooking Biryani. ‘Kaccha Biryani’ where meat and rice both in their row form is cooked together. The other one is ‘Pucca Biryani’ where meat and rice are cooked separately and then steamed together.

I cook Biryani by the ‘Pucca’ method.

Ingredients

500 grams of chicken with bones

300 grams of long grained Basmati rice

5 large onions (preferably Red onions)

4 tbsp of oil

2 tbsp of ghee (purified butter)

3 tsp garam masala (ingredients and method covered below)

3 tsp red chilli powder

Marinate (ingredients and method covered below)

1 tsp of saffron

½ cup split cashews

Asafoetida – a pinch

The entire recipe is broken into multiple steps. Always marinate chicken and soak rice first. You can shuffle the order for the rest as convenient.

Step A:  Marinate Chicken

½ tbsp green chilli paste

½ tbsp. ginger garlic paste

½ tsp of turmeric powder

Salt to taste

2 tbsp fresh thick curd

  1. Wash and clean chicken pieces and add them to a large bowl.
  2. Add marinate and mix well.
  3. Cover with a lid or cling film and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Step B:  Soak Rice

  1. Soak rice in water for 2 hours. It is ok if you end up adding lot of water to rice at this stage. We are going to drain the excess water before cooking.

Step C:  Onion Paste

  1. Cut onions into thick slices. Add 1 tbsp of oil in a small pan and shallow fry the onions till dark brown (little more than golden brown). Keep switching from medium to low flame as needed. Be careful not to burn the onions.
  2. Let the onions cool. Then grind to a fine paste.

Step D:  Garam Masala Powder.

2 tsp Cumin seeds

2 bay leaf

5-6 cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

2 large cardamoms without seeds

  1. Lightly roast all the ingredients either together or individually on a low flame (without oil). Approximately for about a minute.
  2. Let it cool and then grind into a fine powder.

Step E:  Ready Garnish

  • Take a cup full of water and add few strands of Saffron to it. Saffron gives better colour if soaked in water. Leave it for an hour.
  • Finely slice one large onion. Deep fry and keep it ready for garnish.
  • Deep fry cashews till they turn brown and keep aside for garnish.

Step F:  Cook chicken.

  1. Heat oil (all 4 tbsp) in a cooking vessel. Once the oil heats up add 1 bay leaf and a pinch of asafoetida.
  2. Add marinated chicken to the oil. Mix well. Cover with a lid and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Open the lid; stir chicken a bit to avoid burning. Cover with the lid again and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add onion paster, garam masala, chilli powder and salt (if needed) and mix well.
  5. Cover with lid and let it cook for 4-5 mins. Keep checking at regular intervals.
  6. As chicken starts to cook, it initially releases water. Slowly chicken cooks in its own juices and the water dries out. Avoid adding water.
  7. Chicken will take approximately 20-30 minutes to cook.
  8. Make sure that the gravy is thick and oily. After the chicken is cooked fully, if you feel that the gravy is watery, remove the lid and let all the excess water burn.

 

Step G:  Cook rice

  1. Drain excess water from the soaked rice.
  2. Add Ghee to a cooking bowl. Ghee has a very low smoking (cooking) point (almost same as butter) make sure you have all your ingredients handy before you start heating ghee.
  3. Add 1 bay leaf. Add rice. Add water in the same quantity as rice.
  4. Cover with lid and let the rice cook. Rice will cook very fast as we have soaked it.
  5. We are going to half cook the rice. It will take around 3-4 minutes.
  6. Once the rice is half cooked. Let it cool. Don’t cover it else the grains will stick together.

The final step: Layering

  1. In a thick bottomed vessel or Handi, add a layer of half the quantity of rice and a sprinkle few spoons of saffron water on the top.
  2. The second layer will be of chicken. Add all the chicken on the top of rice layer.
  3. The final layer is of rice again. Layer the remaining rice on the top of the chicken. Sprinkle remaining saffron water with strands on the rice.
  4. Garnish the top layer with fried onions and cashews.
  5. Cover with a lid and let it cook on a very low flame for 10 minutes.

You can mix all the layers before serving. Serve with some sliced onions tempered with salt and pepper and a lemon wedge. Yummy !

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