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Flavors: South African Chicken Biryani

Posted Dec 13 2008 10:04pm

#fullpost {display:none;} South African Biryani (02) by MeetaK

It is believed that a culture cannot have a great cuisine unless it is spiced with many outside influences. Should this be true then South African cuisine has got be among the greatest in the world.

I was introduced to this cuisine several years ago when a South African friend cooked a delicious bobotie for me. The several layers of flavor in this one dish were incredible and it prompted me to look a little more deeply into the food from South Africa.

The pre-colonial South Africa was largely characterized by a variety of fruits, nuts, wild plants and game. Later the European colonists brought their cooking styles with them. Although the cuisine of South Africa is known as Cape Dutch, it was the slaves, imported from Bengal, Java and Malaysia, who influenced the food of South Africa more than anyone else.

Today the resultant kaleidoscope - the famous "rainbow" - applies not only to the people but to the food, for one finds in South Africa the most extraordinary range of cuisines.

One dish that I personally enjoy is this rice prepared in a typical Biryani-style well known on the Indian subcontinent. Flavors of cumin, coriander seeds, cloves and cinnamon, to name just a few spices, highlight the dish and potatoes, chicken and peas bring texture and color.

The recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Madhur Jaffrey and her incredible “ Ultimate Curry Bible ”. An incredible book with over 150 recipes covering curries from all around the world. A must have! 

South African Biryani (03) by MeetaK

While the Indian Mogul biryani is mild, elegant and refined, the South African counterpart has temperament, is aromatic and piquant - a very thrilling experience. Don't get put off by the long ingredient list - this is one dish that is worth every spice, every item on the list.

You will notice that the rice used is parboiled Basmati rice, it's more robust and will forgive small cooking errors, unlike the more sensitive Basmati rice. Normally Indian/Asian supermarkets carry parboiled Basmati rice, however you can use any parboiled long-grain rice should you not find it.

Don't Forget

MM low-sugar sweet treats

This month the team over at the Daily Tiffin are hosting the Monthly Mingle. We are all looking forward and eagerly awaiting your ideas and creations to this session's theme - Low-Sugar Treats. Come on over and share your healthy treats.

The deadline is December 8th, 2008. See you there.


Recipe: South African Chicken Biryani

(Recipe adapted from Madhur Jaffrey'sUltimate Curry Bible)

For 8 portions

Printable version of recipehere.

Marinating the chicken  

300g onions, cut into rings, then deep fried until brown and crispy
1.5 kg chicken, de-skinned and cut into pieces
350 ml thick natural yogurt, whisked
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
6 garlic cloves, mashed
1 teaspoon saffron strands
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon paprika powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 medium stick cinnamon
8 cloves
6 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon peanut oil

For the biryani

100g sabut masoor dal(whole red lentils), I used channa dal (gram lentils)
700 ml parboiled Basmati rice, washed
125g fresh or frozen green peas
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 medium stick cinnamon
5 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
30g butter, cut into pieces




Wrap the saffron strands in aluminum foil and using a rolling pin gently crush them. Place crushed saffron in a bowl or cup and pour 250 ml hot water over the crushed saffron, cover a let rest for 1 hour.

Coarsely chop the fried onion rings and place in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients for the marinade, except for the chicken pieces. With a wooden spoon mix well, then add half of the saffron water. Mix again to incorporate the mixture. Store the remaining saffron water in the fridge.

Reserve approx. 120 ml or the marinade mixture, placing in the fridge for it to remain cool.

Add the chicken pieces to the marinade in the bowl and coat all the pieces well. Cover and marinate for 4 - 24 hours.

When you are ready to prepare the dish, take chicken about an hour before use to bring to room temperature.

Cook the sabut masoor dal in a large casserole with 750 ml water until boiling. Place the lid, leaving a slit open and simmer for 25 minutes. When soft, drain.

Steam the peas for 1-2 minutes, then place in a bowl of cold water to retain the color. Drain.

Toss the potato pieces with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 turmeric powder until completely coated.

In a large skillet heat oil and on medium heat sauté potatoes on all sides until golden. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, reserving the oil.

Bring 5 liters of water with cinnamon stick, cardamom and cumin seeds to a boil. Add 4 teaspoons salt and the rice, carefully stir with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Cook for 13 minutes then drain.

Take away about 350 ml cooked rice and mix with the reserved marinade.

Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees C. In a large casserole, that will fit in your oven, add the reserved oil (from the potatoes), a third of the cooked lentils and a third of the peas.

Spread out all the chicken, including the marinade, over the peas and lentils. Distribute the remaining peas and lentils over the chicken. Push the potato wedges in between the chicken, lentils and peas.

Layer the spiced rice (in the marinade) and the pure rice, then finally spread the butter pieces over the top.

Drizzle the reserved saffron water down the sides and over the top of the biryani. Cover the casserole with heavy duty aluminum foil, then with the lid. On medium to high heat, bring the biryani to a high cooking temperature. As soon as steam begins to escape from the foil, put the casserole in the oven and gently roast for 1 1/2 hours.

To serve: Using a skimmer carefully take out a portion of the biryani out of the casserole and serve on pre-heated plates or platter. Do not mix.


A delectable dish in so many ways. This is so perfect for a larger crowd - so if you plan on entertaining a larger gathering this is a great dish. It can be easily doubled and all you need is a few chutneys and some natural yogurt to enjoy this to it's fullest. The biryani is aromatic and as it is prepared gently in the oven all the flavors are retained keeping it moist and the chicken tender.

I thank Srivalli, who has kindly allowed me to send this entry to her Rice Mela event a little past the assigned deadline. Srivalli I hope it was worth it?

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