Chicken Biriyani Kannada Style

Running a series of non-vegetarian Kannadiga recipes has always been on my to- do list but some how it has not materialized. So going one recipe at a time rather than a series is perhaps more doable. Karnataka has a long history with vegetarianism. Jainism was very popular a few thousand years ago. Chandragupta Maurya is supposed to have died of Upavasa Sallekhana Vrata i.e fast unto death in Karnataka. Very small towns in Karnataka has Jain Basadis- temple. Jainism obviously meant vegetarianism. Subsequent Hari-dasa tradition, Veerashaiva movement all promoted vegetarian way of life. So Karnataka used to have a large population of vegetarians. But we do have non vegetarians and a repertoire of recipes. I am not really familiar with the non-vegetarian cuisines of say coastal, north or Malnad Karnataka. My familiarity ends with the plains- the Bayaluseeme.

In the Bayaluseeme area, I have noticed two distinct styles of non vegetarian cuisine one Muslim and the other Hindu style. By calling it the Hindu style I am referring to the cuisine of "Hindu Military" restaurants (I am yet to eat in one!!) and the classic Gowda style dishes like Saaru, Chops, Sukka.
After my sojourn to Lucknow I realize that the Sunni Muslims from our region did learn a lot from their cousins in Lucknow.  Think of chats in Karnataka, we have peas, they have peas too.. No Eid is complete without Muzzafar back home. Well no prizes for guessing! Muzzafar is a classic Awadhi dish. So does their Biriyanis. Muslim cooks do it the Dum - Lucknow style albeit using a lot less number of spices, much more heat and lot less rich than their Awadhi cousins. Food has always traveled well and will keep traveling.

Kannada style Biriyani draw a lot from Lucknowi Pulaos. But it is also way simpler than the rich,fragrant, refined and delicate Awadhi Biriyani just like the Kannadiga herself, very simple. The Biriyanis I tasted in Lucknow( all chicken, no meat for me yet) in the famous Tunde Kababi, Wahid Biriyani and a bunch of other not so famous but still delicious Biriyanis opened my eye to the amazing world of Biriyanis. It is indeed an art to cook Chicken and rice together and infuse the goodness into each morsel. How exquisite the Biriyani was. So much of flavor in each bite. I find the Hydrabadi style rich,royal but also spicy. I love that too, just that I have never been to Hyderabad so reserving my comments to a later day. Biriyanis in other cuisines, sorry I don't consider them good enough for kind words here. Kannada style is simple, unpretentious and very satisfying.
This is my Mother's recipe. She is a pure vegetarian and has never tasted her own Biriyani which have gotten rave reviews everywhere and every time she has made them. I sometimes find it strange that she should be able make the perfect Biriyani without ever having tasted it. But then she tells me that it is like making a Prasada, you just do not have to eat it to know it.

Like a true blue Kannadiga she makes sure to throw in handfuls of Methi leaves, so much so that one of her guests in Tamil Nadu, a doctor who was very fond of her biriyani used to call it herbal Biriyani. So here is Amma's herbal chicken Biriyani. Yes it is off white in color... again keeping with the simplicity of Kannadigas.

We will need,

Rice 3 cups preferable Basmati (rice cups)
Oil about 1/3 cup (enough to cover the bottom of the biriyani pot by 1/4")
Cardamon 2
Bay leaf 2
Star Anise 1 Chicken  1lb cubed, washed and patted dry
Onion 1/2 sliced
Garlic 1 whole head
Green Chillies 18
Ginger 2.5inches

Fenugreek greens 1 bunch, trimmed cleaned and stalks discarded
Coriander a fistful washed and chopped
Mint a scant fistfull washed and chopped
Cloves 6
Cinnamon 1"
Lemon juice and Salt to taste

  • Wash rice in several changes of water and soak it in clean water.
  • Heat oil in a Handi. Throw in the Cardamon, bay leaf and star anise. Once they are fragrant, throw in the chicken. Brown it carefully all over.
  • Throw in the onions, a generous pinch of salt and saute for a few more minutes. 
  • Combine the chillies, garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse it into a paste.
  • Throw the paste into the chicken. Stir well. Saute till the spices smell fragrant.
  • Throw in the Fenugreek, Coriander and Mint. Saute for a few more minutes till the chicken is almost cooked.
  • Add about 6 rice cups of water to the chicken. Adjust salt, lemon juice. The water should be a tad bit more on the saltier side, the addition of rice brings down the level of salt later.
  • Cover and bring the water to a gentle boil. 
  • Drain the rice well and throw it into the Handi. Stir gently and cover. Cook for about 20-30minutes on medium heat. Turn off the heat and keep it covered for another 15 minutes or so.  
  • Serve warm.

