In the Muslim community, following the appearance of the new moon July 8th, a one-month period of prayer and daytime fasting—known as Ramadan—begins.
It’s the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, which is based on a lunar calendar, and is considered a very holy month, but also a month of thanksgiving.
When the fast is broken every evening, neighbours, friends and families gather together to eat special foods.
I love the wonderful spices used in foods from the Middle East and South Asian countries and find it very rewarding to experiment with them.
While the list of ingredients in this Biriyani Chicken may seem long, it’s not a difficult dish to make and it’s really very good. It’s also a meal in one pot, which is convenient and produces fewer dishes to wash after dinner.
We’re enjoying young peas fresh from the garden, so I’m making dishes that really do justice to their sweet flavour. They were fantastic in the biriyani, added at the last minute to just warm them through.
As the heat of summer descends on us, we’re also eating more salads and easy dishes that can be eaten cold.
Leftovers shine with such cooking, as a roasted or barbecued chicken or steak serves double duty, as a later dinner can be produced with raw vegetables such as greens and cucumbers, tomatoes and even seasonal fruits—all tossed together with bits of the leftover, cold meat.
Simple meals made with very fresh, seasonal, local ingredients are perfect choices for this time of year.
Even the herbs can come from a local garden, but the exotic spices may have to be brought in from elsewhere.
For hundreds of tested recipes using local, B.C. ingredients, in a book that’s arranged by the seasons when each ingredient is a star, pick up a copy of my book, Jude’s Kitchen, in bookstores such as Mosaic Books on Bernard Avenue, or at wine boutiques such as that at the B.C. Wine Museum in the historic Laurel Packinghouse on Ellis Street.
Biriyani is basically a meat and rice dish, although it can be served without meat, and it varies depending on the area of India and surrounding regions that it’s from. It’s a dish served on special occasions and is time-consuming to make, but I’ve tried to simplify it a little while retaining most of the wonderful flavours. We really enjoyed this. Try pairing it with the Intrigue Wines 2012 Gewurztraminer, with its smooth and richly elegant fruit flavours, and hint of spiciness.
1 lb. (454) boned chicken thighs
1 c. (250 ml) basmati rice
1 tsp. (5 ml) cumin seeds
10 whole black peppercorns
6 whole cloves
1-inch cinnamon stick
3 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 large onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 tbsp. (30 ml) ginger
1/2 jalapeno pepper
2 tsp. (10 ml) garam masala
drizzle of oil
1 c. (250 ml) fat-free plain yogurt
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) turmeric
3 plum (Italian) tomatoes
2 tbsp. (30 ml) pistachios
1/4 c. (60 ml) raisins
12 mint leaves
1 1/2 tsp. (8 ml) salt
1 1/2 c. (375 ml) water
1 c. (250 ml) fresh peas
1 tbsp. (15 ml) cashews
1 tbsp. (15 ml) fresh cilantro
Chop boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. (You may substitute breasts.)
Wash rice well, then soak for a half hour and let drain for a half hour.
Combine cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and bay leaves in a very small dish.
Slice onion in half, then into thin strips. Mince garlic, ginger and jalapeno pepper.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a deep frypan over medium heat and add the spices from the small dish, stirring about for a minute. Add ginger and onion, cooking and stirring occasionally until the onion is soft and coloured.
Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into small dice. Add a few to the onion mixture if it becomes too dry and begins to stick to the pan.
Once the onion mixture is soft, add the tomatoes and cook up together for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the liquid cook away.
Push to the side and add the chicken, cooking both sides just until it’s turned white.
Add pistachios, raisins, most of the chopped mint leaves, salt and water and stir; then add drained rice and mix it in slightly.
Bring to bubbling, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and turn the heat to low.
Leave for 15 or 20 minutes or until the rice is just cooked.
Add the fresh peas, cover and turn off the heat. (If you use frozen peas, let it cook for a minute or two.)
Serve topped with a few cashews, fresh mint leaves and chopped fresh cilantro.
Cucumber and Tomato Raita
This is delicious and refreshing with any curry dish or other spicy food—or just by itself as a snack with a pita bread or chip.
1/2 English cucumber
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) sea salt
1 tsp. (5 ml) roasted cumin
1 small tomato
1 c. (250 ml) plain yogurt
1 tbsp. (15 ml) fresh cilantro leaves
Grate cucumber into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for a few minutes.
Roast ground cumin in a small frypan for a couple of minutes, until the fragrance becomes evident.
Finely chop tomato.
Press moisture out of cucumber, draining extra liquid away.
Combine yogurt (I use the local, plain, non-fat, Jerseylands) mixed with roasted cumin and fold it into the drained cucumber.
Add tomato and fold it all together.
Garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro leaves.