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It may come as a surprise to you; but one of India’s most famous dishes, Lamb Biryani, has its origins in the Middle East. Biryani, from the Persian word “birinj” or “birian”, means to fry before cooking. This dish is believed to have been brought to India from the Persian Ruler, Timur the Lame, and was seen as dish for soldiers due to it’s ease of cooking and heartiness, after a long day of marching and fighting.
This meant when we moved forward to the Middle East, I couldn’t stop myself from wandering back to the Persian Empire.
When we were plotting out this dish we had to explore – What would make Lamb Biryani a autumn dish, versus an any other point of the year?
So, let’s get down to the brass tax on the ingredients. When preparing for autumn, some ingredients would have been dried right after the summer ended, to extend their lives. Or, in the case of foods like Peas, they would have been dried in the early summer. So by the autumn, meals would consist of cooking animals that were at a risk to die due to the elements and lack of food in the winter. However, there is evidence that in the warmer climates (specifically focusing on the Mediterranean in this study), sheep were being specially bred to produce ewes in the Autumn, due to it providing the communities more food and resources outside of typical time periods.
Other ingredients like grains, rice and herbs would have been harvested and prepared for the winter, so any excess stores would have been used for meals, baking and brewing.
How to make a Persian Lamb Biryani
2 hours, 30 minutes
26 hours, 30 minutes
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp of cumin
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp of black peppercorns
- 8 cardamom pods
- 1 cup natural yoghurt
- 3-5kg Lamb Leg or Shoulder, cut into stew meat
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 cup of dried peas
- 2½ cups basmati rice, soaked in water
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 6 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 tsp sea salt
- 1 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
- 1 cup roughly chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves
- On the day before, take the 1/2 cup of dried peas and soak in cold water. Put aside.
- Take the minced ginger, garlic, sea salt, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cumin, ground turmeric, black peppercorns and cardamom pods, into a spice grinder, and blend into a paste. Add paste to cup of yogurt and cover the lamb in this mixture, covering the bowl. Place in fridge overnight.
- Once the meat has been marinated properly, take meat and place into stockpot. Cook on low-medium heat until browned, then reduce heat to low, adding the dried peas and cover. Cook for 2 hours.
- Once the meat has around 40 minutes left, start on the rice. You’ll submerge the 2 1/2 cups of basmati rice in water for 30 minutes.
- Once the 30 minutes is past, drain the rice and boil 4 cups of water. Add the rice to the boiling water and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cloves, salt and cinnamon stick to the mixture, and leave covered until it’s time to add to curry.
- In a separate pan, take the sliced onion and olive oil, and cook the onions until they are slightly brown and soft. Place aside.
- Once the meat is done stewing, give it a quick stir, then take the rice mixture and add half of it as a layer to the curry, packing it down. Top the layer with half of the onions, mint leaves and cilantro leaves. Add remainder of rice and onions.
- Cover the stockpot and cook for an additional 30 minutes on low heat. The moisture from the lamb will move up the rice, covering it all in juices.
- Remove from heat and stir. Cover the pot again and allow the rice to rest for 15 minutes.
I committed some errors in our run of this – specifically – Did not marinate the lamb, nor did I cut it up beforehand, and I surely did not soak the peas.
Make sure to follow the instructions or substitute the dried peas for fresh ones and shorten the marinating to a couple hours in the fridge.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Okay, so I like Lamb. I love Briyani. I did not like them together. Beyond my error with the peas, the biggest issue I found with the dish is that the rice was soaked in grease. Lamb is greasy, which I usually love, but I did not care for it in my rice. I would love to make this again with something like chicken.
4 out of 5 stars
I really enjoyed tonight’s recipe… that was except for one thing: That being the peas. I love me some peas, whole peas, mashed peas, mushy peas – I will eat them all. But all of those peas have one thing in common with each other: they are soft. This was more of a mistake of hubris on someone that will not be named, but made the meals, part. The rest of the meal was fantastic! The seasoning on the rice was amazing and the lamb was delicious. I would give it 4 out of 5 soft peas.