Monday, March 6, 2017

The Unlikely Biriyani

Indian homes are very particular about the Indian food recipes during a hosting event. Every Indian woman was supposed to know how to cater to the extended family’s food habits – which explained the dialogue every Indian woman has grown up listening to: “Whatever will you do when you have to cook for your family?”

Yes, it is depressingly patriarchal, and definitely unfair to the daughters of this land. But what this did successfully for many decades was to percolate the culinary knowledge, with very little loss in transmission, through multiple generations of Indians. Today it is heartening to see menfolk in enlightened households pay as much attention, if not more, as the ladies of the house, in the culinary extravaganza that Indian cuisine lends itself out to.

The Kayastha community in Northern India, is one such community. This community developed as scribes to powerful Mughal rulers in India. Ofcourse, the fact that they were good with numbers and were mostly educated, helped in establishing their position as trusted accountants and record keepers of the royal books. Needless to say, their position and proximity to royalty impacted the most important facet of their lives – their food!

The Kayastha community is known for their love of food.  They consumed meat just like other Hindu Kshatriyas, but they also developed the sophistication of the Mughal kitchens in their cuisine. This explains the similarity of ingredients used between Muslim and Kayastha foods. Thus, all over North, Central and Eastern Indian states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, spread the unique Kayastha cuisine.    

A successful Kayastha hostess can baffle you with her ability to match vegetarian options that are no less elaborate than its mutton counterparts (always mutton – chicken is not even remotely as popular). Infact, the lady of the house beams with joy when an aromatic Jackfruit biriyani baffles her guests into wondering how meat could be so tender!  Or how a Bengal Gram  (kala chana) cutlet passes off as a mutton cutlet with some tricks to create texture.

Made during those feasts where vegetarian guests are expected, this Kathal (Unripe jackfruit) Biriyani is sometimes much more talked about than its illustrious mutton counterpart.

The recipe, perfected by many generations of fabulous cooks, now uses modern cookware – that is the only margin allowed to be changed! The trick is to fry the Jackfruit pieces till golden brown, and treat them as tender pieces of delicate meat while preparing a biriyani. Layering the half cooked Jackfruit chunks with aromatic rice and herbs is an art.

Only whole spices are used to flavor the biriyani, and a compulsory addition is potatoes. The test of the biriyani, learned cooks say, is for the Potato to carry in it, the same flavor as the aromatic rice and jackfruit (or meat, if a mutton biriyani). What is amazing to know, is that many of the womenfolk who cooked wonderful non vegetarian delicacies in the Kayastha communities, were confirmed vegetarians!

(Published first at - The Foodwalk Experts)