KZN breyani: eat it with your fingers!

A KZN breyani is a truly wonderful thing: part of the great international family of rice-based communal dishes.
Issue date 15 June 2007

It is easy to make, assuming you’ve got the time for a multiple-stage production run in the kitchen. On the other hand, if time is an issue, take comfort from the ease with which a breyani can be frozen and reheated so far into the future that it begins to look like science fiction. With its emphasis on basic processes, this winning recipe provides a template for further development and ­experimentation by the beginner cook. 

To make a KZN chicken and lentil breyani for six people, you will need:
• 500g of chicken thighs

• 4 cups of white rice

• 1 cup of brown lentils

• 4 chillies

• 4 onions

• 4 cloves of garlic

• 40mm of fresh ginger rhizome

• 4 sticks of cinnamon

• 4 sprigs of curry leaf

• 4 sprigs of dhania (coriander leaf)

• 4 white cardamoms

• 2 tomatoes

- Advertisement -

And for the fresh masala:
• 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

• 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds

• 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds

• 1 teaspoon of green cardamom

• 20mm of turmeric root

We begin by moving it up with the masala. Masala is a combination of freshly ground and roasted spices varying in complexity depending on the chef’s capacity for self-indulgence. This one is simple, fine-tasting, and good with other Indian-influenced recipes.

Begin by slightly roasting the whole spices, except for the turmeric root. Do this in a dry frying pan over high heat, stirring the spices to keep them from burning. When they are lightly toasted and fragrant from the heat, tip them into a dedicated spice grinder with the turmeric root and reduce the whole mass to a dry, fine ­powder. That’s it: your masala is ready sahib.

Now for the lentils. Lentils take forever to cook and in some nasty cases come complete with tiny lentil-shaped molar-cracking stones. To save time and maybe even teeth as well, consider a can of precooked lentils instead of the regular variety. Cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water, drain and reserve.

Debone the chicken thighs and cut the meat into strips. Fry these in a little sunflower or canola oil until done to your liking. Remove and reserve.

Slice the peeled onions, finely chop the garlic and fresh ginger. Coarsely chop the chillies complete with pips for added fire. Sauté this collection of ingredients in sunflower or canola oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, until the onions have reduced to a golden hash. Then add the whole white cardamoms, whole cinnamon sticks and curry leaves, stirring well to integrate them with the mixture. At this point add the cooked chicken strips and the freshly made masala mix. Stir then remove from the heat.

Select a large, four-litre saucepan. Pour in the cooked rice and lentils plus the contents of the frying pan. Combine with a wooden spoon or plastic spatula, season to taste with salt, then serve in individual dishes. Garnish each serving with a few hand-torn leaves of fresh dhania. Some little bowls of fresh cucumber in plain yogurt add to the ­general sense of deep pleasure and ­profound contentment.  – David Basckin