Main Menu: Spicing up early spring

Add 1 green chili, finely chopped, to your chicken Biriyani (if you like heat). PHOTO: Alexander von Halem/Flickr

March, one of the dreariest times of the year, requires spice to add zest, life and hope to the wintry-yet-spring-like month. For that reason, choose Indian cuisine. It is sure to get your taste buds tingling and adds pizzazz to a cheerless period.

These recipes are streamlined to make sure you can get them ready in short order either for entertaining or to please the whole family. Any leftover can be frozen or used up the next day for lunch – an added bonus.

For your information, garam masala referred to in the recipes is a mixture of ground cinnamon, cardamom pods, whole cloves, cumin and coriander seeds and whole black peppercorns. You can purchase it ready ground in Asian stores and some supermarkets.

Chicken Biriyani

A biriyani is an aromatic rice dish from the north of India. Although this version uses chicken, you could substitute, chicken, lamb or pork. You can also include a variety of vegetables such as peppers, zucchini or cauliflower. For an authentic taste, serve the dish with a variety of accompaniments such as: breads- warmed naan or pita, raita also spelled rayta (yogurt vegetable salad), chutney and daal, a curried lentil dish. All leftovers can be re-heated and served the next day.

1 cup (250 mL) basmati rice
1 tbsp (15 mL) each, vegetable oil and butter
1 each, tomato and onion, finely diced
1 tbsp (15 mL) each, garam masala or curry powder, turmeric and finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger root
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 lb (500 g) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in half or 1 inch (2.5 Cm slices)
1 green chili, finely chopped (optional depending if you like heat)
2 each, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves
4 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods or 1/4 tsp of cardamom seeds
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5mL) cayenne pepper (optional depending on heat tolerance)
1 cup (250 mL) coriander leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped, toasted natural almonds

In a mixing bowl combine rice with water enough to cover and set aside while preparing the remainder of the recipe.
In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion, tomato, garam masala, turmeric, ginger root and garlic. Cook stirring over medium heat until onions are softened about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and brown on all sides.

Drain and rinse rice, add to saucepan with 2 cups (500 mL) water or chicken stock, 1 tsp (5 mL) salt, chili if using, garam masala, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, salt, cayenne pepper and chopped cilantro leaves (also called coriander.) Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 10 -15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with toasted chopped natural almonds. Makes 4 servings.

This cooling salad is ideal served with any curry or biriyani, complementing the spiciness of these dishes.

1 cup (250 mL) natural yogurt
1/2½ English cucumber, finely diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4¼ cup (50 mL) fresh mint leaves or coriander leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) cumin powder
1 tsp (5 mL) salt

In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, tomatoes, mint leaves, coriander and salt. Mix well to combine. Spoon into serving dish; cover and serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Curried Chick Peas

This vegetarian main dish is tasty served over basmati rice. It re-heats well and makes an excellent portable lunch. Serve with a raita or simply a spoonful of plain yogurt.

2 tbsp (25 mL) vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh chopped ginger root
2 tsp (10 mL) curry powder or garam masala
1 can (28 oz/ 796 mL) diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans (19 oz/ 540 mL) chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp (15 mL) cider vinegar
2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh chopped coriander

In a saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, ginger, cumin and curry covered stirring frequently until onions are softened about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, chick peas and vinegar. Cook about 15 – 20 minutes until bubbly stirring frequently. Served immediately garnished with coriander. Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer. Connect with her at

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