It rained today and rained throughout. This morning, I stepped out on the porch with my good strong cup of coffee. The breeze felt a little cold and it was damp. The new spring foliage on our Japanese cheery tree were dripping rain water. I sipped on my liquid stimulant and smelled the earthy scent as it poured. I smelled it heavily again – the aroma was lovely, intense and pleasant – they call it “Petrichor”.
A rainy weather doesn’t bring the brightest of days – in fact, it’s considered sleepy, gloomy, with grey skies and sans sunshine. In movies for example, cloudbursts or rainstorms are usually associated with being precursors to bad situations or wrong turn of events. But I find solace when it showers. I feel a peculiar comfort, as if our planet is reassuring us through the rains. For our human ancestors, a torrential climate indicated renewal of natural resources and provided a sign for survival. For our farmers it symbolizes a good healthy crop and thus prosperity. And in whatever remains of our amazing flora and fauna on Earth’s declining untouched nature reserves, rain means restitution and continuity of life and the happiness.
As a curious child, when I walked with Dadu (my Grandpa) and my umbrella to the bus stop on a rainy day, I had dozens of questions for him (with a 6 year old in my home now, I can imagine how chatty I would’ve been then!). Most of them were to do with hopping frogs and wriggling earthworms that I saw everywhere when it rained. And my biggest concern – “Dadu, don’t they get wet and catch cold? Is there nothing to protect them from the shower?”. As I’d jump in and out of the little muddy puddles on my way, Dadu would explain to me how nature has given the frogs and worms, tiny umbrellas called “Mushrooms”.
In Bangla, my language, mushrooms are called “Banger Chata” meaning “a Frog’s umbrella”! I was also told early on in life that the “little frog umbrellas” weren’t the ones my Mom cooked for us, and that the edible varieties were grown and cultivated separately. Ironically enough, we have this little fish tank décor at home here, that has a happy frog resting under a mushroom and almost smiling! I looked at it and smiled back…
In India, it is almost customary to eat something spicy to pep it up on a rainy day and I craved for some too. And there was a container of these petite white mushrooms in my fridge, waiting just for their moment of joy! I cooked them with basmati into a fragrant and peppery Mushroom Biryani. Quite the zest I needed today. Let it rain, let it drizzle, let the wind gust in, and bring in the smell, the taste and the rainy day lovelies!
(Serves 4 – 6)
- 0.5 tsp ShahJeera (can also use Jeera or Cumin seeds as an alternative)
- 0.5 tsp Rai or Andhra Mustard seeds or brown mustard seeds (the tiny variety)
- 1 Bay leaf (or Tej patta)
- 2 dry red Chilies (Sookhi Laal Mirch) — optional (use 1 or none for lesser heat)
- 2 inch Cinnamon Stick (Dalchini)
- 1 Star Anise (Badian or Phoolchakri)
- 10 Cloves (Lavang)
- 2 Black Cardamoms (Badi Elaichi)
- 20 Black Peppercorns (Kali Mirch) — optional (reduce the amount for lesser heat)
- 8oz or 230 gms White button Mushrooms
- 2 US cups or 400 gms Basmati Rice
- 1 big Onion sliced (about 1 US cup full slices or 200 gms)
- 20-25 fresh Curry Leaves
- 2 tbsp grated fresh Ginger root
- 1.5 tbsp finely chopped fresh Garlic
- 1 small tomato (or 1.5 tbsp chopped tomato pieces)
- 0.5 tsp Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- 1 tbsp Kashmiri Red Chilly powder (the Indian variety of Paprika that adds color to food and is minimal in heat)
- 2 tbsp ground Coriander (Dhania powder)
- 3 heaped tbsp plain Yogurt (Dahi)
- 3-4 tbsp light Olive oil
- 2 tbsp Ghee (Clarified butter)
- About 500 ml of water or more to cook the rice
- Salt to taste
- A generous handful of fresh Cilantro (Coriander leaves / Dhania Patta) — washed and shredded for garnish
- Wash and chop the mushrooms (I usually do 3-4 slices per mushroom).
- Rinse the Basmati.
- Place a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed cooking pot over medium heat. Add the Olive oil plus 1 tbsp of Ghee. Add all of the whole spices.
- As soon as the spices splutter (be careful not to let them burn), add onion slices and curry leaves. Saute for 1 minute.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes, grated ginger and garlic slices. Stir and saute for a minute.
- Add turmeric powder, red chilly powder, coriander powder and the sliced mushrooms. Mix, stir and cook for a couple minutes.
- As soon as the mushrooms begin to release water, add beaten yogurt. Mix and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Now add the washed Basmati rice and give a quick stir to mix. Pour about 500 ml of water into the cooking pot and adjust salt. Cover cook the Biryani on low medium heat.
- When all water in the pot has been used up, carefully open the lid and check whether the rice is done or if it needs any more water to cook. If not, reduce the stove heat to very low and cover the pot and let the rice sit for 5-10 more minutes. This allows the Biryani to absorb some moisture as well as finishes it without the rice being sticky. Switch off the stove and remove the cooking pot.
- Add the remaining 1 tbsp of ghee and shredded Coriander leaves to the Biryani. Mix and serve immediately with plain or spiced yogurt (Raita) and fresh garden salad. Eat and share — rain or shine! Doesn’t this make a great meal?