My Citizens! The undimmed light in the East – the jeweled radiance who ALONE is TFD! – is pleased to share with you recipe #4 in our week of Indian delights, this one from the great city of Hyderabad!
Established in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Hyderabad remained under the rule of the Qutb Shahi dynasty for nearly a century before the Mughals captured the region. In 1724, Mughal viceroy Asif Jah I declared his sovereignty and created his own dynasty, known as the Nizams of Hyderabad.
The Nizam’s dominions became a princely state during the British Raj, and remained so for 150 years, with the city serving as its capital. The city continued as the capital of Hyderabad State after it was brought into the Indian Union in 1948, and became the capital of Andhra Pradesh after the States Reorganisation Act, 1956.
Since 1956, Rashtrapati Nilayam in the city has been the winter office of the President of India. In 2014, the newly formed state of Telangana split from Andhra Pradesh and the city became the joint capital of the two states, a transitional arrangement scheduled to end by 2025.
Relics of Qutb Shahi and Nizam rule remain visible today; the Charminar—commissioned by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah—has come to symbolise Hyderabad. Golconda fort is another major landmark. The influence of Mughlai culture is also evident in the region’s distinctive cuisine, which includes Hyderabadi biryani and Hyderabadi haleem.
The Qutb Shahis and Nizams established Hyderabad as a cultural hub, attracting men of letters from different parts of the world. Hyderabad emerged as the foremost center of culture in India with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the mid-19th century, with artists migrating to the city from the rest of the Indian subcontinent. The Telugu film industry based in the city is the country’s second-largest producer of motion pictures.
Hyderabad was historically known as a pearl and diamond trading center, and it continues to be known as the “City of Pearls”. Many of the city’s traditional bazaars remain open, including Laad Bazaar, Begum Bazaar and Sultan Bazaar.
As for the glory that is biryani, it is a mixed rice dish with its origins among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. It is popular throughout the Indian subcontinent as well as among the diaspora from the region. It is made with Indian spices, rice, meat (chicken, goat, beef, prawn, or fish), vegetables or eggs.
Biryani is a Hindustani word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from birinj, the Persian word for rice. Another is that it derives from biryan or beriyan, which is to fry or to roast.
The exact origin of the dish is uncertain. In North India, different varieties of biryani developed in the Muslim centers of Delhi (Mughlai cuisine), Lucknow (Awadhi cuisine) and other small principalities. In South India, where rice is more widely used as a staple food, several distinct varieties of biryani emerged from Telangana (specifically Hyderabad), Tamil Nadu (Ambur), Kerala (Malabar), and Karnataka, where minority Muslim communities were present.
Andhra is the only region of South India that does not have many native varieties of biryani. During the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736) in Persia, a dish called Berian Pilao (Nastaliq script: بریان پلو) was made with lamb or chicken, marinated overnight — with dahi, herbs, spices, dried fruits (e.g., raisins, prunes, or pomegranate seeds) — and later cooked in a tannour oven. It was then served with steamed rice.
According to historian Lizzie Collingham, the modern biryani developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire (1526–1857), as a confluence of the native spicy rice dishes of India and the Persian pilaf. Indian restaurateur Kris Dhillon believes that the dish originated in Persia, and was brought to India by the Mughals. However, another theory claims that the dish was known in India before the first Mughal emperor Babur came to India.
The 16th-century Mughal text Ain-i-Akbari makes no distinction between biryanis and pilaf (or pulao): it states that the word “biryani” is of older usage in India. A similar theory, that biryani came to India with Timur’s invasion, appears to be incorrect, because there is no record of biryani having existed in his native land during that period.
My version of this classic recipe is traditional in the extreme, and uses the classic dum method of cooking.
Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht means to ‘cook.’ Dum pukht cooking uses a round, heavy-bottomed pot, preferably a handi (clay pot), in which food is sealed and cooked over a slow fire. The two main aspects to this style of cooking are: bhunao and dum, or ‘roasting’ and ‘maturing’ of a prepared dish.
In this cuisine, herbs and spices are important. The process of slow roasting gently allows each to release their maximum flavor. The sealing of the lid of the handi with dough achieves maturing. Cooking slowly in its juices, the food retains its natural aromas.
In some cases, cooking dough is spread over the container, like a lid, to seal the foods; this is known as pardah (veil). Upon cooking, it becomes a bread which has absorbed the flavors of the food. The bread is usually eaten with the dish. In the end, dum pukht food is about aroma when the seal is broken on the table and the fragrance of a Persian repast floats in the air.
Redolent of rare spices, flower essences and the history of the Emperors of old, I hope you will enjoy this dish of dishes, Citizens! 🙂 You can buy culinary-grade Bulgarian rose essence (the best in the world!) here black cumin seeds here and kewra water here.
Battle on – The Generalissimo