Butter chicken curry

Some dishes are so tasty that, no matter the region of origin, they become ubiquitous around the world as a takeaway go-to, as inspiration for restaurant chefs both traditional and gourmet, and as an aspirational recipe for home cooks. Case in point: butter chicken.

A Brief History

Butter chicken dates back to 1950s Delhi, India and a restaurant called Moti Mahal, now an international franchise. As the story goes chefs there took to marinating chicken in the leftover butter and tomato juices of other dishes and then cooking it in a tandoor. They wound up with a richly spiced sauce and tender chunks of chicken that resemble another famous Hindi dish called Chicken Tikka Masala. However, butter chicken curry, also called murgh makhani or makhan murg, is a bit more decadent and calorific. Hence its popularity with Western palates.

As a result of this near universal appeal, most contemporary celebrity chefs have a version of butter chicken in their repertoires. For Saransh Goila, the winner of Masterchef Australia 2018, its become a calling card of sorts and he is known internationally as the Butter Chicken Guy. UK celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey does a version (as one would expect from chef in a country that is crazy for Indian food across cultural and class lines). As does food blogger Urvashi Pitre, whose recipe for Instant Pot Keto Butter Chicken went viral in 2018.

How to Prepare Butter Chicken

As with most Indian cooking, making butter chicken from scratch can involve many ingredients and many preparation steps. But no special equipment is required. This basic recipe from cafedelites.com is a good example.

The precise mixture of spices for the chicken marinade and the sauce may vary from kitchen to kitchen, but the list of basic ingredients will always include crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, ghee (clarified butter), yogurt and cream. Anyone who has attempted Indian cooking recipes will be familiar with the list of specialty spices, which includes garam masala, fenugreek, cumin and tumeric.

Technically, the recipe is not challenging if the correct order of cooking, blending and re-blending the various ingredients is respected. The trickiest part may be finding the time to allow the chicken to marinate fully (the longer the better). Other pro tips include cooking most of the liquid out of the tomatoes before taking the mixture off the heat and sieving the final sauce to make it velvety-smooth.

Butter chicken is traditionally served with basmati rice and naan flatbread (which can be made from scratch but also can be found in most grocery stores these days).

Home-made butter chicken also stores well and is even tastier as a leftover the next day. You can also simply make and jar the sauce to use later.

Variations

Most variations of butter chicken in the modern era aim to offset the richness of the dish. And each kitchen, whether professional or amateur, will produce its own unique butter chicken dish depending on the balance of spices used. That is part of the tradition of Indian cooking.

A variety of recipes are widely available online. Some of those Instant Pot, Keto and Paleoversions are worthy of consideration for those who follow restricted diets, or are looking for a healthier version of butter chicken curry. Substitutions may include swapping out cream for coconut milk or using different spices to generate more or less heat.

Butter chicken is comfort food for millions around the globe regardless of ethnicity or cultural affiliation. It’s just one of those rare dishes that is universally appealing. Especially in these days of strife and agitation that’s got to be a good thing worth celebrating.

Satrangi Biriyani

Up until relatively recently, the human race was a nomadic species that roamed in search of food, shelter and the next conquest. Once country lines had been drawn into the sand, armies of the world began invading distant lands, trying to gain as much ground as possible for their tribes.

Various groups have historically occupied the Indian subcontinent and each one has left an indelible mark on the cuisine. Satrangi Biriyani is the perfect example of a dish that has evolved over the years. A delectable adaptation of the recipe has spurned to suit pretty much every regional palate.

The History of the Biriyani

Persia, now known as Iran, was supposedly responsible for bringing the biriyani to the masses. It is a celebratory dish in India, which most people think is the home of this beloved plate of food. For many years it was a decadent dish saved only for the wealthiest corners of society, but now the meal is enjoyed all around the world.

The word birian means fried before cooking in Persian, while birinj is the word for rice, referring to the partial cooking of the rice before topping off the biriyani pot. This etymological clue is almost proof enough of the origins of the beloved food.

That said, India still has its compelling fable about how biriyani came to be. The queen who inspired the Taj Mahal, Mumtaz Mahal, is said to have accidentally invented the dish. She is said to have visited an army barracks and saw underfed soldiers. Being a compassionate and noble queen, she asked the royal chef to prepare them a nutritionally balanced meal. With that, the biriyani was born.

Variations of the One Pot Wonder

Each region in India has a different specialty cuisine based on the locally available produce. Not only that, but ingredients have been introduced by various invaders — from Turks, Persians and Arabs to the Portuguese and English. Each has left behind a morsel of cuisine that has made an impact on the local culture.

