Biriyani for Bakr-Id

18th and 19th-century stories tell us how Biriyani - greatest gift that Islamic cuisine has given to the gourmet world – became popular.

Biriyani for Bakr-Id

The festival of Bakr-Id rustles up aromas and recipes of mutton biriyani. I do recall my students in school bringing tiffin boxes of biriyani the following day after the festival and the classroom filled with the aromatic splendour of their mom's biriyani. The greatest gift that Islamic cuisine has given to the gourmet world is the biriyani. My friend Khushwant Singh was a biriyani lover. Sadia Dehlvi used to take him for biriyani. One day in December I took him the biriyani prepared by my mom.

My mom used to cook a haryali biriyani because her best friend was a Moplah. My dad would go to INA market and get a leg of lamb which was cut and tossed into a green masala and then cooked to tenderness. Once the meat was cooked, it was layered with half-cooked rice, the cloves green chilli and cumin in the rice gave it an almost subtle yet royal essence. Then it was layered with the cooked lamb in a handi and set on low flame until the rice was fully flaky and plumped, and ready to be served.

Khushwant was a gourmet researcher too. "18th and 19th-century stories tell us how the rice dish became popular in India," Khushwant said. "Lucknow was called Awadh and with the Mughuls ruling at the time, the royal palace introduced the Awadhi Biryani."

"Research gourmands say that before the advent of Mumtaz Mahal, the granddaughter-in-law of the great Akbar, he made Asfa Jahi the Nizaam of the great state of Hyderabad. The Nizaam wanted his state to own the royal dish thus, he had his kitchen give it a twist and the outcome is the legendary Hyderabadi Biryani. Tipu Sultan of Karnataka spread the biryani to Mysore, giving us the Mysoree Biryani, but the most special biryani may be the one that does not have meat. The nawabs of the region hired vegetarian cooks to create the meatless biryani and thus Tahiri came into being."

Bizma Timzi, the gourmand editor says, "Despite all the different twists to the dish, like the Sindhi Biryani with potatoes, the Memoni Biryani with teez masala, the Kacha Goshat Biryani that is cooked in garam masala spices without tomatoes and the Bohri Biryani, very popular in Karachi and Bombay, it is actually Lucknow that lays ultimate claim to it. The Awadhi Dum Biryani is a gift that the Muslims of the Mughul era gave to the northern part of India.

The specialty of the Awadhi Dum Biryani is that the meat is also half-cooked like the rice, and the dish is brought to cooking perfection through the dum pukth style of cooking, almost like the ancient times when berian was buried in the ground and cooked to perfection."

My mom's recipe was the Hara Masala Biryani. It cooks to perfection; the taste is royal and the aroma Mughlai.

Here is my mom's biriyani learned in 1950:

Hara Masala Biryani :


1 big bunch cilantro (hara dhanya)

1 bunch mint (pudina) only leaves, stalks can be bitter

12 green chilies hot (hari mirch)

1 tbsp ginger

2 tbsp garlic

(Blend the above into a rough paste)

1 kg lamb leg

5 large size red onions (laal piyaz) sliced fine

½ cup oil and 1/4 cup ghee

Salt to taste

Pinch of turmeric

Pinch of cumin seeds

½ cup water

2 bay leafs

½ tsp garam masala powder

2 mugs of Basmati rice


Slice onions thinly and fry in hot oil until golden brown, set aside half of the fried onions and add ginger garlic and cumin seeds to the other half. Cook on high heat for a few minutes.

In a blender, blend cilantro leaves, mint leaves, green chilies ginger garlic paste, add the green mixture, and salt to the fried onions. Now add lamb pieces cooking on high to medium heat, in a pressure cooker. Add a little water if masala looks too dry. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

In a separate pot, boil 8 to 10 mugs of water, adding bay leaf, 10 to 15 black peppercorns, 5 to 10 cloves, 5 green cardamoms, 1 black cardamom, 1 cinnamon stick bringing it to boil.

In a separate wok, add two tablespoons of ghee. Add a rich of cumin seeds, cloves two bay leaves and 4 green chilies lit along with turmeric powder. Now add pre-soaked rice to the keeping the rice to tender-crisp phase. Add water in the ratio of 1:2 and let it cook to a half done phase.

Drain rice, layer the pot with rice, layer with cooked lamb masala, add the second layer of rice, sprinkle garam masala powder, fried onions, seal pot with foil/ atta and lid. Cook it on medium to low heat for 15 to complete the dum. While serving add the rest of the fried crushed onions.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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