With Basmati rice having disappeared, try your hand at egg biryani with Badshah Bhog or any of the other small grained, differently aromatic and delicious varieties of rice from Eastern India
By Shalini Kala
Basmati is non-existent, dead, wiped out. Wiped out by roads, buildings, airports and the rest. The Basmati that grew in and around the Doon valley; that most aromatic of rices – long-grained, soft and a treat just by itself. Unless, you live in the area and grow it for yourself, you can forget having a taste of it – trying to do so will end up in frustration and probably a bruised ego – I warned you.
You can’t find it in the markets, not even through well-established contacts, in Dehradun, Delhi or anywhere else in the world. What sells as Basmati today is nothing but long-grained rice, completely lacking the “Basmati” aroma and, in my opinion, is not as soft too, but that last bit I am ready to overlook as a generous concession to those who disagree with me on the existence of Basmati!
In the last century, when I was growing up – yup, terribly historical – summer holiday trips to mausi’s home in Dehradun were the most awaited annual event. Long naughty unsupervised days with an army of cousins, sweet mangoes, and tons of good food to eat. Rice – Basmati of course – was the indispensable lunch item.
We never knew rice was something else other than Basmati. Having an extended clan in the town – it was still a charming town in those days – meant we never had to run out of Basmati in Delhi. Several neighbours got to know what was cooking when mum steamed rice at home. My 7 to 10-year old version was intrigued by these prying neighbors–as I mentioned earlier, Basmati was rice and rice was Basmati for us.
Until I started to eat from the lunch boxes of my classmates and that stupid – blissfully uninformed in a melting pot of diverse people and communities – veneer of ignorance started to lift bit by bit. Over time Basmati started to become scarce as prosperity bloomed on farms instead of Basmati.
How does biryani figure here? It was much later in life that I got to taste “biryani” that I had been hearing about for decades. Till then it was this dreamy, exotic dish made of succulent meat, Basmati, and a magical mix of spices. Dad preferred mutton curry, mum was a vegetarian, biryani wasn’t connected to any of our festivals, hence the long period of biryani-blackout.
Over the last two decades through increasingly frustrating trials of biryani after biryani I failed to find Basmati – my childhood real Basmati from Doon! Some biryanis were good – Lucknawi was the best, some passable and a lot were terrible. I was done with this “finding the Basmati” investigation. I am not even particularly fond of meat, it dawned on the dimwitted me that I didn’t have to prolong my misery. There might be another way.
On our work trips to the country side, S and I discovered a variety of small grained differently aromatic, delicious varieties of rice from Eastern India – Gobindo Bhog, Joha, Chak Hao, Radhuni Pagol (did you get the humor in this one?), Vishnu Bhog, Badshah Bhog and many others.
Over the last 15 years we set a supply chain for Badshah Bhog for ourselves and this is our Basmati now – we eat it steamed, we eat it in pulao, and in a quickly rustled up egg biryani, which is the kid’s third item from top in the list of most demanded foods. I don’t know if what I make, can qualify as biryani because the layering is skipped entirely – no more effort than really needed!
Every now and then – as recent as last summer – my brainless avatar rises and goes looking again for the Dehradun “Basmati”, every single time returning with that bruised ego and…the less said the better. If any of you finds it will you please let me know, I am dying to end these resurrections!!
1-2 table spoon ghee – for best results – or any other oil of your choice
6 eggs – in my opinion free-range taste the best, but use what you have available
1 cup Badshah Bhog rice or any other rice of your preference that is light and fluffy once cooked
4-6 large garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tea spoon grated ginger
1 large onion thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes finely chopped OR 1 large finely chopped tomato plus 1 table spoon curd
1-2 medium strength green chillies (you can find something like that from your regular sabziwala!)
1 table spoon chopped fresh coriander
1table spoon chopped mint leaves
1 bay leaf
8-10 black pepper corns
1 green cardamom
1 small piece of cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 tea spoon turmeric powder
2 tea spoon coriander powder
2 tea spoon cumin powder
Salt to taste
Soak rice in about 75 per cent water than you normally do when making steamed rice or one-and-a-half cups. Rice should be soaked for a minimum of half an hour. Boil eggs on high heat for about 4 minutes, switch off heat, let the eggs remain covered in hot water for about 5-10 minutes. Drain, add cold water, drain again, leave aside to cool.
Take a heavy bottomed deep vessel with a lid that can hold a little water on top to retain all the steam as the rice cooks in it. Heat ghee in the vessel, once hot add bay leaf and cinnamon stick, followed by coarsely hand ground pepper corn, cardamom and cloves. As they release their aroma add garlic, saute for thirty seconds. Lower heat. Add onions and green chillies.
Fry till the onions soften and turn pink, add tomatoes and ginger. Stir. Add turmeric, coriander, cumin powders and salt. Continue to cook on low heat. Peel eggs and make three long slits on each. As tomatoes turn to a mush and ghee starts separating add mint and fresh coriander. This is also the time to mix in curd if you are using it. In about 30 seconds add eggs and roll them in the masala for about a minute.
Add rice with the water it was soaking in – if you didn’t know that, you learnt something new! Mix gently. Add the star anise. Turn the heat to full and let the mix come to a boil. Once that happens reduce the heat to as low as possible – it should be really low – and cover the vessel with the lid and pour water on top of the lid. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes.
Try not to open the lid while the rice and eggs are transforming into biryani. Check the rice after 25 minutes, continue to cook for another to 5-10 minutes if the rice is not fully done. Switch off the heat. Let it rest covered for about 20 minutes. Before serving, gently mix the biryani taking care not to mess with the looks of eggs and rice.
Shalini learnt to enjoy cooking at a mature age by which time she had gained many other experiences particularly through her work in agriculture and rural development. Her writing is an attempt to mix lessons from her cooking experiments with those from life in general.