This Cape Malay lamb biryani is just the right amount of spicy that the whole family can enjoy this delicious and fragrant dish!
Lamb biryani (or breyani) is also associated with Eid and often served for lunch or dinner. Traditional Cape Malay biryani is not as spicy as Indian biryani. In the past, the biryani was made with white parboiled rice but today this has been substituted with white basmati rice. The recipe below is articulated in steps, as this is the only way I can walk you through the preparation and cooking process to ensure you achieve success! If you’re using saffron for the marinade, you can omit the turmeric because it only serves as a colouring agent in this dish.
For the marinade
- 2 cups (500 ml) plain or Greek yoghurt or buttermilk
- 2 green chillies, halved
- 1 ripe tomato, skinned and grated
- 2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin
- ½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric or
- ½ tsp (2.5 ml) saffron
- 1 tsp (5 ml) biryani masala or roasted masala
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cardamom pods, bruised
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 allspice pimentos
For the biryani
- 1.5 kg mutton pieces
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) peeled and finely grated ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp (15 ml) salt
- 1 cup (250 ml) brown lentils, rinsed
- 2 cups (500 ml) water
- 500 g parboiled or basmati rice
- 1 cup (250 ml) vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
- 300 ml hot water
- 6 large potatoes, quartered
- 4–5 onions, thinly sliced
- 50 g butter
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
- Few strands of saffron for garnish
Step 1 – Making the marinade
Place all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix to form a cohesive and smooth marinade.
Step 2 – Marinating the meat
Rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towel. Place in a bowl or container. Massage the ginger, garlic and 1 tsp (5 ml) salt into the meat and add this to the biryani marinade. It needs to marinate for at least 3–4 hours, or overnight if possible.
Step 3 – Preparing the lentils
Cook the lentils in a pot with the 2 C (500 ml) water and boil for 20 minutes until tender. Rinse and drain in a colander and set aside.
Step 4 – Preparing the rice
- Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Rinse and drain in a colander.
- Heat 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the oil over a medium heat in a medium-sized pot or pan. To this, add the rice and toss until all the grains are glossy and well coated with the oil.
- Add 100 ml of the hot water to the rice and cook, covered, over a medium/low heat for 8–10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and set aside.
Step 5 – Frying the potatoes
- Heat the remaining 220 ml oil over a high heat in the same pot in which you intend cooking the biryani.
- Add the quartered potatoes to the warm oil and reduce the heat toa medium setting.
- Shallow-fry the potatoes for about 10 minutes until all the sidesare golden.
- Remove the partially fried potatoes from the warm oil and set aside.
Step 6 – Braising the onions
- In the same pot you used for frying the potatoes and still containing the warm oil, increase the heat to high and add the onion slices.
- Keep a watchful eye as the onions can burn if left unattended.
- Stir frequently and braise for 8–10 minutes until golden and crisp.
- Remove half of the onions from the hot oil and set aside for garnishing.
Step 7 – Cooking the meat
- In the same pot with the leftover onions still sizzling, add the meat and marinade and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes on a medium/high heat.
- Reduce the heat to medium/low and cook, covered, for a further 30 minutes. The meat should be slow-cooked to allow all of the spices to permeate and infuse into the meat. You should have a thickish, not watery, gravy before moving on to the next step. Remove the meat and gravy from the pot and set aside in a container. Keep covered.
Step 8 – Layering the pot
- Using the same pot, place the partially fried potatoes at the bottom of the pot. Use half of the cooked rice to cover the potatoes.
- Sprinkle ½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt and half the saffron over the rice.
- Spoon the meat and gravy on top of the rice. Now cover the meat with the cooked lentils and ensure that they are evenly spread.
- Sprinkle the other half of the rice and remaining ½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt over the lentils.
- Spread the reserved onions evenly over the rice, along with a final scattering of the remaining saffron.
Step 9 – Final stage to perfection
- Cut the butter into little pieces and place these randomly over the final layer of ingredients. Use the remaining 200 ml hot water and sprinkle generously over the rice.
- Use a sheet of foil or wax paper to cover the contents in the pot, as this assists in locking in the steam, allowing all the flavours to develop further.
- Cover securely with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes over a high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Once cooked, garnish the biryani with halved boiled eggs and a few strands of saffron. Serve hot with Cape Malay Tomato and Onion Salad
Extracted from My Cape Malay Kitchen by Cariema Isaacs (Struik Lifestyle)
Photograph: © Penguin Random House / Nigel Deary