Fresh take on Biriyani

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Meera Sodha’s new cookbook, Fresh India, has become a prized possession in my kitchen.

This book is a real go to for any vegetarian that loves Indian food. Or if you’re like me, not a vegetarian but loves to find new ways of eating vegetables, it has more than plenty to offer. It’s also full of  handy tips, beautiful illustrations and recipes for vibrant dishes.

Meera is from Lincolnshire and being so close to my home town, Leicester, I love that she had so many similar experiences with family and food. But the difference is, I grew up in one of the main parts of the UK with a huge Indian community – where we had access to all kinds of Indian vegetables and all the spices and cooking materials needed in any Indian kitchen, right on our doorstep. So much so, that Indian families across the UK do a lot of their shopping in Leicester.

But for Meera, her family made the most of seasonal English vegetables, and has created some fascinating dishes with them. I’ve already made quite a few things from the book and am full of excitement each time, because they’re authentically made with fresh spices and techniques but, some of them are completely different to anything I grew up eating.

A few examples would be dishes like: leek, pea and mint samosas, rainbow chard saag aloo and this dish which I’d like to share in today’s blog post; Grand Vegetable Biriyani – which is made with sweet potatoes, beetroot and paneer.

I love love love biriyani! My Mum makes vegetable biriyani all the time and this usually has peas, carrots and cauliflower in it. So when I saw that Meera’s biriyani included my favourite root veg and my most loved ingredient, paneer, I had to make it.

In the recipe it states to use puff pastry as the lid for the biriyani to cook under, but I did the good ol’ lid on top of a strong casserole dish and placed chapati dough around the edges to carefully seal it. See the recipe below for this incredible dish that can be served just on its own…

Serves 6 as a main course

400g basmati rice

400g sweet potatoes

400g raw beetroot

500g ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained

225g hard paneer, cut into 2cm cubes

rapeseed oil

salt

1 1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 1/4 rsp ground cumin

2 tsp garam masala

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 large onions, finely sliced

(for the puff pastry lid): 1 egg, 300g ready-rolled puff pastry, 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tbsp nigella seeds

(for the chapatti dough to seal the edges of a lid): a small cup of chapatti flour, hot water

For the coconut and coriander sauce:

1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk

100g fresh coriander

6 cloves garlic

1 green finger chilli

3cm ginger, peeled

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp lemon juice

 

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6 and line 3 baking trays with foil. Wash the rice in a few changes of cold water, then leave to soak.

Next, wash the sweet potatoes and beetroot (no need to peel), cut into wedges, then throw on the separate trays. On the final tray, add the tomatoes,then the chickpeas and paneer.

Put 6tbsp of oil into a small bowl, with 1 1/3 tsp salt, the chilli powder, cumin, garam masala and lemon juice. Mix well and spoon over the vegetables but adding more to the paneer tray. Coat everything properly then place in the oven – with the paneer on the top shelf – and bake for 40mins, checking and stirring after 20mins.

Place 3tbsp oil into your casserole dish over medium heat, when hot, add the onions and cook till browned and caramelise. Take out and place aside. When the onions are cooking, stick all the coconut and coriander sauce bits in a blender and blitz till smooth. Pour in a frying pan, place over medium heat and cook for 10mins. Check the salt and take off the heat.

Drain the rice, place in a saucepan (or rice cooker) and cover with plenty of cold water and bring to boil. Lower the heat to a fast simmer and cook for 10mins or till the rice is tender. Drain well, place aside with a tea towel on top.

If using the puff pastry lid: beat the egg with a bit of salt and cut a square to fit over the biriyani dish. Or make the chapatti dough and make into a long snake like shape.

Layer the biriyani: the aim is to end with the caramelised onions on top. So start with half of the paneer mix at the bottom of the biriyani dish, follow with a quarter of the rice, quarter of the onions, then add half of the coconut sauce, half of the beetroot and sweet potatoes, then further quarter of the rice and onions. Repeat.

For the puff pastry lid: place the square of pastry to fit over the casserole dish and working quickly, place on top of the dish and seal it tightly on the edges. Brush the top liberally with the egg and sprinkle with the seeds.

