Biryani: Citizen of the World

Aug 24, 2011 11:31 am

A rice dish with a thousand global variations

biryani
Photo: hafizismail.com on Flickr
Combine two fragrant things — spices and long-grain rice — and you've got a scent that will turn heads.
 

Not that I Wikipedia every dish I pick for lunch, but the entry for biryani gave me a little shock. There are 21 individual sections for the most widely consumed kinds of this Arab/South Asian rice dish, to say nothing of the 7 "See also: Biryani variants" directly below those. Seems like a certain region of the world likes fragrant, spiced rice with tasty stuff in and on top of it. And almost every Indian restaurant I've ever encountered serves it.

Biryani is rice with curry cooked right in. Many of the same spices that comprise garam masala, like cinnamon and cardamom, flavor the vegetables and meat that in turn, infuse the rice while it's all steaming together. In short, it's a one-pot meal (one of our favorite things in the world) that's comforting, filling and exotic. Oh and it's traditional to make a ton of it. Who's the guy who threw an easy and impressive dinner shindig last night and brought lunch that's the envy of every turkey sandwich-toting co-worker? That would be you. 

Before you write biryani off as too ethnic, too hard to make or "doesn't conform to this allergy or that preference," consider a few things. Biryani can seamlessly be made vegetarian or vegan, is naturally gluten-free and low in fat, and doesn't involve much more than cooking rice with meat and sprinkling stuff in. You can cook rice, right? And possess the number of fingers necessary for sprinkling? If you answered yes, this centuries-old globe-trotting dish is definitely worth a shot. 

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