This year’s Christmas dinner was homey and low-key. Everyone came together and cooked, and everyone felt a sigh of relief that we were making a no-fuss but excellent meal. This dish was surprisingly outstanding. By that I mean the recipe was of Indian roots, was repurposed and gussied up by a Californian and presented as a “holiday” dish, and turned out a flavorful and prosperous union of two different cultures. Not an uncommon find in this household, but still happily surprising.
It’s a one-dish meal, great for vegetarians, but still involves enough prep work that it’s more suited for a holiday. The original recipe is from Sunset, and is intended as a sort of “dressing” or “pilaf.” This is really a biryani in disguise. And quite elegant at that. We find traditional biryani suffers from too much starch and not enough flavor, while Western brown rice dishes many times taste like bird seed. This one is packed with nuts, peppers, spice, and dried fruit, and has all the warmth, sweetness, and moisture that you want.
In honor of this vegetarian Christmas dinner, pulling from both American and Indian dishes, we served this biryani with a mattar saag paneer, green beans with coconut, a romaine salad with herbed feta, olives, cucumber, and pepper, and, and a mom’s take on an Indian carrot salad. Whether a holiday or dinner on a Wednesday, our home is also a blend of different cultures, and a marriage of the culinary influences that we so cherish. Whenever you hail from and whatever your culinary passion, try this dish for your next party.
2 cups brown basmati rice
4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups dried unsulfur apricots, cut into quarters
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes (fresh or frozen will work)
2 cups raw almonds
3/4 cup ghee
2 cups chopped yellow onions (Spanish or Vidalia will also work if you desire sweeter ones)
1 cup chopped orange and yellow bell peppers (can use red if desired, but no green)
2 teaspoons (yield) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons (yield) garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons Tumeric, mixed in a cup with a teaspoon of water
4 teaspoons Garam masala (or add 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon cardamom, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a 2 quart pan over high heat, bring the water to a boil and stir in the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Once on the boil add the rice, turn down to simmer, and place a cocked lid on top. Cook until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile in a medium bowl combine the apricots and cranberries. Cover with boiling water and let sit to plump, about 15 minutes. Drain.
Also place the coconut and almonds in two separate cookie sheets in the oven, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes for coconut, and 8-10 for almonds. Watch the coconut carefully, as it will burn easily. Remove and cool. Chop the nuts coarsely in a nut grinder or with a bench knife. Turn the oven up to 350 degrees.
Melt the ghee in an 8 quart pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and bell peppers and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Reduce to medium and stir in the ginger, garlic, tumeric, garam masala, salt, pepper, orange peel, and lime peel. Saute for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried fruit, almonds, and coconut.
Once the rice is cooked, fold it into the mixture, but fluff don’t squash the rice. Spoon the mixture into a shallow 3-quart baking dish and cover with foil.
Bake in the oven until hot in the center, but before the rice turns soft, about 25-30 minutes depending on the firmness of the rice once cooked.