The Europeans introduced tomatoes and potatoes, which are used in the Kolkata biriyani. In this iteration, the meat is marinated in yogurt and cooked separately from the rice. The mopla biriyani uses fish or prawns and is pungently spiced. The recipe has even traveled to Mauritius, Bangladesh and Bengal, where local people have given this worldwide favorite their own twist.

Recipe and Preparation

10ml oil
20g carrots
20g french beans
20g beetroot
20g bell pepper
20g broccoli
40g zucchini 
20g onion
30g curd
10g mint
15g desi ghee
5g cashew paste
1g cardamom powder
1g green chili powder
1g red chili powder
1g yellow chili powder
1g turmeric powder
125g long grain rice
3ml water
3ml saffron water
Two green chilis

  1. Gently fry the rice until it’s 75% cooked. While the rice is boiling, chop the vegetables and parboil them.
  2. Traditionally a clay pot would be used for cooking, but this can be substituted with a casserole dish if necessary. Add the vegetables, spices and liquid then top with the rice, garam masala and caramelized onion.
  3. Top with a thin roti and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
//www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdooig2-OHg

The biriyani is a versatile dish with hotly contested roots. Some say it is from Persia; some say it was royalty of India that invented the now-ubiquitous recipe. What can be said for sure is that it is exquisite in flavor yet hearty and satisfying by nature. With the Satrangi, Pakistan has developed this vegetable-packed delicacy into an aromatic superfood that ticks almost every nutritional box.

Kanchkolar Kofta

A delicious dish of deep-fried goodness swimming in a rich sauce, this is kanchkolar kofta. Don’t let those deep-fried balls fool you, although it looks like it should be a no-no on every diet, kanchkolar kofta is actually a surprisingly healthy meal. Inside are the digestive benefits of ginger, cumin and garlic as well as those of green bananas. Yes, bananas.

What is it?

Kanchkolar kofta is a recipe of the Bengali people in India. Bengali food, especially their sweets, are known for their rich and diverse flavors. This particular dish combines fried balls made with various vegetables, meats and other ingredients.

What is Kofta?

Kofta is traditionally meat kababs that are eaten in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries. They are most often made by shaping ground meat into small balls. Beef and lamb are common meats that are used for kofta.

The name kofta itself comes from a classic Persian word that means to grind. This refers to the manner in which the meat is prepared; ground with spices and seasonings. Once cooked, the tender flavorful kofta is served on skewers, atop flatbread or in a curried gravy or sauce. With kanchkolar kafta … it is the latter.

The technique for making kofta wasn’t originally part of Bengali cuisine. It came due to the influence of Persian invaders in the area.

Raw Bananas or Plantain

In Bengali, Kanch means raw while Kolar means banana. Thus, the kanchkolar of this dish is merely raw bananas. More specifically, raw green bananas. However, often cooks will use plantain instead as it is a similar consistency and taste.

Raw bananas are a common ingredient in Bengali cuisine. Rich in fiber, potassium and iron, raw bananas are loaded with health benefits. Kanchkolar kofta is an excellent way to take advantage of those benefits, even if you don’t like raw bananas.

Recipe & Prep

There are a number of different recipes for kanchkolar kofta. Different families often have their own unique take on the dish. Explore different recipes and find the one that works best for you. For now, the recipe below is a good place to start.

Recipe

Ingredients for the koftas:

  • 2 medium-sized Raw bananas
  • 2 tablespoons of Bengal Gram flour (besan)
  • 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour (atta)
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon of Garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
  • A splash of oil
  • Oil for deep frying (several cups)

Ingredients for the gravy/sauce:

  • 2 medium-sized Potatoes
  • 4 Green cardamoms
  • 3 or 4 Cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • ½ teaspoon of Garlic paste
  • ½ teaspoon of Turmeric powder
  • ¾ teaspoons of Red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of Cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons of Oil
  • 1 teaspoon of Sugar
  • Salt to taste

Preparation

Dry roast the dry whole spices. Then dry grind these spices in a mixer to a coarse powder. Set aside in a bowl.

Wash the raw bananas. Pressure cook them along with the potatoes after peeling the skin of the bananas and the potatoes. Gently mash them together.

Add cumin powder, two to three teaspoons of masala powder and the gram flour. Mix everything together to make a smooth dough-like paste and then divide that dough into small balls for deep frying.

Next, follow the steps listed here to prepare the gravy/sauce.

Variations

The number of variations on Kofta dishes — both vegetarian and not — are as many as the possibilities. Kofta dishes are quite popular and widely used throughout Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Indian cuisines. Among the variations of kofta is malai kofta with potatoes and paneer, lauki kofta with squash and cabbage kofta.

What’s the Difference Between Biryani and Pulao?

