Emirati-style lamb biriani


Lamb biriani with fried onions and cashew nuts

Or maybe I should say Fenno-Emirati style, not because I added dill, but for some of the other little tweaks I did, like substituting white rice with brown to keep it healthy.

I actually desperately wanted to add dill. I already had a bunch in my hand, but showing great strength of character I put it away. My favourite middle-eastern rice is Persian shivid polo, rice with saffron, dill and garlic and it goes really well with lamb, so I bet it would work perfectly in this biriani. I will try it sometime, but I wanted to keep this as authentic as possible so as not to always bastardise husband's favourite foods, but to delight him particularly since I recently tortured him with some oven baked mackerel fillets. He didn't seem to mind them too much, but I thought they were just vile. Not sure exactly what went wrong there, but wrong it went.

It's been a while since my last food mishap. And not even the best of us win every time. My sister who is a very competent cook, but maybe too experimental for her own good proudly WhatsApped me pictures on her Georgian Khatchapuri pies going in the oven looking amazing. And then a few hours later a summary: "A shit pie."

And I am not exactly sure about her sourdough rye breads that she made a few weeks ago. They looked very impressive, but when I asked if they were nice, her answer was: "Sour and tough like Finland". I suppose this meant that they were as they should be, but hard to say. My sister is a woman of few words. And many of them unpublishable.

Lamb biriani with fried onions and cashew nuts

UAE lamb biriani with fried onions and cashew nuts

India may have made this the world famous dish it is today, the hyderabadi biriani maybe the most famous of them all, but the dish most likely originally came from Iran. It is very popular throughout the region and it's the national dish of husband's homeland United Arab Emirates, at least according to some sources, I'm not sure if there is an absolute official list somewhere. But anyway Emirates was where I learned to love this dish sitting very uncomfortably on the floor surrounded by his brother's family.

It is a true celebration dish, often served in weddings on huge platters and there is often a chicken and a lamb version available. But you may want to be quick, in the last wedding we attended in Dubai he was taking pictures of the food and the guests and when he finally picked up his spoon the lamb was gone and only rice was left. Luckily the rice is very tasty too. And he can take his time with anything, so I can't blame his tablemates. (I was in another table with his nieces, otherwise would have of course saved some lamb for him.)

Emirati wedding feast of harees and biriani
Biriani in an Emirati wedding. Next to it Harees, which is also sometimes called the national dish of UAE, a type of dip mad of cracked, ground wheat and meat, a mild but delicious starter dish. 
Emirati wedding feast of harees and biriani
This was the second night of the celebration, this time a more modern setting, again we had some harees and biriani, but also grilled meats.

Emirati wedding feast of harees and biriani

Biriani is also often eaten at home with family. We have been served it many times by husband's family and it is always just amazing. You could just eat it forever.

The Emirati biriani tends to have a bit of a kick. It's not super spicy, but there is definitely some chilli in it. I make mine reasonably mild, since husband is not into very hot foods and then just add tabasco on mine at the table. Tabasco is not the national dish of UAE.

Family dinner in an Emirati home
Table is set.
Next time we are over in UAE or Iran I must ask one of husband's family to cook biriani with me, so that I see how it's really done. But I have made it many times and studied lots of different recipes. I try to make it like we have eaten it in Dubai and Iran. I don't use sultanas or any of that shit. I hate raisins and sultanas, what a waste of perfectly good grapes.

Green Fattoush salad with fried flatbread chips

Middle-Eastern yogurt sauce with mint and lemon
Laban - yoghurt, mint and lemon

Lamb biriani

For the meat and marinade:
About 800g-1kg boneless lamb chunks
1-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
1 tbsp tomato paste
5 heaped tbsp plain yogurt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder or a pinch of dried chilli (or more or less depending on how hot you like)
½ tsp ground cloves

To make the sauce:
Vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced

2 large tomatoes,  chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint 
Salt and pepper to taste

For the rice:
2.5 cups of brown rice
Chicken stock cube
Generous pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp rose water

To marinate the meat mix the yogurt, salt, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, spices and lamb. Mix well and leave to marinate for a few hours or ideally overnight.

About an hour before starting cooking, take the meat out of the fridge to get to room temperature. 

Heat the oil in a large pot and add onions. Keep stirring and when the onions are soft take most of the onions to one side, Keep browning the rest until they are brown in color. These will be used to garnish the dish.

In another pot heat some vegetable oil. Add the lamb cubes and sauté the meat for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the softened onions (apart from the ones browned to be used as garnish), tomatoes and chopped mint and continue to cook until the tomatoes start to soften. Add 1 cup of water and bring to boil. Leave the meat to cook on low heat on the stove. Or you can also place it in 190C oven to cook. Cook until the meat is soft, this will take about 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of you lamb pieces. Chec the seasoning and add salt or black pepper if needed.

While the meat is cooking, prepare the rice. Wash the rice well and soak in lightly salted water for at least 30 minutes. This will get rid of extra starch and ensure your rice is not sticky. Drain the rice. 

Cook the rice in plenty of water, a pinch of salt and a chicken stock cube on the stove until the rice is almost done. Or you can use your rice cooker. Don't cook all the way, because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain any excess water.

Grind the saffron strands in pestle and mortar and cover with a few tbsp of boiling water, add the rose water and mix well. Leave to infuse.

Once your meat is soft assemble the biriani in an ovenproof dish or pot. You can brush the dish lightly with vegetable oil. You can do more layers if you like, I usually layer about half of rice on the bottom, drizzle a little bit of the saffron water, then add all of the meat and tomato sauce and cover with the rest of the rice and the rest of the saffron water on top.

Cover the pot and bake in 190C oven for 20-25 minutes. Once ready mix the top a little to spread the saffron and garnish with the browned onions and some cashew nuts.

Serve with a fattoush or shirazi salad and laban mint yoghurt sauce. 

Persian Fattoush salad with fried flatbread chips

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