Hesaru Bele Kosambari Vade

We as a society never wasted anything, especially food. We always salvaged the saddest of foods. If nothing else worked, the cattle of the house or neighbor was always there to do the honor! Now our lifestyle has changed and many of us sadly don't care much about throwing that left over or a fruit past it's prime.

So last Ugadi Amma was with us and we had great fun. The initial Bevu-Bella exchange was done, the elaborate supper of Holige, Chitranna, green Beans palya, Kosambari, Payasa  and Holige saaru was done complete on Banana leaf (they are selling fresh Banana leaf for $1.50 in New Jersey), we were left with some more Holige (always welcome and never goes stale) and Kosambari. Poor dear Kosambari typically comes with a rather short shelf life. So no one wanted anything to do with Kosambari the next morning.  My clever mother had this trick up her sleeves. She converted the rather sad and watery Kosambari into deep fried vade and they were gone before everyone had had their fill.. We all were left longing for more.

For the Kosambari, we will need:

Split Moong dal /Hesaru bele 1 cup picked and cleaned
Split Channa dal/Kadale bele 1 tsp 
Carrot grated 2 -4 tsbp
Coconut grated 1/4 cup
Peanut oil  1 tsp
Mustard seeds 1/8 tsp
Hing a dash
Green chillies slit or dry red chillies broken 2-3
Curry leaves 8-10
Salt and lemon juice /grated raw mango to taste.

  • Wash the dals in multiple changes of water and soak it in fresh water for a few hours. Mother tells me that for every auspicious feast, we need to make two different types of Kosambari the Moong dal one and the Channa dal one. But in a 3-4 people household, sometimes it is just not worth the effort. So the short cut to the problem is adding that teaspoon of Channa dal! So be it.
  • Once the dal is tender, (try and eat some, and they should not be hard), drain the water very well and place it in the serving dish along with grated carrot and grated coconut along with grated mango if using.
  • Prepare the Oggarane. Heat the oil and throw in the mustard seeds, hing, curry leaves and chillies. once the spices stop  spluttering, pour it over the dal. Adjust salt and lemon juice and serve it immediately.
Once salt is added to the Kosambari it will need to be served immediately. Otherwise it will become soggy and sad!

For the Vade now...
 We will need,

Left over Kosambari 1 cup
Rice flour a few tablespoons ( as needed)
Salt if needed
Dill leaves 1/4 cup chopped (optional)
Ginger grated 1 tsp
Oil to deep fry.

  • Squeeze the Kosambari to remove any moisture. The more moisture the problematic the vada will be.
  • Place the well drained Kosambari in a grinder and grind it into a chunky mixture. 
  • Place the oil in a Kadai and set it on medium heat
  • Throw a tablespoon of rice flour, salt, dill leaves, ginger  into the ground dal and mix. If the mixture can be gathered into a patty, the mixture is ready to go, else if the mixture is too wet, add one more table spoon of rice flour and check. Repeat until the mixture can be gathered into a patty/vada.
  • Drop the patty into hot oil and deep fry till golden in color. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and serve hot. It is delicious.

Navane Uppitti

Navane or foxtail millet is one of those hardy drought resistant grain that could not survive the deluge of green revolution. With every upside new technology ushers in, there will be a few downsides too. Like wise during the past few decades the green revolution and modernization, commercialization of agriculture has lead to decrease in the cultivation and  consumption of millet. I believe there is no policy support for millet, no minimum support price, nor does PDS distribute it as a part of their monthly quota, or for that matter research support like that of wheat or rice.  Populist governments promise rice for a rupee but not millet. 'Ragi for a rupee' sounds weird indeed. It will never fly politically.They say about Griffin's paradox in our Economics text books, unfortunately millet fall into that category.

