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So I have already written a little about the background of the biryani when I posted my lamb biryani recipe, and probably managed to offend at least half a dozen ethnicities with my understanding of its origins. This post will be about one member of the larger biryani family, albeit a vegetarian version for the surprisingly large number of vegetarian friends I seem to have accumulated! Erm, folks…again, “vegetarian” is ancient slang for a loser who cannot hunt, fish, or ride!

paneer biryaniPaneer is a fresh, unripened, curd cheese that is prevalent in South Asian cuisines. It is an un-aged and non-melting cheese made by the curdling of heated milk with lemon juice or vinegar. It is similar to the Turkish Peynir in nature as well as in preparation. Since paneer contains no rennet in the making, unlike other cheeses, it is completely vegetarian. I am told that there are references to it in the subcontinent that go as far back as 6000 BCE (cheese is supposed to have been first made around 7000 BCE).

Ingredients:

  • Rice – 2 cups, basmati
  • Paneer – 200g, cut into one-inch cubes
  • Onions – 2 medium, sliced finely
  • Oil – ½ cup
  • Salt – 3 teaspoons
  • Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon
  • Bay leaf – 1
  • Garlic – 6-7 flakes
  • Ginger – 1 inch piece
  • Aniseeds – 1 tablespoon
  • Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Red chilli – 3, whole and dried
  • Coriander seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Cinnamon – 1-inch stick
  • Cloves – 3-4
  • Peppercorns – 3-4
  • Brown cardamom – 1-2

Preparation time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 5-6

Process:

  • Soak the rice for about an hour
  • Grind the garlic, ginger, aniseeds, cumin, red chillies, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, and brown cardamom into a paste with a little water
  • Fry the paneer until a nice golden brown
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. cook the onions until they turn thoroughly golden brown
  • Add the spice paste and the bay leaf; heat for about 2 minutes
  • Add the fried paneer to the mix; pour in four cups of water. Add salt and lemon juice and bring to a boil
  • Strain the rice and add to the boiling water. Make sure you use a non-stick pot
  • Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes on a low flame; do not stir – that will break the rice grains. However, keep an eye so that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot
  • Switch off the stove and let sit for about five minutes after the rice is completely cooked

Serve with curds or dal.

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