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Posts Tagged ‘rice’

 briyani, my comfort food

Hyderabad briyani is often garnished with boiled eggs.

okra dish

Okra masala...a great dish.

I’m on the briyani trail again. This time in Northern California.

The Sunnyvale/San Jose area has a big population of Indian expatriates working in the IT industry, and there is a big selection of Indian restaurants. I went online to see opinions about the best briyani in the area, and a couple of restaurants always received the best ratings.

I decided to try one of them, Taste Buds, which uses halal meat.

The manager, Ram, told me that the cook is from Hyderabad, and the briyani is Hyderabad briyani cooked dum style, which is the authentic way of cooking briyani. In the dum method, a layer of rice is alternated with a layer of briyani spices and meat. The layers are repeated, then the pot is tightly covered and cooked over a low fire to fully integrate the flavors.

The goat briyani was rather good: the flavors were more subtle, buttery and fragrant. If there was one complaint, the meat was a little dry.

What turned out to be the winner, though, was the fish curry. So far, it was closest to the Southern Indian fish curry that I enjoy in Singapore and Malaysia. This style of fish curry has a delectable tang to it.

I think the Southern Indian fish curry in Singapore and Malaysia has been a little “Malayanised” or “localized” to suit the local flavors or taste. It has a complex, bold taste with that unmistakable tang. Roti prata (or roti canai as it is called in Malaysia), a grilled flour pancake, eaten with freshly cooked fish curry is one of my favorite breakfasts. You have to try it if you are in this region.

Well, Back to California: Taste Bud’s fish curry was very satisfying. Ram explained that the restaurant makes its own curry spices from scratch. I also like that they use sea bass for the curry. Quite a few restaurants use tilapia which is the least costly fish but tastes rather flat in curries.

On another visit, I sampled a few other dishes, and another clear winner was the bindi/okra masala. The okra was cooked just to the right texture. An interesting appetizer that found its way to the table was the egg bajji which is boiled eggs dipped in chickpea flour and deep fried. Egg lovers would certainly enjoy this dish.

Ram also recommended another of their specialities, the chilli shrimp appetizer. I’ve yet to try it, but I will visit Taste Buds gain as the restaurant scored high points for good food at very reasonable prices.

To read about my favorite briyani place in Southern California, more at http://buildingbridgesworld.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/big-on-briyani/

sea bass in curry

There's nothing like a freshly-cooked, good fish curry.

egg appetizer

Egg bajji...dipped in chickpea flour and deep fried.

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There are almost endless ways to jazz up the fried rice.

Is there any Asian who does not like fried rice?

Fried rice, or nasi goreng as we call it in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, is a one-dish meal that can be enjoyed any time of day.

It’s also a good way of making use of leftover rice, and letting one’s creativity flow in adding different spices and ingredients to flavor and enhance the rice.

This creativity was put to the test at the MIFNA (Malaysian Islamic Foundation of North America in Southern California) Family Day held in Orange County recently. The Nasi Goreng Cooking Competition attracted a variety of entries including several variations of seafood fried rice, spicy fried rice and  Nyonya or Straits Chinese fried rice.

After two rounds of testing to break the tie for the top winner, the prize was awarded to Suzyana Salleh for her Nasi Goreng Seafood. She used fish sauce as a flavoring which added a nice tang.

Entries in the competition.

The Mediterranean Nasi Goreng by Robert won the second prize. “I use mutton cut into bite-sized pieces, and boiled with tumeric, ginger and salt to make it tender, ” he elaborated on his recipe.

“The boiled mutton is then fried in olive oil with red onion, tomatoes, cumin powder and balsamic vinegar. Cooked rice is added and everything is fried together.”

And that’s the best thing about fried rice: it can be cooked the traditional ways, or jazzed up in eclectic styles; comfort food or up-market. Just take your pick.

The winners: Seafood style (back, right) and Mediterranean, next to it.

The watermelon eating contest was a popular event at the Family Day.

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Good briyani is my comfort food.

Briyani rice is big in our family.

Briyani is a rice dish where good quality rice, usually basmati, is cooked with lots of onions and a complex blend of spices. Meat, fish, vegetables may also be added. Traditionally, mutton or lamb briyani is a dish to celebrate important occasions. And in our family, we have a long line of relatives who make excellent briyani, and who view skimping on the spices as almost a crime.

Thus I like my briyani full-bodied and robust, and I like to have it on a regular basis.

When I moved to California, I couldn’t find briyani that satisfied my taste, and  I was really missing my briyani fix. Then I met Odah, a Singaporean lady, in the supermarket. We became acquainted and she told me that she knew of a restaurant near where we live that makes briyani “like the one we get in Singapore”.  So we went to Noorani Restaurant in Garden Grove which serves Pakistani and Indian cuisine, and true enough, they serve briyani that was closest to the taste that I’m used to.

I’ve lost touch with Odah. But Odah, if you are reading this, or wherever you are, thanks again for the tip.

Chicken karahi...a tasty blend of spices and tomato flavor.

Now I go to the restaurant once every two weeks or so, or whenever the craving strikes. I usually order lamb briyani. Recently, the Malaysia Association of Southern California held its “Makan Makan” event, the association’s regular dining out activity, at Noorani. I decided to join in so that I could sample a bigger variety of dishes.

We were served beef briyani and plain briyani with a hearty lamb curry, tandoori chicken, okra cooked in spices and fried fish nuggets. We also had chicken karahi which is another of my favorite dishes. The base for this dish is a blend of spices and tomatoes.

I was told by one of the diners, Pat, that the word karahi refers to a round cooking pot used in Pakistani and Indian cooking. Well, that’s an interesting fact to learn.

Dessert...we had kheer, a rice pudding.

Just as a turkey meal needs cranberry sauce, briyani needs a sourish or a sweet/sour relish to balance the richness. The restaurant serves mint raita, a yogurt sauce which has a nice tang. I like my briyani with spicy cucumber pickles (acar timun), or with a version of cucumber-onion raita that my grandmother used to make, using thin coconut milk instead of yogurt.

I guess, one day, I’ll have to learn to make these relishes to go with the briyani, as well as suji, a creamy semolina pudding which, for me, is the perfect dessert to end a briyani meal.

Then I can sit down to a meal that will transport me across oceans and across generations.

Tandoori chicken is a popular dish in the US.

Mimi Lioe, president of the Malaysia Association, chatting with members.

 

To read about my search for good briyani in Northern California, see more at http://buildingbridgesworld.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/the-briyani-trail/

 

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