I’ve mentioned that my dad was in India several years ago, spurring Sandy to take Indian cooking classes so she could recreate some of the storied dishes he ate. One of our favorites, which has now become an Indian specialty of hers, is Hyderabadi-style chicken biryani. In Hyderabadi-style biryani, the ingredients include basmati rice, meat [traditionally lamb or goat, with chicken as our usual substitute], yogurt, onions, spices [garam masala, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, mace and turmeric], lemon and saffron. Cilantro and fried onions are used to garnish; sometimes nuts as well.

In addition to the Indian dishes we made at home, dining at Indian buffets, attending cultural events featuring traditional Indian dance and fare, nibbling on gifts from my parents’ Indian co-workers, and rooming with my Gujarati best friend in college do not an Indian food expert make.

Martha’s version of biryani — known as Tahri [vegetarian] biryani in India — is fragrant and flavorful, if somewhat untraditional. In this biryani, the vegetables are cooked on the stove before being layered with the milk-steamed rice and roasted cashews, and then cooked in a dutch oven.

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During cooking, the mingling of aromatics permeates the kitchen while the vegetables and rice take on the flavors imparted by the spices. Each mouthful redolent of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, garlic, cardamom, saffron and cumin. The milky rice al dente, the vegetables cooked to that perfect midpoint between crisp-tender and mushy. Crunchy cashews add a nutty bite necessary to bring it all together – you know how I love flavor and texture contrasts in my food! Serve with a buttery crisp Chardonnay or light beer, like Kingfisher

One reviewer of Martha’s recipe said it was best left to adventurous cooks. I’m not sure if they mean it is difficult or results in strange flavors, but I can assure you it is neither. This is one of the mildest Indian dishes I’ve come across. I thoroughly enjoy the heat that normally accompanies the strong flavors of Indian food, so the only thing I might suggest altering is the heat level.

Oh, and if you have iTunes, I recommend listening to the Bombay Beats India radio station playing non-stop Bollywood music. Gets you in the mood for globe-trotting via eating! [And helps the thought process flow while working on a scientific literature review for your Master’s thesis!]

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