Category Archives: Ethnic

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.
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Unexpected Dinner Invitation – Lebanese Chicken, Rice and Tabouleh


It was Monday. I had just come back from a short vacation to Montreal and was sorting out my e-mail, when I received a message from my friend Ahmad whom I haven’t seen in a while. The subject was “Chicken Party” and as I opened it realized it was a dinner invitation for myself and Nada – our mutual friend. I was excited because Ahmad is Lebanese and I knew that the food will be exquisite.

On the Menu? Chicken marinated with hot spices (Red Taouk Spices, found in most Middle Eastern stores – Abido is the most common brand), yogurt, garlic and onions, tabouleh, olive oil infused rice, quadruple fudge brownie sundae (the fourth ingredient is love).
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When I arrived,  parsley was being diced for tabouleh and I was advised to stay out of the kitchen :).
While the chef was making last minute preparations, the rice was finished. It was infused with olive oil which gave it an extra kick of flavour.
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Soon after, the chicken came out of the oven and we were ready to eat. The chicken bubbled with spices.

There were only three of us and SO much food, two types of spiced chicken, a full pot of rice, tabouleh, and not to mention a dessert that was coming. The chicken and the rice looked even better on the plate, and I really liked how the various colours on a white plate complemented each other.

Since we were all born and bred on either a mix of mediterranean and middle eastern diets, no meal is complete without bread.

Pièce de Résistance!
Nada was in charge of dessert. Yummy “orgasm” brownies with Haagen Dazs Mayan chocolate ice cream, served with traditional Lebanese tea. YUM!
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This was one of my favourite lazy Wednesdays in September. Time spent with friends is the time best spent. Especially when it’s accompanied by great food and great conversation. For the rest of the evening, we discussed Middle Eastern politics, woes of being a PhD student and finished off the evening watching Iranian stand-up comedy.

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For high resolution images, please click on each photo.

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RECIPES

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Red Taouk Spiced Chicken

  • Two chicken breasts
  • 200 ml of plain yogurt (you can add more if you want)
  • 1-2 tbsps of salt
  • Two lemons. I used 1/2 of a small bottled lemon (the one shaped like a lemon)
  • 50 ml of olive or canola oil (use your judgement).
  • 1-2 large cooking onions (ground into paste)
  • Garlic. I used 10 cloves or so.
  • Spice mix. It’s called “Red Taouk Spices”. The brand is called “Abido”. There’s red and white. If you don’t find red, you can use the white one.
Mix the whole thing, seal it in a container and let it marinate overnight in the fridge. Before you cook it, add a very thin layer of oil to your tray in order to prevent sticking. Cook for 40 mins at 350-375 F. Cover tray with aluminum foil for the first 25 mins.

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Rice

Boil water in a pan. You will need 2 cups of water for every cup of rice. Rinse the rice well before using it. I used Indian rice. Add salt and olive oil to the boiling water and stir. Then add the rice. Cook for 20 mins at low heat. It may foam. Keep an eye on it. If this happens lift the cover monumentality and lower the heat a bit. After that, turn the heat off, keep the cover on and let it steam for 10 minutes of so.

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Tabouleh

  • Chop parsley (2) (really fine)
  • Dice 1 large tomato
  • Dice one medium size onion
  • Burgol: 1/4 cup soaked for a few minutes and drained
  • Use lemon juice and lemon to your liking.
  • Spices: it’s called “Seven Spices”. It’s a mix of seven kinds of spices. Abido brand is the one most commonly used – found in most Middle Eastern stores. Use 0.5-1 tbsp, depending on the quantity you’re preparing.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve.