Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#110 The dance and drama of Spices with Cabbage Biryani

What is it that makes fresh cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and bay leaves so appealing to Indian cooking? Maybe the medicinal value?
  • Cloves are a natural analgesic and antiseptic used by great grandmothers in ancient Indian medicine especially for toothaches.
  • Cinnamon is the aromatic bark of an evergreen tree and is found to be good for controlling blood sugar levels.
  • Bay leaves are dried whole leaves of the bay laurel tree and add a flavor to savory dishes and soups.
  • Star anise is a star shaped seed pod of an evergreen tree(Illicium Verum) grown mostly in Southwestern China and Japan used as a digestive aid to help cure colic in babies. It gets its licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol, this spice is used in South India in curries and pulaos.
  • Cardamom on the other hand is one of the world's very ancient spices and it is native to the forests of the western ghats of Southern India ---mostly Kerala.It also grows in SriLanka, China and Africa and popular in some parts of Scandinavia. Indian cardamom comes in two varieties-Malabar Cardamom and Mysore Cardamon. It is widely used in Indian and Mughlai cooking in Chicken curries, pulaos and mostly desserts.
Indian cooking has always been synonymous with curry... many believe that all Indian curries are exactly alike. Few have ever experienced or enjoyed the distinctive and wide variations of both curries and side dishes from different regions of India. In fact, I will say that curries are as diversified as the people of India and dependant on the climate, history and economics in the different states.
A spice gravy can be created using a dry masala or blend of whole spices in varying combinations. Oftentimes, coconut or nuts may be used to flavor side dishes & the garam masala may or may not be eliminated. A curry or the gravy for a curry is like a basic roux -a type of curry most commonly served in Indian Restaurants in the US is the onion-tomato gravy with garam masala flavors. But curry can vary depending on the spices used such as lentils, beans or flavoring with spices other than garam masala.
The sequence in which the spices are added to ghee or oil and the length of time allows the flavor to release slowly. It may be a delicate flavor or an overpowering one based on individual tastes. When liquid ingredients are added, it stops releasing flavors and simmers down. If you are adventurous and use them moderately you can spice up your world!!  South Indian cuisine does not include garam masala in many vegetarian dishes. Instead the use of subtle flavors like cumin, ginger and mustard(my favorites) in vegetables.
I am showcasing all of the above spices in my Cabbage Biryani today- a vegetarian version of the popular Chicken Biryani. The addition of whole spices flavor the ghee and onions as a first step and along with garam masala, makes this rice dish as aromatic as it is nutritious. This Biryani was so flavorful that I did not see any leftovers at the end of the day. Served with a cool salad or fish it turned out to be one my family loved!!

1/2 Cabbage chopped
2 Onions chopped
2 Carrots cubed
2 Tomatoes chopped
4 Green chillies- chopped
Ginger-garlic paste- 1 Tblspn
Jeera-1 tsp
Garam Masala- 1 Tblspn
1 tspn Coriander Powder
Salt to taste
Red Chilli powder- 1 tspn
2 1/2 cup Basmati Rice
1 cup Cilantro chopped fine
Roasted Cashewnuts- 10
4-5 Tbmpsn Ghee
Cinnamon, Cloves, Bay Leaves, Cardamom 2 pieces each.

1. In a Deep pot, add the Ghee, followed by jeera and whole spices. When these release a lovely aroma, add the onions.
2. Add chopped green chillies and saute until the onions are transclucent and then turns light brown.
3. Add the tomatoes, coriander powder, garam masala, ginger-garlic paste and salt. Saute until the raw smell is gone.
4. Add carrots, cabbage and basmati rice to the pot. Add about 2 cups of water and stir well.
5. On a low to medium fire, slow cook without stirring the rice and keeping the lid on for about 15 mins.
6. Test to make sure that the rice is cooked tender and add additional ghee when ready to serve.
7. If more water is needed you can add 1/2 cup water and steam once more for softer rice.
8. Add the chopped cilantro and roasted Cashewnuts at this time and serve with raita, pickle or veggies.
I served mine with spicy pan roasted salmon.


  1. How strange - I've had a yearning for curry all day. So much so that I've managed to talk my wife into going out for a nice curry tonight at the local Indian restaurant - although I don't think it's going to be as nice as this looks to be honest!

  2. I LOVE biryani...! You remind me that I haven't had this for a while ;)!

  3. Sounds interesting..never tried cabbage briyani..

  4. Great info about these wonderful spices! Looks like a really delicious dish, I would love to try this biryani!

  5. nice read malli,i do make cabbage rice- coz my daughter is very picky abt eating that veggie, but not so elaborate; good one !

  6. It may sound weird, that I am not really a big fan of curries (as my poor weak stomach cannot take it), but I can't deny that the fragrant aroma of the spices is always enticing and lures one's appetite!:)
    I always marvel at folks who could just take spoonfuls after spoonfuls of curries and yet remain unfazed:p I would probably be drowning glasses of water by then!

    Love cabbage briyani, had them once at a vegetarian cafe and they were quite appetizing!!! (yeah, you guessed it, with a few glasses of water in my hand too:p )

  7. What a mouth-watering post, Malli!

  8. wow..the rice looks great,,,,first time here..u have got very nice to follow u.

  9. This looks delicious! And now that I know what ghee is - I can go get some more! Yay! I loved all of the history about the spices too. Fascinating!

  10. Very creative and beckoning! Bon apetit!

  11. have so many good recipes...I am having a giveaway in my blog..if you want please check and join that...

  12. Spices definitely have medicinal qualities. That cabbage biryani looks lovely and healthy.A very tasty dish. I love all those fabulous flavors.




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