Ah, bay leaves, where would we be without these dusty bits of compost? If you consider them to be a strange remnant of the British colonisation of India, you can leave them out of the recipe. But not so with the chillies; they are a big deal in this recipe. Use three if your diners are not accustomed to the excitement of gustatory heat; otherwise, four or five.
Crabsticks are a curious industrial invention only distantly related to crabs. They are minced pollock (a coldwater fish) flavoured with crab juice. And no, I don’t know how they get the juice out of the crabs. You can substitute the crabsticks with prawns, if you wish. In a dedicated spice grinder, or a mortar and pestle, reduce the cumin, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and cardamom pods to dust. Mix in the tumeric powder. Behold, we have masala.
Next, thaw the frozen crabsticks, and cook, drain and reserve the rice under cover. Grate the fresh ginger root, crush, peel and mince the garlic, and pound the chillies into a paste. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Blanch the tomatoes and discard the skins. You will need a big pot for this meal. Pour a couple of tablespoons of canola or sunflower oil into the pot and bring it to medium heat on the hob.
Carefully (to avoid burning) fry the onions until they are soft. Add the grated ginger, minced garlic, curry leaves, optional bay leaves, pounded chillies and whole cinnamon sticks. Stir well and let these items slowly combine with the fried onions for about five minutes. Add the freshly ground masala and stir the contents of the pot to evenly distribute the various ingredients.
Chop the blanched tomatoes and add them to the pot, followed by the entire pack of thawed crabsticks. Stir gently.
The crabsticks will slowly break up into spaghetti-like threads. Ensure that these combine well with the ingredients already in the pot. Remove the pot from the stove. Add the cooked rice. Stir well to combine everything properly.
Garnish the biryani with the fresh coriander sprigs and serve the meal with mango pickle, thinly sliced cucumber in plain yogurt, and fruit chutney.
To drink? Chilled lager! Try a Cobra or two if you can find them.