Indian Cooking Lesson #1: Chicken Biryani, Chicken Curry & Chapati

We head to the U.S. on Saturday for a visit with family. I want to make an Indian meal while we are there, but I realized that I don’t really know how to make any Indian food! This is a very sad realization considering that we have lived here for 3.5 years now.  So I asked our home helper, Urmilla, to teach me cook her favorite meal which turns out to be chicken biryani.  I called up the nearby grocer, Prakash-Ji, and asked him to send me everything I would need to make the dish and today we went to work.  Urmilla suggested I take photos to remember what to do so I thought I’d turn it into a post.  If only our kitchen had better lighting…but you get the idea!


The spices–clove, cinnamon stick, saffron and black cardamom–are sauteed in oil, then 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of chicken pieces on the bone are seared in the pot as well. A tsp of salt is added at some point as well.


There are two things I love about the above picture: 1) Urmilla is wearing my cowgirl apron 2) she has to stand on a step stool to use the stove. I find the counter and stove a bit short for me, fyi.  Urmilla says she has been cooking this dish for nearly 25 years. Her sister-in-law taught her how to make it. Her eyes light up as she explains each step to me. She loves cooking and sharing recipes.


Once the chicken is lightly cooked on the outside, she adds just enough water to almost cover the chicken. Image

Then adds one more tsp of salt and brings it to a boil. For those who know that she is using a pressure cooker, know that you DO NOT SEAL IT OR PRESSURE COOK IT. She just rested the lid on top without sealing and boiled the chicken for about 5-10 minutes.


While the chicken is boiling, we begin on the rice part of the biryani. Like most Indian dishes, we begin with oil. Then add the cumin seeds for a bit and then onions (4 small onions).


Then the same spices as before. The amounts are as shown below:


Once the onions are brown and beautiful, you add the washed rice (2.5 cups) and cook for a while (5-10 minutes) stirring continuously. Image

Then we added 1 tsp of Biryani Masala. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t sent to me by the grocer. He didn’t think we needed it and had suggested only adding red pepper at this point. Urmilla insisted we use this masala. Thankfully the neighbors had some.


After all of the spices were added, we took the boiled chicken from the other pot and added that in as well. (Save the juice for the Chicken curry coming next….)


The chicken is cooked with the rice for a bit–stirring continuously, then we added 5 cups of water, covered it and brought it all to a boil.

She used a flat pan UNDER the pot while she boiled it. Something about “the heat”. I don’t know if this was needed because it’s a gas stove or what (man, I wish I knew more Hindi), but that’s how she cooked it.

Now for the Chicken Curry! Once she took the other chicken out of the pot and put it in with the rice, she put another 1 kg of chicken pieces on the bone in that juice to soak.

Then she prepared the vegetables. 4 cloves of garlic which she shredded with a cheese grater and then crushed with a mortar and pestle.


Next, two more onions were cut into small pieces..


Oil was added to a new pan:


Then the onions added:


Then the tomatoes (2 cut in small pieces), garlic, salt, red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp), tumeric (1 tsp) and chicken masala (1 tsp). All of that was cooked for a bit and then the chicken that was soaking in the juice was added. DO NOT ADD OR DISCARD THE JUICE.


After all of that was cooked for a bit (5-10 min) stirring continuously, then the juice was added and the dish was cooked for about 20 minutes with a lid on.Image

Now for the final piece…the chapati! This meal was to feed 8 people so we set out to make 2 chapatis per person.  There are two kinds of flour here: Atta and Metha. I can never remember which is white flour and which is whole wheat…but anyway, the answer is atta is whole wheat and that is what chapatis are made out of.


Enough water was added to the flour to make it fairly tough, but still sticky.


Then she added a bit of flour on the side to use for dusting.


We grabbed clumps of the dough, dipped it in the flour in the bowl and worked it into a ball.


Then the dough balls were dipped in the flour in the bowl and rolled out to 4 inch (diameter) circles. Then again dipped in the flour on both sides and rolled more until they were about 6 inches.

Before cooking the circles, slap them around a bit by passing them from hand to hand quickly and loudly. This helps get the excess flour off of the them.Image

Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute on one side and flip to cook on the other side.


Then–now this is coolest part and I have no idea how to do this without a gas stove–place the chapati on the open flame. It will puff up in a matter of seconds. Then flip to puff a bit more and, voila!, chapati!Image

Now you are ready to enjoy your Indian meal. Sadly, I didn’t not photo the end product…we just ate it too quickly 🙂


About bethraham

i blog.
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2 Responses to Indian Cooking Lesson #1: Chicken Biryani, Chicken Curry & Chapati

  1. Kelly says:

    Is this the Indian meal you’re going to cook for us in Warner Robins???? So yummy looking.

  2. ellen says:

    great documentation! yum! your helper seems like such a lovely lady:)

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