Lamb Biryani

For the lamb:
3 whole green cardamom (elachi) pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
½ tsp black peppercorns
3 cloves
3 onions, finely sliced
Vegetable oil
1½ kg lamb pieces
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp dhania (coriander) powder
1 tsp jeera (cumin) powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
3 green chillies, ground
3 green chillies, whole
400 g jam tomatoes, pureed
1½ cups double-cream yoghurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
100 g butter, cubed
1 cup water

For the rice:
3 cups basmati rice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
4½ cups water

For the potatoes:
6 up-to-date potatoes
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the lentils:
1½ cups lentils
4 cups water
1 bay leaf

Add the whole spices (cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves) to a pan and lightly roast, stirring and tossing frequently over medium heat, until they begin to smell toasty and fragrant. Transfer them to a bowl and allow to cool before grinding in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Fry the onions in some vegetable oil on medium-high heat until crisp. Spread on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, and allow to cool.

Place the lamb pieces in a large bowl, and add the ground whole spices, ¼ of the fried onions, curry leaves, ginger and garlic paste, chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, green chillies (ground and whole), yoghurt, pureed tomatoes and lemon juice. Mix well and allow to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.

Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear. (This may take up to a minute.) Rinsing rice before you cook it is key – it washes away the starchy powder that would otherwise make the grains of rice clump and stick together.

Combine rice, cinnamon sticks, turmeric powder, salt and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes – the rice must still have a hard centre when rolled between your fingers. Strain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel potatoes, cube them, and toss them in the turmeric powder and the vegetable oil. Place on a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and place back in the oven to allow the potatoes to brown.

Rinse the lentils in a fine-mesh sieve, then add them to a pot with the water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain, and remove the bay leaf.

Place the marinated lamb in a large casserole. Add a layer of lentils over the meat, then place the roasted potatoes over the lentils. Cover with the rice. Add the rest of the fried onion and dot with cubes of butter. Gently pour 1 cup of water over the rice, cover the dish with foil, and bake in the oven at 180°C for 1-1½ hours. Serve with raita, carrot salad and pickled red onion.

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