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