There is a silver lining though. These days with increasing population of diabetic people, alternates to refined carbohydrates like polished rice - Ragi, millet etc are again finding a place on our tables. So what do I do when I see an attractively packaged, organically grown box of millet in our local Patel bros super market? I pick it off the shelf and put it into my shopping cart :)

There it goes. Buying the packet was one thing but then converting it into a dish that the picky family eats is another thing. So I threw in a whole lot of vegetables to make it look appetizing and colorful. The dish did fly and now it is something we eat once in a while. This dish is pretty hardy. So good to have it on the we head out to museums and long walks.

We will need,

Peanut oil 3 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Hing a dash
Ginger grated 1/4 tsp
Green chillies 5-10 adjust according to taste
Mixed vegetables diced 1 cup
Dill leaves chopped 1/2 cup
Navane/ foxtail millet 3/4 cup

Salt and lemon juice to taste
Ghee optional

  • Heat oil in a Kadai. Throw in mustard seeds and hing. Once the mustard seed crackle, throw in the ginger. Saute for a few brief second.
  • Throw in the green chillies and vegetable saute till they loose their crunch.
  • Now add 1.5 cups of water. Once the water boils, add salt lemon juice and dill leaves. The  water should taste salty enough at this point.
  • Add the millet, cover and simmer. Cook till the millet are tender. 
  • Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit. Fluff it using a fork once it is cool enough to handle.
  • Add ghee on top if using.

Motte Palya/ Scrambled eggs Kannda style

I love eggs. There was a time in life when one boiled egg and half a liter of milk constituted my breakfast everyday for months at a stretch!

I do same now occasionally, just that this older me cannot really down half a liter like the then me.
In any case I believed eggs were wholesome when they were consumed whole- whites, yolks and all. I am glad to see that eggs are off the bad food  aka cholesterol increasing foods list. So is coconut these days. Now I only hope that the nasty profit makers don't get into Genetically Modified eggs or coconut.

Since I love them and always discount dietary fads, I have always continued to eat eggs in moderation. Moderation is the key because too much is too bad, even for Amrita -the elixir of life. Instead of eating half a dozen egg whites, I did rather eat just one whole egg or perhaps two if I am eating it just a few times a week. On the whole we as a family end up eating a dozen eggs in two weeks. Honey typically buys into all these dietary fads and used to buy those supposedly eggs in pouches with fat content removed. I did try those and they taste horrible! How can any one eat it. To me, whole foods are trustworthy any day and I am naturally suspicious of all stuff that comes out of a package.

Now back to this Palya. As I have said many times on this blog, a true Kannadiga will keep looking out for excuses to sneak in some Methi leaves or Avarekayi when they are in season. Being one, I continue this tradition. Methi as well as ridge gourd are two vegetables that are traditionally used in generous quantities when cooked Non-Vegetarian foods. Steeped in Ayurveda, these two vegetables are supposed to neutralize the 'heating' properties of meats. While Eggs are considered more of 'Vata' than heating adding Methi is not really to neutralize but it does add a lot of body and flavor to the dish. I love it this was and it is an additional way to add some greens to my breakfast. Also, unlike continental style scrambled eggs, we cook the hell out eggs and make sure they are not sort of mushy and moist at all! Julia Child would be rolling in the grave if we ever call this scrambled eggs!

We will need,

Peanut oil 2 tbsp
Jeera 1/4 tsp
Fennel seeds 1/4 tsp
Cardamon 1
Cloves 3-4
Cinnamon 1/2 " piece
Onion 1 medium
Green Chillies 4-5 (adjust according to taste)
Fenugreek leaves trimmed, washed and drained one generous hand ful
Eggs 4
Garam Masala a pinch
Salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste

  • Heat oil in a Kadai, once it is warm, throw in all the whole spices. Saute for a few seconds. 
  • Throw in the onion. Saute till onion is pink. Throw in the green chillies and fenugreek. 
  • Once the fenugreek wilt, make a well in the center of the Kadai and break eggs into the well one at a time. Reduce heat and gently move the eggs as they form curds.  Make sure they do not stick to the bottom of the Kadai and burn.
  • Once the moisture in the eggs have reduced and they start solidifying, throw in the rest of the ingredients and stir. Once the eggs start to resemble soy granules, they are ready. Serve warm with Chapatis.

