Sunday, October 9, 2011

Slow Food: Vegetable Biryani

I know you've all been wondering ... where are the new posts from AHBL in my reader?

There have been a lot of reasons for my silence, but basically they come down to: repeat performances in the kitchen (lack of blog fodder), not much news to report (lack of blog fodder), feeling like I can't come up with interesting things to say (i.e. lack of blog fodder), too much time spent commenting on other people's blogs (and therefore less attention paid to my own blog), making baby food (not exactly blog fodder), and sick kid (anti-blog fodder).  Oh yeah, and I actually finished reading a book cover to cover for the first time in a loooong time--and it wasn't even Goodnight Moon.

I also went to yoga this week for the first time in a few weeks (for more various reasons, including an out of town husband and a milk-demanding infant who had no regard for yoga schedules two weeks ago).  It was good to be back; I really missed my teacher, and even though switching nights and times means that there will be chaos to get me out of the house on Thursdays in order to get to class on time, I'm willing to accept the fallout.  As an added bonus, it's a mixed-level class, so there were some new asanas and more challenging variations--something I've been wanting anyway.

I love the way my teacher talks through the class, blending mythology with philosophy with contemporary life experience, sometimes reading to us, all the time adjusting our asanas, getting us to notice our own bodies.  Her voice and the music and the movement through asana are all part of the seamless experience of her class.  She makes teaching yoga look effortless.

If you're anything like me, you sometimes like to make simple things appear complicated.  We end up looking good, we think, if it seems like we had to put more time and effort into something than it really cost us.  But the real trick is to make something complicated and time-consuming appear easy.

One thing my teacher talked about this week is the balance between exertion and release in yoga: while we work to go deeper into our asanas, we also need to figure out what we can release--what muscles, what parts of our bodies, we are not using.  And this got me thinking that maybe the secret to making something look effortless is to let go a little.  Not necessarily not-caring, or even aspiring to mediocrity, but knowing how to work efficiently in order to achieve our goals.  (For those Christians out there, that understanding is sort of like the Serenity Prayer: knowing what we need to accept, and what we need the courage to change.)  I was running downhill today, thinking that while running downhill appears easy, there's quite a lot of effort that goes into making sure I don't fall flat on my face.  It's a matter of figuring out what I need to tighten (muscles somewhere around my midsection), and what I can surrender to gravity.  Once I get it right, it's almost like flying.

Biryani is a complicated dish that looks basically like a casserole, but it takes time and care to prepare, and for that reason, is actually one of the most popular menu items in Indian weddings.  Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients: most of them are spices anyway (and if you really can't find things like garam masala, just use the equivalent of good curry powder for all of the spices in the biryani section).  And maybe while you're making it, you can let go of something that's not really as important as you thought it was, after all.

Spiced Rice: Base for Biryani
(this is good even on its own)

1 1/2 T. vegetable oil
2 med. onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 1/2 c. basmati rice
3 1/2 to 4 c. water
3/4 t. turmeric or a pinch of saffron
1/3 c. raisins

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and slightly golden, about 15 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 1/2 c. water, turmeric, and raisins.  Cover and cook, gently bubbling (not boiling) 20-25 minutes.  If the water boils out, add a little extra.

Vegetable Biryani

2 1/2 t. garam masala
1 1/2 t. turmeric
1 1/2 t. cumin
1 1/4 t. coriander
2 t. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece ginger, minced
1 1/2 t. salt
1 c. plain (Greek) yogurt
1 1/2 c. peeled butternut squash or sweet potato, 1" cubes
2 c. cauliflower or broccoli, bite sized
1 1/4 c. sliced green beans
3/4 c. fresh or frozen peas
1 c. cooked brown lentils, chickpeas, or kidney beans
2 bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 c. water
3 T. toasted almonds for garnish

In a large bowl, combine spices through yogurt.  Add vegetables and let stand 30-60 minutes.

Lightly grease a 2 1/2 to 3 quart baking dish and set aside.  Prepare rice.

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large saucepan over medium low heat, cook vegetable spice mixture, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Be careful that the yogurt doesn't burn!

Spread half the rice in the bottom of the prepared baking dish and top with beans/lentils.  Cover with all of the vegetables.  Layer remaining rice over vegetables.  Insert broken bay leaves into rice.

Pour water into the baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake 50-60 minutes, until vegetables are tender.  Garnish with toasted almonds.
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  1. Welcome back. I have had a rocky relationship with food recently but I still missed your posts.

    And one day, when you're feeling very very generous, I hope that you will ship out your wonderful yoga teacher.

  2. Making something difficult look easy is a harrowing feat indeed. All of the greatest teachers I've ever had the pleasure to watch made it look effortless and only because I'm a teacher was I aware of all the planning, the prep work, the classroom management, the thought, care and imagination that went into making a great lesson go off without a hitch.

    Great mothers are like that as well. And of course we are all great mothers, but some mothers are, well, great at making it look effortless too. I am not one of those mothers but maybe some day.

    I'm glad you're back at yoga. After just one week away I felt so different, both mentally and physically, and not in a good way. I hope your new class is both familiar and challenging. It sounds like it will be.

    So good to hear from you today. I've missed your writing very much. Thanks for commenting on my blog in the meantime. It made the wait a bit more bearable. ;)

  3. Ummmm...I like Indian food but haven't tried cooking anything like this. Which of the bean suggestions do you prefer?

  4. You may not have time to blog often these days, but when you do it always makes me think (which I really appreciate). Having said that, I love seeing a new post from you. :)

  5. I've been away from blogging for the same reasons :) Welcome back!!!

  6. Glad to see your update, J. And also really glad to hear that you are making time for getting to yoga (and for adult reading!). Yes, about the exertion and release. And, yes, about transferring it to other parts of living. It's a tough balance, sometimes, but a good one.

  7. Nice to see you posting again.

  8. thrilled to see you back! i've been MIA myself, so no judgement here, just happy to catch your update & the yummy looking chow!! :)

  9. It's great to read a new post from you! Your yoga teacher sounds great. My husband and I have just started and I'm looking forward to going deeper.

  10. Lack of blog fodder is indeed a challenge.

    I am TERRIBLE at making something complicated look easy. Every single point of stress during a project gets manifested twelvefold. Sometimes if people see the end result only, they may think that it was easy. Darcy will inform them of the truth. Letting go of my perfectionist standards is key, I'm sure, to making it look easy.

    I love this post and lesson. Reading one of your posts is like accessing a guru.

  11. I seriously need to hop a plane and take that yoga class with you. It sounds divine.... and then afterward we could eat all this yummy food you're making.


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