Mauritian Biryani + BBC “My Country” Documentary = One Humbled Girl


So, it’s a funny thing, blogging. You never know what kind of reaction you’ll get from writing about your life and sharing your passions, you never know what kind of people will walk into your life as a result…and that is the beauty of it, in my opinion. And I’m thrilled that my little kitchen adventures have even reached the far corners of this world, (can you say, Paradise on Earth – Mauritius! And if you don’t believe me, just check these out: )! How cool is that??  So, as a result of a recipe exchange, I have been entrusted with a traditional Mauritian Biryani recipe, courtesy of my new friend Olivier.   He said “I’ve put the whole of Mauritian culture in your hands”…First, I want to say, thank you for the translation and second I hope I lived up to the expectation :)
Sidenote: Olivier is a great alternative music enthusiast and I would encourage you to check out his blog - Alternative Albumz also!

So, I think this recipe had the most ingredients in one dish I’ve ever seen…however, majority of the ingredients were spices…and trust me, well worth the effort to get them all. My kitchen smelled so exotic all day! I surprised myself how well the chicken part turned out, actually, seeing as I’ve never made biryani before :) The part that scared me was the rice, because it’s so easy to screw up rice, and I don’t make it often to begin with. Well, it turns out, I DID screw up the rice…but only by making a WAY too much of it. Apparently, I was supposed to know that 1kg of rice means, 1 kg of cooked rice…which is only about 400-500 g of uncooked rice :) :) :)
So, now, I can start a food drive with the amount of rice that I have in my fridge :)

Yesterday was the perfect day to cook, although in the morning I was afraid that there won’t be enough good lighting, but by mid-day, the sunshine was out, which made it really easy. I think the preparation and cooktime was probably about 1.5 or 2 hours, which is not too bad at all, consdering how delicious it was, and the fact that I made so much, I can probably feed an entire army with it! :)
I also didn’t make my version as spicy as I could have…according to the recipe I should have put 4-5 chillies between the layers…but I was too scared to do this, so I did just one. I am too afraid of spicy :)

So, while I was uploading and editing the photos, I was lucky to catch this week’s BBC documentary “My Country”. This week, the focus was on China. More specifically, it talked about how domestic disputes are settled in very remote villages in China. They focused on 2 cases in the half-hour show – one of elderly abuse and one divorce. So, what happens is that, in the case of domestic disputes, the citizens of the village have a right to file a complaint with the courts. However, because the area is so remote, instead of people going to the court, the court comes to them. This makeshift court consists of, usually men, who are respected within their community, and are considered educated and wise, and they interpret and represent the law. For every dispute, they first come to the house to investigate, and many times, they can only get there on foot, because of the remoteness. Then, when the court date is set, the men come back and fashion a makeshift courtroom, either outside, or in some room, by bringing tables and chairs, their name tags, the big Chinese crest and court documents.
The reason that I couldn’t peel myself away from this program was just the sheer amazement at the people of this world, and how we are all so different but in the end we are all the same. Case in point, and the whole reason I’m sharing this story, is one of the court cases – the divorce. The man and the woman have been married for 12 years and have a 10 year old son. However, the man was in a car accident 6 years ago that left him paralyzed, so his wife now had to find a job to support the family and pay for his treatments and to take care of him and their son. I guess after 6 years, he realized that he couldn’t ask her to look after him anymore and he filed for divorce, for her sake. Divorce cases in China are extremely rare because marriage is seen as a sacred union and no matter how difficult it is, you are supposed to stick it out, which is what made this case even more interesting. The program filmed their last meal together as a family, and it happened to be the Chinese Moon Festival. “Get the good wine” he said “It’s the Moon Festival after all.” What ensued was him talking, with sadness, resolve and a glimmer of hope, and his wife quietly sobbing. “Tomorrow, our marriage will end. I have made you suffer for 6 years. For six years, you had to take care of me and our son, and I have been nothing but a burden to you. And really, I don’t even know how to begin to thank you. Our marriage is ending after 12 years, and you don’t have to look after me anymore. It’s the Moon Festival, and you never get to see your mom and dad on the Moon Festival because you always have to look after me. After today, you will be able to see your family. This is the worst thing that could have happened, but I don’t want you to suffer anymore. I Thank you…and I will fight to live. Now, let’s turn some music on, we are always sad on Moon Festival”
His wife was sobbing quietly and all she managed to say was “Drink and stop talking”