For the chapatti dough: place a lid on the biriyani, and seal the edges with the dough.

Place in the over for 25mins. Take out and cut away the pastry or dough and serve big spoonfuls so everyone gets a layer of each part of the dish. Serve with raita or salad.

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You won’t be disappointed with this dish, or this book if you haven’t already bought it…

Turtle Bay: Cheltenham Road, Bristol

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The other night I had the pleasure of eating at the new Turtle Bay on Cheltenham Road in Bristol, who have been open for about a month now. I was invited to the launch party too and if you’ve been to Turtle Bay before, you’ll have an idea on how great the vibe is likely to be at such an event. Lots of great cocktails, friendly staff (that were also on the dance floor and boogying whilst serving – which I loved!), with awesome music being played by bands such as Troy Ellis and Laid Blak.

My experience at dinner was not too different. The atmosphere was buzzing and lively, and the food, well I already expected tantalising, fresh and varied dishes, and that’s what I most definitely received!

I attended with my blogger friend – Gingeybites – who has also made (the right!) move to Bristol from the Midlands, along with her partner and then Greg. Here is what we had and what I thought about the meal overall…

For starters we got through their chilli squid (I’ve had this at other branches and always love it), along with jerk pit prawns and hot hot pepper roti. I believe I had the best starter though 😉 it was the Bridgetown Doubles (bottom pic) and it was immediately both fresh and comforting, allowing me to enjoy a real mix of flavours and textures in one dish.

It reminded me of the Indian prawn puri in a way, except imagine all the comfort of an Indian puri but topped with spicy chickpeas, cucumber chutney and coconut..! Those vibrant colours, some sweetness with a crunch then a bam (!) all over a thick roti. I could’ve easily had twice as much and called it the main dish!

Dave's main

Jerk chicken with rice and peas

Alex's main

The BBQ pork belly

 

 

Goat curry

My goat curry

For mains, there were many tempting choices but we had a mix of curry pork cheeks, jerk chicken and BBQ pork belly, which all sound good right? Well, they all pretty much were, especially the jerk chicken – really tasty and juicy with the right amount of spicing, without being too overloaded with heat. 

After thinking about it all day and knowing I was going to anyway, I went for the goat curry. The thought amongst our table was that if we pick a couple of dishes that are known to be authentically Carribean, it’s a great way of telling you the quality of the place overall. And it was what I’d expect from any goat curry: rich sauce, soft meat, a good amount of spicing, and this was served with dumplings plus rice and peas. Dumplings I’ve had before back in Leicester, but those were too greasy and filling after just a bite, whereas these were more light, not so greasy and easily eaten alongside the goat curry – soaking up the sauce and juices nicely, which isn’t a bad thing at all now is it!

 

Even though I was really full (dumplings in both starters and mains, come on!), I still had to go for dessert…. But unfortunately this time, mine wasn’t my favourite.  I went for the spiced chocolate pot: a set chocolate cream with coconut shavings and coconut ice cream.  When it arrived, it wasn’t what I was expecting – which was a warm, (room temperature at least) chocolate dish that can be easily spooned up and eaten like a rich creamy mousse and the ice cream to slowly melt in the duration of eating it. Unfortunately it was a bit too set for me and I was trying to carve out bites in chunks. The ice cream however was incredible – Proper coconut-y and creamy and just delicious. I say the dessert winner of the night was Greg’s… the Caymanas rum cake, which was what it says in the description on the menu: a golden warm mellow cake with rum caramel and vanilla ice cream – just wow. I wanted to steal this but he wouldn’t allow it. In his words ‘it was incredible and tasted freshly made, nice amount of rum that slowly built up whilst you ate it but not being overpowering in any way.’ I look forward to returning knowing I can finish with this one!

Finally I can’t forget to mention our great waiter for the night, Blaise. He provided great service, really fun and chilled out guy who was simply happy to serve – which made us feel at ease and happy to have some banter too.

So if you’re looking for a night with mates in a vibrant atmosphere, with some pretty good cocktails and variety of great dishes, this Turtle Bay shouldn’t disappoint at all. Check it out in its new location on Cheltenham Road and enjoy!