On the surface, biryani and pulao are similar dishes. They’re both delicious all-in-one combinations of rice and a mix of meat and vegetables that comes from the Indian subcontinent. But when you look a little deeper, the two dishes have distinct differences. Biryani and pulao are cooked, spiced and served differently and even have a different history. Although some people use the terms interchangeably or say they’re the same dish, true foodies understand what makes biryani and pulao unique.

It’s All in the Cooking

The main difference between biryani and pulao is the way that they’re cooked. Pulao is the simpler dish. It’s cooked in one pot and the finished product is mixed together. It’s also cooked using the absorption method, meaning liquid is added to the rice and other ingredients and the dish is cooked until all the water is soaked up by the rice.

Biryani, on the other hand, is a complex dish that can take a long time to prepare. It’s defined by its layers; a true biryani has a layer of rice, then a layer of the meat or vegetables being used, followed by a top layer of rice. Generally, the rice is par-boiled while the meat and vegetables are cooked in the spices. Then the two mixes are layered in a pot and cooked for a long time over low heat.

Biryani is served as a main dish and has a complex mix of spices that give it a rich flavor. Pulao, on the other hand, is usually a side dish. It’s always flavorsome, but tends to use simpler spices

History of the Dishes

Food historians still debate the origins of the two dishes, but it’s possible they have a common ancestor. Simple one-pot meals of rice and meat may have evolved based on local ingredients, leading to different regional dishes, including biryani, pulao and paella in Spain.

Pulao is found throughout the world and known by many different names. In America, it’s often known as pilaf, while those in the UK call it pilau. Other names include pela, polo and fulao. Most believe it originated in central Asia and spread from there, importing pulao south to India and north into Europe. When central Asia was part of the USSR, pulao even became a staple on Russian tables. Charles Perry named five great schools of pulao: Caribbean, Central Asian, Indian, Iranian and Turkish. Each was developed using the ingredients and flavors found in the region.

Biryani, on the other hand, has its origins in India. Some food historians believe it was developed for royalty of the Mughal Empire that ruled much of India from 1526 to 1857. Others think it came to southern India via Arab traders. Still others say that it developed somewhat independently in both locations. Cooks in different parts of India developed regional specialities that use local ingredients and even different cooking methods, such as kacchi biryani, which layers raw meat and rice together and cooks them in a single pot.

Do-It-Yourself Pulao

Pilau or Pilaf with Beef Meat Close Up Selective Focus. Traditional Asian Dish Plov also known as Polow, Pilav, Pallao, Pulao, Palaw with Rice, Spices, Vegetables and Fried Veal

Pulao is the easier dish for an amateur cook to try. First, gather your ingredients. Basmati rice is the most popular type of rice to use in the dish, but others can also be used. For meat, goat or poultry is traditional, but the dish is built around using what’s at hand, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Vegetable options include onions, carrots, peas or whatever appeals. For spices you can go as complex or simple as you like. An Indian pulao generally uses cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Lastly, you need the liquid. Plain water is perfectly acceptable, although some people prefer a meat broth to add flavor. You should have around twice as much liquid as rice.

The most important step in cooking a pulao is washing the rice. Both the pulao and biryani are defined by the way the rice grains in the dishes are separate. Washing the rice gets rid of the starch that makes the grains stick together. Some people recommend washing it at least three times, while others soak their rice overnight. At the very least, wash your rice in running water until the water runs clear.

To cook, heat some oil in a saucepan. Next, add your aromatics, such as garlic and onions, and your spices, and stir until onion is softened and the spices have released their fragrance and flavor. Next, add the meat. This should only be cooked until it’s sealed. Then add half your liquid, bring it to a boil and cover until the meat is almost cooked. For chicken, this is around 10 minutes.

Then add the rest of the water and the rice. Bring it back to a boil and simmer for 18-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the meat is tender. At the end of the cooking time you can stir through some fresh herbs for extra flavor.

There are many different pulao recipes you can try to appeal to a range of different palates.

Cooking Biryani

Biryani is a much more difficult recipe to master. A traditional biryani can take hours to prepare and cook and there are often side dishes such as raita and chutneys that also need to be made. Many recipes found online don’t have the layers, which makes them closer to a pulao than a biryani.

Again, washing your rice is key, as is developing a spice mix that gives a rich, robust flavor. In a biryani, the meat is browned separately from the rice, which is partially cooked, then drained. Create layers with half the rice, a layer of meat and finally the rest of the rice. Broth or gravy is added, which is soaked up by the bottom layer of rice, leaving the top layer light and fluffy.

If you’re planning to cook biryani at home, find a recipe that has a mix of spices that appeal to you, whether that’s the cardamom and cloves of a Hyderabadi biryani or the turmeric and mustard oil found in Kolkata.