Vegetable Jalfrezi

Life has changed beyond recognition in the past three decades or so. No one imagined what the dual power of Manmohan Singh's Economic liberalization and the internet boom was to become. Now with the smart phone in everybody's hand life has changed in the east as well as the west. When I came to the States last decade, we used to travel with actual maps in hand. When wee did take the wrong exit and boy o boy, all hell would break loose especially because we did mostly make wrong moves in the confusing concrete jungle called New York City. It used to be soooo difficult to get back on track with just the maps on hand. Now with the GPS life is so much more easy, got lost? fine re-route automatically. Hey we now have GPS signals under Lincoln tunnel and Holland tunnel as well! (blaah!! Delhi Metro has cellphone signals under Chandni Chowk....  Not really sure if NYC metro has caught up. It has been ages since I rode the metro the last time)

Life back in India has changed much drastically. It is not just about little conveniences any more. It is about leap and bounds, the change in the way we think. Every time I go back to Bangalore I notice so many restaurants, eateries etc. Karnataka never really had that culture of eating out like say the extent I saw in foodie cities like Amritsar, Delhi and Lucknow. I assume smaller towns too had that culture. Back in the 1990s when my father was posted in Amritsar, we were surprised to see our neighbors buying sweets/Mithai from the sweet shop even on the occasion of say Diwali and other festivals.  Our friends would be surprised to see that my mother could make Gulab Jamoon (out of the pack!!) at home. "You make everything from scratch, we get everything from the bazaar"..they did always say. Also the culture of street food was widely prevalent. People driving in cars (that was a big deal in early 1990s) stopping to grab a quick bite on one of the street side 'thela' was a common sight. That was not as simple in south Karnataka. Road side shacks were mostly for those who could not afford to eat Dose/Idli at the nearest restaurant/Phalahara Mandira. The most we could get from such shacks was assorted Bhajji's which papa would get from some place quite far from where we lived in Mysore ocassionally to add to the meal Amma had already prepared. I was particularly fond of the Egg Bonda. But that shack opened only during the evenings, sort of patronized by people who had had a couple of drinks or more. My grandparents never ate street food. My mother till date is rather suspicious of street food. Despite the time she has spent in the northern heartland, she is still a very much Vidyarthi Bhavan/Janta hotel types.
But our generation went on the become something else. Now eating out is a part of life style. We are very well exposed to different culinary tradition, we are open to trying out new things, we try new restaurants and try to replicate dishes we liked there at home. Despite the dust and the sweat, we still love our street food.Things have changed, changed quite a lot.

To summarize the change, Sunny boy loves Sashimi! while my mother could not get herself to eat an absolutely vegetarian avocado roll with wasabi and ginger pickle to boot! I am somewhere in the middle.
Strangely enough Sunny boy finds Canola oil smelly and yucky while a perfectly smelly fish curry smells just good. Good for me though, fish being a whole food canola oil is mostly GMO, that story for another day, now for some Jalfrezi, something I love in one of the restaurants here and tried to replicate.

We will need,

Mixed vegetables (Green Beans, Carrots, Broccoli, Bell peppers) cleaned and cut into big chunks3 cups ( keep the veggies separate)
Peanut oil 1/4 cup (yes that is a lot)
Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
Fennel 1/4 seeds
Ginger match stick cut 1"
Onion 1 small sliced
Green Chillies 5-10 as preferred
Cumin powder 1 tsp
Dhania power 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/4 tsp
Tomatoes 2 chopped
Panner 1/2 cup cubed

Garam Masala
Sugar 1 tsp
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Steam vegetables separately till they are half cooked. They should still remain most of their crunch.
  • Heat oil in a Kadai. Throw in the cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Once they splutter, throw in half the ginger, saute for a few seconds and follow it with onions.Saute.
  • Once the onions change color, throw in the green chillies and the spice powders. Keep stirring making sure the spiced would not burn. Once the spices are fragrant, throw in the tomatoes.
  • Cook tomatoes till they are pulpy and the oil separates from the mixture. Now throw in the Panner toss gently in the spices.
  • After a minute or two, throw in the remaining vegetables, Garam Masala, sugar, remainng ginger, salt, lemon juice and pepper. 
  • Give it a gentle toss.Cook for a few more minutes till the vegetables are a little more tender. Remove from heat.
  • Shift the Jalfrezi immediately from the hot Kadai because the hot Kadai will otherwise continue to cook the dish and the vegetables will become mushy by the time it is served. (I had this problem several times and I hate mushy vegetables in a Jalfrezi)
  • Serve with Roti and dal