What is so special about this dish is that the spring lamb and rice are cooked together from the start, unlike most biryanis. The lamb is marinated for several hours; the green papaya and yoghurt are natural tenderisers. It is crucial that you use the best, leanest, youngest meat. Mutton dressed as lamb will not do.
You should prepare this dish a day in advance up to the stage of the marinade, leave overnight in the fridge and finish the dish on the day. The next day, get everything ready for the biryani layers before starting to cook the rice. You need to be quick in assembling the layers the while the rice is hot, so you need to have all the components to hand.
1kg lean spring lamb, preferably leg, cut into 5cm cubes, bones included if available
3 tbsp green papaya, finely grated
2 tbsp ginger, finely grated
4-6 garlic cloves, crushed
For the marinade
350ml vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced and fried to a golden brown
250ml natural yoghurt
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
3-4 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
1-2 tsp red chilli powder, according to taste
1½ tsp salt, to taste
For the biryani layers
2-3 medium onions, sliced and fried in oil until golden brown (keep back one third for garnish)
1 tsp saffron strands in 125 ml (4fl oz) milk (leave to stand for half an hour)
Juice of a whole lemon
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped green chillies
For the rice
800g basmati rice, washed and soaked in warm water
3-4 large black cardamoms
8-10 black peppercorns
2 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
2-4 green chillies, finely chopped
4 tsp salt, to taste (generally 1 tsp to 1 cup of rice)
3 litres water
½ tsp black cumin seeds (kala jeera)
For the garnish
Any combination of the following:
Chopped coriander or mint
Toasted almonds or pinenuts
A sprinkling of rosewater
Slices or segments of hard-boiled eggs
1. Rub the tenderising mix into the lamb, with bones if you have them. Cover and leave for 1-2 hours.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil for the marinade in a non stick pan and fry the onions with a pinch of salt until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. Blend the onions into a paste in a food processor or blender. Turn out into a bowl and add all the other marinade ingredients. Combine the lamb with the marinade, cover and leave for at least 2-3 hours or overnight in the fridge.
3. Wash and soak the rice in warm water for 1-2 hours. While the rice is soaking and before you do anything else, prepare all the ingredients for the biryani layers: fry the onions, chop the herbs and chillies, soak the saffron and juice the lemon. Then bring the water for the rice to the boil in a large saucepan. Add all the spices and the drained rice to the pan and bring back to the boil. Cook for 1-2 minutes and drain in a colander.
4. In the same hot pan that you used to cook the rice, melt the ghee and add the lamb with all its marinade. Add half the rice, sprinkle over half the lemon juice, chopped coriander and mint, and half the fried onions. Pour half the saffron milk onto the rice. Now add the rest of the rice and repeat with the lemon juice, mint, coriander, saffron milk and fried onions.
5. Place a damp cloth or muslin over the mouth of the saucepan and close the lid firmly. It is advisable to put a heavy weight on top of the lid, to seal it. Increase heat to high until steam has built up inside the saucepan and some steam is seeping out of the lid. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes. Finally, turn heat to low and continue to cook for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Do not at any time open the lid, as the steam that has built up inside will be released.
6. Remove the lid when the cooking time is completed, and insert a knife into the biryani to check if the meat has cooked through. If it’s still not completely tender, allow to cook for a further 10-15 minutes, sealing the pan again. Leave the biryani to stand for 15 minutes.
Turn out onto a large serving platter, piling it up in the centre and garnish with the reserved fried onions and serve with beetroot raita.