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Flair for flavour

SHILPA NAIR ANAND
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Food Expert biriyani maker Dilnawaz Begum unlocks the secret to the much-sought-after Dindigul biryani

Variety and spiceDilnawaz Begum with her biriyaniPhoto: By the author
Variety and spiceDilnawaz Begum with her biriyaniPhoto: By the author

Dilnawaz Begum carries the fragrance of biriyani with her. Her fingertips are a light shade of saffron from “mixing spices” for her biriyanis, she says. She was in town to participate in the Malabar Cultural Fete.

Rather than talk biriyanis she suggests ‘sampling’ and talking. First up is the renowned and piping hot Thalapakatti biriyani aka Dindigul biriyani. Succulent, reddish-orange small grains of rice with a subtle flavour of saunf, cooked in meat broth along with masala…now that is biriyani with a character. It has more drama than the Thalaserry biriyani, which, from a purely subjective point of view, seems tame. Because that first spoonful of the biriyani of Dindigul is an unexpected explosion of flavours.

Dilnawaz agrees with an almost imperceptible nod of her head. She was at there at the invitation of Hisham Kabir of Ideal Caterers (Just Biriyani). And she doesn’t want Hisham to hear that. “Some people think it is overcooked and that someone who doesn’t know how to make biriyani has made it,” she says. Hisham avers, “It does. We Malayalis will not take to it. We don’t like our biriyanis ‘overcooked’.”

Hisham would know because he has been in the food business for some time. But there is, clearly, more to biriyani than Thalasserry. “In Tamil Nadu, each district has a typical biriyani. There is Salem biriyani, the well-known Ambur biriyani even a Coimbatore variety (“Rowther biriyani”).

Her family hails from a village on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border.

Biriyani, her forte

Biriyani is her forte but there are other recipes that have been handed down to her which she makes. Thengai choru (rice cooked in coconut milk) and kachar (a curry made with meat, mango, raw plantains, pumpkin, brinjal and many other vegetables) accompanied by ‘wapadoms’ (or appalams which bulge on frying) and puli chutney (onion in tamarind sauce).

So the inevitable question…how is one different from the other? “The ingredients of the masala are the same. The proportions vary, so do certain ingredients (such as the rice used) and some methods are different. These give each biriyani its individualistic taste.” But the difference goes beyond the above mentioned factors. “This is where the ‘secret ingredient’ comes in. And, no I am not telling you!” Dilnawaz says.

Dilnawaz is an expert when it comes to biriyani varietals. She runs a small catering business in Coimbatore, Wonder Kitchen. It was a love for cooking, biriyani especially, that translated into starting a business. An ‘analysis’ of the biriyani where she “would taste a biriyani, understand the flavours and figure out the ingredients. And I would ask for the ingredients and recipe” to corroborate her ‘findings’. People have generously handed recipes to her, she says.

Giving the Dindigul biriyani company, which Dilnawaz has served, are dalcha and baingan ka katta. A welcome change after the regulation date pickle-salad-papad combo that accompany our biriyanis. While dalcha is a pale yellow, lentil-based gravy (a mix of vegetables and meat) with a strong ginger-garlicky flavour. Baingan ka katta is spicy eggplant curry. There is something to be said about eating a ‘curry’ with biriyani, given that it is filling by itself. But it complements the biriyani well. “Avid biriyani lovers cannot imagine eating biriyani without dalcha,” Dilnawaz says. As one tries to guess what goes into a Dindigul biriyani, Dilnawaz says, “I will give you the recipe.” Here is the recipe:

Dindigul Biriyani

Ingredients

Jeera Samba rice (washed) – 1 kg

Mutton (cleaned) – 1 kg

Oil – 100 gm

Ghee – 50 gm

Large onion (sliced) – 500 gm

Ginger and garlic paste – 175 gm

Tomato sliced – 250 gm

Green chillies – 10

Cinnamon 1 inch – 8

Clove – 8

Cardamom – 8

Saunf (aniseed) – Half a tsp

Nutmeg (powdered) a pinch

Coriander leaves – a handful

Mint leaves – a few

Lemon juice – one lemon

Curd – 1 cup

Chilli powder – 3 tsp

Salt – to taste

Water – one-and-a-half measure

Method

Heat a pressure cooker, heat oil and ghee, and fry the sliced onion till they turn light brown. Add the green chillies and ginger-garlic paste and fry for a while, then add the tomato. Keep stirring till the tomato is mashed, then add the coriander leaves and mint leaves and stir for a while. Add the mutton and the powdered garam masala (powdered cardamom, nutmeg, saunf, cloves and cinnamon) and chilli powder, now add the curd and cook the mutton for 15 minutes.

When the mutton is cooked, add one-and-a-half measure of water and bring to boil. Add rice and lemon juice and cook the rice with the closed lid [keep stirring the biriyani occasionally] for about 20 minutes, and finally slow down the fire and let the biryani be in ‘dum’ for another 10 minutes.

SHILPA NAIR ANAND

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