Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Recipe: Spinach and Corn Kofta Biryani

Weekends are always difficult in the Devnaa household - with such a large family, all of us in and out of the house constantly, busy with work or meeting friends, and of course the family and friends that pop over to say hello - Mum's constant dilemma is what to cook! Something we can all enjoy together on the rare occasion that we all happen to be at home at the same time; something we can individually heat up and eat on the go when we're busy running around; something special to serve to guests who will inevitably stop by; something to cater to all of the above which once it's done it's done - no having to make hot chapatis to serve with it every time someone wants eat, and no heating up large saucepans of curry or daal every 5 minutes!
The perfect solution is of course the Biryani. To some the thought of this layered rice dish is terrifying as the process of making it is fairly long, but boy is it worth it! When you break the sections down, the work itself isn't difficult at all, just lengthy. However, the time and effort put in before hand saves a day of continuing to slave over a hot stove and the all-in-one style of the biryani means that you don't have to worry about making anything else to go alongside, it's a meal in itself.

You can make a biryani out of almost anything, the basic concept is rice layered with curry and baked in the oven. Some prefer a simple jeera rice, others will want a colourful pilau style. The curry in between the rice layers can be anything from vegetables to lamb, chicken, or eggs. The best thing about the biryani is it's versatility, from what is included in the layers to the fact that it serves as a delicious hearty family meal, if it's already made you can eat it as a quick but filling meal on the go, or it makes a beautiful addition to a dinner party menu.

This biryani is admittedly quite long winded to make but so worth the effort. I came up with the combination as it is something that everyone in my family can enjoy - quite a difficult thing to achieve when cooking for 10 people! Most of the parts can be made in advance though and none of the processes are at all difficult. It will serve 8 - 10 as a main meal and 15-18 if served alongside anything else. Serve alongside a variety of chutney for extra yummyness!

Spinach and Corn Kofta Biryani

for the palak (spinach) paneer kofta balls:
2 medium potatoes (about 200 g worth)
150 g paneer, crumbled or finely grated
2 tsp sunflower oil
150 g spinach leaves
1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 1/2 tsp finely grated ginger
2 tsp of finely chopped green chillies
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
50 g fine cornmeal (maize)

  • Boil or steam the potatoes until completely tender, mash them and leave aside to cool completely.
  • Roughly chop the spinach.
  • Heat up the oil in a pan over a medium heat and add the spinach, garlic, ginger and chillies.
  • Toss all of the ingredients in the pan together and cook for about 3 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and the flavours are well combined.
  • Leave aside to cool completely. (The reason for allowing the potatoes and spinach to cool is so that the kofta balls form better - if they are too warm when added to the paneer I personally find that it affects the texture and makes the paneer clump together).
  • Pre heat oven to gas mark 9/240C/475F (this sound really hot but remember that everything is already cooked) and keep aside a greased baking sheet.
  • Combine the potatoes, paneer and spinach together with all of the remaining ingredients apart from the maize.
  • Mash everything together, taste and add extra seasoning if required.
  • Add the maize as required to form a soft dough that doesn't stick to the bowl.
  • I like to make small koftas by taking one teaspoon of the mixture at a time and rolling into a smooth ball. This way will make about 40 balls but feel free to make them bigger or smaller if you wish.
  • Dust each ball in a little more maize, place on greased baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally until they are browned.
  • Note: the koftas can be steamed or fried as well as baked, baking is just my personal preference and as the oven will be needed again anyway it just makes sense.

for the sweetcorn gravy:
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 large onions (about 250 g), pureed
1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp finely grated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped hot green chilli
500g pureed tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp coriander and cumin powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
150 g sweetcorn
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp sugar

  • Heat up the oil in a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot add the mustard and cumin seeds, allow them to fizz in the hot oil.
  • Add the pureed onion and cook over a medium heat until the onions are light brown (some people prefer to roughly chop the onions first, fry them and then puree them before using them but I don't feel that's a necessary step).
  • Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and allow to fry slightly alongside the onions, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  • Stir in the tomatoes and add the salt, coriander cumin powder, chilli powder and turmeric.
  • Cook for a few minutes until you see the oil start to separate from the tomatoes.
  • Add the sweetcorn, cover and cook over a low heat until the sweetcorn is tender.
  • Stir in the lemon and sugar before turning off the heat.
for the rice:
400 g (about 2 cups) of long grain basmati rice
1 L water
1 1/2 tsp sunflower oil
1 1/2 tsp ghee
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 inch of cinnamon, crushed
3 cloves
2 medium onions (150 g), finely chopped
200 g diced mixed peppers
2 tsp salt

  • Rinse the rice until the water runs clear and soak in clean water for one hour.
  • Heat up the oil and ghee in a large heavy based pan (I like to mix the ghee and oil as the ghee gives great flavour but the oil is healthier).
  • Add the cumin, cinnamon and cloves to the hot oil and allow to fizz.
  • Add the onions and cook gently until they become translucent.
  • Stir in the peppers.
  • Drain the water from the rice and add to the pan. Stir to make sure that all the grains of rice are lightly coated in oil.
  • Pour in the 1 L water (the measurement is normally twice the amount of water to rice, so as I used 2 cups of rice, I added 4 of water).
  • Stir in the salt, cover the pan and allow to cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid.
  • After 10 minutes give the rice a bit of stir. Cover and continue to cook until the rice is cooked but firm and the water has evaporated.

optional ingredients for tarka (fried seasoning):
100 ml sunflower oil
2 tbsp curry leaves
3 tbsp cashew nuts
3 tbsp peanuts
2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • Lower the heat of the oven to gas mark 5/190C/375F.
  • Lightly grease a large baking dish (my Mum's vast collection of Tupperware includes a beautiful 10"/25.5cm round, 4"/10cm deep glass baking dish which I find fits this recipe perfectly).
  • Press half of the rice (you don't have to wait for it to cool, yay!) into the bottom of the dish.
  • Pour on the gravy and spread to make an even layer.
  • Arrange the kofta balls in the gravy, pressing them in slightly.
  • Press the remaining rice on top.
  • If you wish to decorate the top of the biryani with the tarka, use the above ingredients for the following:
    • Heat up the oil in a small frying pan.
    • Add the curry leaves, cashew nuts and peanuts.
    • Fry for 5 seconds before turning off the heat and adding the sesame seeds.
    • Allow to cook in the hot oil until the nuts have browned.
    • Pour on top of the biryani.
  • Cover the biryani in foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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