The next day, the couple was divorced. The court met in a yard in front of the local medical clinic, and the husband’s statement was read that outlined custody and money resolutions. I was just simply blown away. This man was so humbling and their story really touched me. His resolve to keep living and keep fighting, even when it seems that the future outlook is so bleak, and now with a conscious choice to dissolve his family…just really put things in perspective. His realization that he couldn’t put his wife through more suffering, and letting her go even though he loved and needed her was so selfless. I was moved.
So, a doubly humbling experience for little old me: being entrusted with a traditional recipe, and realizing there are so many happy and sad stories out there…

Happy cooking!
Cheers!

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Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPE

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Mauritian Biryani

  • 3/4 cup oil, divided
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 250 g tomatoes ,roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  • 1 kg chicken pieces
  • 3 green cardamoms (take these out after cooking)
  • 1 large black cardamom (take out after cooking)
  • 5 cloves (take out after cooking – for flavour only)
  • 8 whole black pepper
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick (take out after cooking)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp red chillies powder
  • 2 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 10-12 dried plums
For rice :
  • 1 kg basmati rice (cooked rice – will need less uncooked rice)
  • 1 large cardamom
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 whole black pepper
  • salt
  • water (follow instructions on the bag for quantity of water)
For layers : 
  • 2 tomatoes, cut in round slices
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 2-3 tbsp ginger, julienne cut
  • 4-5 whole green chillies
  • orange food color
  • 1 tsp of water
Preparation:
  1. Heat 1/2 cup oil in a pan. Add onions and fry until brown. Remove from oil.
  2. Blend tomatoes, yogurt and browned onion to a fine paste in a blender.
  3. Add ginger garlic paste and chicken pieces to the oil.
    Cook on medium to high heat and fry the chicken until it changes its color.
  4. Add green cardamoms, large cardamom ,cloves, black pepper, cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.
  5. Pour the blended mixture and mix well. Add red chillies powder, coriander powder and salt. Add dried plums.
  6. Cook on medium heat until chicken is done and only a little gravy is left. Set aside.
  7. Soak rice for 30 minutes in enough water to cover; then drain.
    Boil water, add cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, black pepper and salt and boil rice till 2/3rd done.
  8. Drain the water off in a colander. Leave in the colander for a few minute, for all the water to drain out.
  9. Add half of the remaining 1/4 cup oil in the pan to coat the base.
  10. Spread 1/3 of the rice in a layer at the base of the pan. Now layer with 1/2 of the chicken.
  11. Next, layer with half of remaining rice. Place tomato slices, mint leaves, ginger and green chillies on top.
  12. Now spread remaining chicken as a layer.
  13. Finish with the remaining rice layered on top.
  14. Pour remaining oil and orange color dissolved in little water ( This will give you a few dark orange colored rice grains interspersed in the rest of the rice. It looks very nice when served ).
  15. Cook on a very low flame, with the lid tightly closed. This will take 20-30 minutes.
  16. Serve hot with fresh salad.

5 responses to “Mauritian Biryani + BBC “My Country” Documentary = One Humbled Girl

  1. I loved the story, and your pictures are amazing. I never thought about waiting for a sunny day to cook before, but it is a good idea!
    You should plan to go to “Ile Maurice”!

    Cheers,

    Jeremy

    PS: A minor typo: “10 year old sun” -> “”10 year old son”

  2. The pictures are amazing. I can smell the food ;-) It makes my mouth water..
    and it’s good to mention that we get more than 1 kg of cooked rice with 1kg of uncooked rice. I should have mentioned that. can’t wait for the next blog post. Have a nice day.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. You have given all the spices (and their proportions) instead of just mentioning – xx quantity of biryani masala, which leaves the reader guessing.

    • Hi Yash,
      I received this recipe from a Mauritian, and I followed his directions, so I didn’t think there was a point to ‘hide’ the ingredients and make readers have to look up what’s in the biryani masala. Thank you for reading :)

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