Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cauliflower Briyani

I'm not very regular with my blog post but I guess this shouldn't wait any longer. Here to tantalize all you briyani lovers is a really easy and nice cauliflower briyani recipe that is fuss-free and almost fail-proof because it is all cooked in a rice cooker from start to finish! How great is that! I made this the same day as I had made the ayam masak merah (pls see previous post) and it was a day of gastronomic delight of the home cooking kind (!!mm...mmm!!), as I am surely and definitely, one of 'you briyani lovers' too.


Still, I continue to yearn for the best chicken dum briyani I've ever tasted in my life (so far). By best I mean it was worth every last broken grain of spiced rice there was!! If you're in Singapore, well you can start waddling your way to this gem of a place called Gayatri. They have a branch at Race Course Rd, where Little India is. Years ago, they used to have a small branch on Robinson Rd, where I used to work once upon my Singapore lifetime. It was always packed with lunch-goers regardless which day of the week. So, our Gayatri briyani lunch days would always end up with filled-to-the-brim styrofoam-packed chunky chicken briyani we would happily carry back and savor in the comforts of our office dining area, and complete with a cup of teh O (tea with sugar no milk) of course. The chicken was cooked to tender perfection along with the rice and spices and the whole lunch meal came complete with a hard boiled egg, yoghurt salad, rasam soup (Indian spicy tamarind soup) and 2 pieces of papadoms (Indian crackers). But at the end of that hearty meal which is guaranteed to give you maximum contentment, do be prepared for a carbo and ghee induced comatose for the next several hours, until of course when the clock has only 10 minutes to go before the work day ends. Weirdly, that's when we automatically get re-energized.


Making a perfect briyani I think, is no easy feat, especially if you go about the authentic way of cooking it (not rice cooker method of course). The fragrant basmati rice needs to remain grainy and not lumpy after cooking, yet it should not be dry but nicely moistened with the spice paste. I think the rice should be parboiled first before the next step of cooking it with the spices. Anyway, since I will never ever be a master chef at briyani of any kind, I'm thankful for this easy, short cut rice cooker method adapted from Azrah Kamal Shashi. It's a nice enough version for non-Indian home cook like me who once in a while seeks to dabble in a culinary adventure of one of her favorite rice meals. Here's the recipe, which can serve 3-5 people.


30 g ghee or butter
3/4 tsp mustard seeds
3 green chillies
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 big onion, sliced
60 g toasted cashew nuts
300 g cauliflower, cut into big florets
about 1/2 litre water (or slightly more depending on the brand of Basmati rice you use)
90 ml yoghurt
1/2 tbsp turmeric powder
1/2 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp masala powder
a bunch of coriander leaves, chopped (reserve some for garnish)
300 g basmati rice
salt to taste
3 or 4 hard boiled eggs (peeled)


- Heat ghee/butter in a rice cooker and add in the mustard seeds. When it splutters, add the green chillies, curry leaves,onions, cashew nuts and cauliflower. Fry for 3 minutes or so. 
- Add in the water, yoghurt, turmeric powder and salt to taste. Stir well.
- Add in the coriander, cumin and masala powders, and coriander leaves. Stir well and add in the rice. 
- Halfway through cooking, bury the hard boiled eggs inside the rice. Cover again with lid and cook till rice is done. 
- If the rice is not thoroughly cooked yet and seemed dry, add in a quarter cup of water, stir and continue to cook with rice cooker lid on. Serve hot with a side dish of your choice and slices of cucumber, coriander etc.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ayam Masak Merah (Spicy Red Chili & Tomato Ketchup Chicken)

It is awfully hard not to love spicy food when we are presented with an array of such delicious dishes thanks to our rich selection of culinary heritage here. Malay food is one of my favorites, especially the spicy, aromatic ones of course! It was written that many of the spices and ingredients used in most traditional Malay cooking were introduced by the Indians and Arabs, like chili, pepper, cardamom, star anise etc. Meanwhile, influences using ingredients for flavor and aroma such as galangal, lemongrass and herbs are known to originate from our native home soil and our neighbors in the south-east asian region.


I remember my first childhood encounter with spicy Malay food got me scurried home desperate for water. I was about 6 or 7 years old when I got invited to Alif's birthday party. Alif was I think a year younger than me. His family lived next door to us and his grandfather was our landlord. It was Alif's Mom's (really!!!) spicy fried beehoon (rice vermicelli) that got my palate all fired up! Too shy to ask for more water, I dashed down from the stairs of Alif's typical wooden-stilted Malay house straight into my Mom's kitchen looking for water. After that, I figured that since I have already given Alif his birthday gift and that everything else I imagined was spicy (which probably was not but like they say, once bitten twice shy), I didn't return to the party. His Mom was sweet enough to check with my Mom the next day why did I leave the party so early before the games started. My Mom, not wanting to be rude about our neighbor's rather kid-unfriendly food, simply told her that I had a sudden tummy ache!

Of course, the situation now is a far cry from the incident at Alif's party. I love my food spicy! Ayam masak merah is one of my favorite Malay dishes. It is fried chicken pieces coated in a rich and spicy sauce balanced with just a hint of sweetness, and laced with the aroma of those wonderful spices. Level of spiciness can easily be adjusted by adding or reducing the amount of dried chilies used in the recipe. The tomato ketchup will neutralize down a bit the level of spiciness. This dish is delicious served with plain or flavored rice.


Half of a chicken, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 knots of screwpine (pandan) leaves for aroma
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 large onion, ringed
1 cup green peas (optional)
1 inch piece galangal, roughly crushed
1 inch-long piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
a few cloves
a few cardamom pods
3/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 cup thick coconut milk
half tbsp sugar
salt to taste
enough cooking oil

Pound/blend together
15 dried chilies (soak in boiling water for 20 minutes, discard seeds and water)
3-4 cloves garlic
10 shallots
3 cm piece ginger
1 stalk lemongrass (the white part or bottom 5 cm)


1. Rub the chicken pieces with salt and turmeric powder and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a deep pan, fry the chicken pieces together with a knotted screwpine leaf until the chicken pieces are cooked and browned. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat half cup oil in a wok or pot. Put in all the blended spices, a knotted screwpine leaf, galangal, cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for about 10 minutes or until it is fragrant.
4. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Then, add in the tomato ketchup, sugar and salt to taste.
5. Add in the fried chicken pieces, green peas, tomatoes and onion. Simmer for a further 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces to coat well with the sauce. Serve with rice.

Enjoy cooking!