Friday, November 4, 2011

Recipe: Hyderabad (Goat) Biryani & Onion Raita

I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation. – George Bernard Shaw

East meets west: Alexander the great attacking Darius II. Photo: Cåsver, Flickr ccl
I always do a little background work before I post anything on my site. I want to give you some interesting information and my main requirement is that my info is a correct as I can discern.

This post confused me. I have made biryani many times and thought I was straight on how to do it, but a quick check in Wikipedia confused me greatly. I think that they’re wrong – or at least not “completely informed.”

The confusion arose from their definition of biryani. They state that the meat and rice are cooked separately. I have never done that and have never encountered a biryani recipe that calls for that. The confusion arose even more when I looked at the entry for pilaf. In a nut shell, their definition was rice cooked in a spiced stock, after you had cooked the meat for another use (like biryani?).

From Wikipedia:
The difference between biryani and pullao (pilaf) is that while pullao may be made by cooking the items together, biryani is used to denote a dish where the rice (plain or fried) is cooked separately from the thick sauce (curry of meat or vegetables). The curry and the rice are then brought together and layered, resulting in a dish of the contrasting flavors of flavored rice (which is cooked separate with spices) and intensely flavored sauce and meat or vegetables.

To me that definitely sounds like the two are cooked separately. I also take issue with biryani having a thick sauce. I've never heard of that. Biryani is cooked in liquid that is absorbed by the rice...

Even the Great Wiki is confused on the matter of cooking separately or together. When you look up Hyderabad Biryani it says the opposite: the meat and rice are cooked together. Go figure… Who cares as long as it tastes good! (One must remember that Wiki is the "communal consciousness" encyclopedia. I could write in that goats have seven horns and it stays until someone corrects it.)

Let’s talk about some indisputable facts.

This is goat shoulder, whole and cut up. Don't be put off
because the recipe calls for goat meat. It's not at all like
lamb but more like beef. Photo: rdpeyton, Flickr ccl
The word “biryani” comes from the Farsi word “birian” so the dish most certainly originated in Persia. One of the earliest historical references is in a chronicle about Alexander the Great. At a feast in Bactria (currently eastern Iran) his company was served the dish.

Subsequent interactions in the region allowed Persian cuisine to spread west and east where biryani found a welcome home on the India subcontinent. One cannot forget that at points in its history large portions of India were ruled by the Mughals. Persian/Arabic influence in that culture was very strong.

When people think biryani today it is usually tied to Indian cuisine, but it's a common Middle Eastern dish. I posted a Palestinian biryani previously called Maqloobeh. You can view it here. It uses chicken and is amazing.

Birian means “fried before cooking.” Historically rice was partially fried in ghee (clarified butter) to partially seal its exterior. This frying controlled the release of starch as it cooked. (It’s an good trick in making risotto.) The most common meat used was goat. The rice and meat were layered with spices and all was sealed and cooked. Commonly now the rice is not pre-fried. different than rice pilaf
Traditionally meat is fried in ghee and cooked with aromatic spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc) in water. After the meat is cooked (and removed) the rice is cooked in the remaining spiced broth. Almonds, cashews or dried fruits are often added.

Biryani meat options
Leg of goat was always the traditional preferred meat. Today biryani is made with lamb, beef, chicken, fish and even shellfish. With each specific meat the spices used change to best complement it. Variations seem to be endless.

Biryani should fill your kitchen with an amazing aroma while it is steaming. The spices will give you a savoury, delicious dish that’s not overly “hot.” If you’re not brave enough to try goat make this same recipe with lamb, beef or chicken. Just a simple substitution is all it takes.

My variation does not require marinating the goat meat, and substitutes buttermilk for yogurt. I have found a great little Halal grocery not far from work that carries goat and lamb at reasonable prices. Not marinating the meat is probably considered blasphemy by some cooks.

This was a delicious meal.

Hyderabad (Goat) Biryani
Prep: 5 min |  Cook: 35 min  |  Serves 4
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
1 lb goat meat 
2 medium onions, sliced
4 green chillies, seeded and chopped (yes, 4)
2” ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup cashew pieces
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cardamon
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mace or nutmeg
1 tbsp dried mint (or 1/4 cup fresh)
3-1/2 cups water
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp each salt and cracked black pepper
optional: 4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
optional: onion raita (recipe below)

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan with a well fitting lid. You’ll need the lid later.

Brown the goat meat in the oil and butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while cooking. The meat will not be cooked through. Remove the meat to a plate.

Add the sliced onions, green chillies, ginger and cloves. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the onions begin to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Then add the chopped tomato and stir well to combine.

I highly recommend the onion raita. You may want
to make more than the recipe calls for. It will be eaten.
Arrange the goat in among the onions and tomato. Sprinkle with the cashews. 

Mix together the spices (from turmeric to mint). Sprinkle half of the spices over the meat. 

Evenly distribute the basmati rice over the meat. Combine the water and buttermilk. Pour the liquid over the rice. Sprinkle the top with the remaining spices. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and let cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed.

Serve with hard boiled eggs and onion raita.

Onion Raita
1 large sweet onion
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tbsp dried mint (or 1/4 cup fresh)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
You can also add grated carrot if you wish. It's very traditional.

Raita is a cousin of chutney as both are side dish condiments to be served with the main meal. Whereas chutney is usually cooked down with sugar, vinegar and spices, raita always contains yogurt.

Fresh mint would be the best choice for this simple condiment if you have it.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve. It is cool, crisp, fresh and delicious. I'll be making this recipe more often. It would be a great accompaniment for any curry. "Fantastic" doesn't do justice to it.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. Is 25 mins of cooking and 3.5 cup of water enuf to cook both meat and rice?

    Can we use the same method in pressure cookr for 2 whistles?


  2. The meat is partially pre-cooked when browned, so the water is enough to cook both the rice and meat.

    I don't know about the pressure cooker. Wouldn't the rice turn mushy? I'd stick to a regular covered pot if you could.