Upon returning from my stay in Kerala (where I did the Yoga TTC at the Sivananda Ashram), one image was constantly in my mind – jackfruit. They are ubiquitous in Kerala – healthy, plump ones dangling temptingly from branches every few feet.
So it was only a matter of time before I cooked up my favourite, super-delicious and lip-smackingly fragrant biryani dish – Kathal (jackfruit) biryani. This recipe is full of flavour and the dish smells and tastes much like the Hyderabadi mutton biryani although it is obviously much healthier and of course, vegetarian.
Jackfruit is a fleshy fruit/vegetable that is eaten as a vegetable when raw and as a fruit when ripe. It has numerous health benefits, being a rich source of protein and Vitamin A. It is credited with fighting cancer, improving eyesight, maintaining blood pressure, promoting bone health, helping fight wrinkles, promoting glowing skin and healthy hair and a lot more. It’s no wonder Kerala natives look so agile and age-less, not to mention their shiny, thick tresses! Though using a native South-Indian vegetable, the flavours of this dish are more traditionally North-Indian.
Ingredients (4 servings)
- 500 gm raw/unripe jackfruit (kathal). If the seeds are tender, they may be retained, else discard.
- 2 cups rice
- 3 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
- 1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
- 1 cup thick, beaten yogurt (dahi); Greek yogurt is very close to traditional Indian dahi
- 4 tbsp chopped mint leaves (pudina)
- a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks separated and finely chopped
- a paste of ginger, garlic and chilli prepared by pounding together (or you may use a spice blender) a 2-inch piece of ginger, 4-5 garlic cloves and 1 big green chilli
- 1-2 green chillis, split sideways
- 2 tsp jeera (cumin seeds)
- 3 green cardamoms (elaichi)
- 1 black cardamom (badi elaichi)
- 3 black cloves
- 1 big bay leaf (tej patta)
- 1 tsp stone flowers (pathar ke phool) or alternatively, 1 piece of star anise
- 1-2 inch piece of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander (dhaniya) powder
- 3/4 tsp cumin (jeera) powder
- 3/4 tsp garam masala
- 4-5 cups water
- ghee (alternatively, a neutral-tasting cooking oil)
- salt to taste
For the raita (spiced yogurt accompaniment):
- 2-3 cups yogurt thinned-out by mixing some water. The consistency can be as desired; avoid making it too thin.
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes and onions
- 1/2 – 1 tsp jeera powder, depending on taste
- salt to taste
- 1-2 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
- Cut the jackfruit into approx. 2 inch chunks. In a pan, add some ghee or oil and toast the pieces lightly until they turn slightly brown. You may alternatively fry them if you wish. Keep aside once done.
- Prepare some fried onions and keep aside for garnishing. These give a nice flavour to the dish but you may skip it if you wish. To prepare the fried onions, heat about 2 tablespoons of ghee in a small pan and add some of the finely sliced onion (~1 onion). Cook on medium heat until the onions brown uniformly. Drain on tissue paper and keep aside.
- In a large, deep pan (you may use a traditional handi), heat about 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add the whole spices: green and black cardamom, bay leaf, cloves, star anise or stone flowers, and cinnamon. Sauté for 1 minute (if the pan gets too hot, turn off the heat and let the spices rest in the warm ghee).
- Add the jeera and remaining sliced onions and sauté on medium flame until the onions turn brown.
- Add the ginger-garlic-chilli paste and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the jackfruit pieces and the split green chillis. Cook on medium flame for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the chopped tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Sauté for about 1 minute.
- Add 4-5 tablespoons of water and then add the powdered masalas: turmeric, red chilli, jeera, garam and dhaniya. Mix well. Cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes on a medium to low flame.
- In the meantime, wash the rice well, draining out the dirt and starch and leave it to soak in water until needed.
- Open the cover and give a good stir to the dish. Add some water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Add in the chopped coriander stalks, half of the chopped coriander leaves and 3 tbsp of the chopped mint leaves. Cover again and cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Add in the beaten yogurt and mix well. Leave to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the jackfruit is almost fully cooked. Add some more water if needed.
- Add in the rice (without the water it was soaked in). Add a bit of ghee if desired. Mix well into the vegetable mixture for a minute.
- Add about 4 cups of water. Add more salt to taste. Wait until the water comes to a boil and then cover and leave on a low flame until the rice is cooked.
- When the rice is almost done (2-3 minutes to done), you may try a bit of ‘dum‘ cooking on the stove top. Otherwise, feel free to skip this step and let the rice cook completely. Dum cooking (traditionally called dum pukht cooking) refers to very slow cooking in a heavy bottomed, sealed vessel. It is usually done for Mughlai dishes like meat biryanis and other special dishes like the Kashmiri dum aloo. This kind of cooking is traditionally done in clay pots and on slowly burning embers and the idea is for the dish to marinate in its own steam and breath in its flavours and aromas. You can try a less elaborate version by placing a flat pan (tawaa) on a very low flame and then placing the pot/pan containing the biryani, on top of it. Cover the biryani pot with a moistened kitchen towel and then place the pot’s lid over the cloth (ensure the cloth is not touching the biryani). Alternatively, you can seal the edges of the lid of the biryani pot with atta (wheat flour dough). You may even place some coal embers on top of the lid if you’re feeling really adventurous! Leave to cook in this way for 10-15 minutes. [Aside: Dum cooking is also a nice trick if you find that you have put in less water than you should have and the rice is not quite done when the water has evaporated! Adding water to the biryani directly at this stage will ruin the dish as the rice will become mushy. In this scenario, you can employ the dum cooking method and sprinkle water on the lid of the pot occasionally until the rice is fully cooked.]
- When the rice is fully cooked, add the remaining chopped coriander leaves and mint leaves and mix gently. Top with the fried onions. Recover and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- To prepare the raita, mix all the ingredients well and leave to rest for a minute.
Try this delicious, aromatic dish and share your feedback!
You may also like: Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry (South Indian Style)
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