When we shifted to Hyderabad, we were immediately mesmerized by the flavorsome Hyderbadi Biriyani. In my opinion (hers) it surpasses all other types of Biriyani. Someone (he) disagrees. While acknowledging the indomitable flavor depth of the Hyderabadi Dum-Biriyani, he opines that Kolkata’s Biriyani (along with that melt-in-the-mouth potato in it) isn’t that bad either. “It’s a matter of choice” he says.
Anyways, while on a self-financed quest to eat at as many restaurants in Hyderabad as possible, and try out as many different things as possible, we stumbled upon The Arabian Chicken Mandi. He was head-over-heels in love. The rich yet not overwhelmingly spicy rice, the tender chicken and the assortment of accompaniments (a Shorba, a Chutney and a salad with pickled onions) served on a huge (and I am not exaggerating) plate, satiated our hunger and our soul.
What happened next was this – every-time there was a talk, even a hint of eating out, he would ask for Mandi. There were times when I (she) was about to go full bollywood and ask him to choose – Me or Mandi? Things did not have to be so dramatic, and I decided to have a go at making Mandi at home, so that we can have some variety when we decide to eat out.
Hyderabadi cuisine is an amalgamation of Mughal, Turkish and Arabic cuisines mixed in with the indigenous Telugu and Marathwada cuisines. Mandi is a traditional Yemeni dish. It originated from Hadhramaut, Yemen and is extremely popular in most areas of the Arabian Peninsular. It is also widely enjoyed in Turkey, Levant and Egypt.
Mandi, derived from the Arabic word ‘nada‘ meaning dew is a class unto itself because of its unique moist and dewy texture of the rice. This recipe is a ménage-à-trois of long grained Basmati Rice, meat (camel, goat, lamb or chicken) and a unique blend of spices. Traditionally, the meat is cooked over a tandoor specially made by digging a pit in the ground. The technique used to cook the meat is what renders the flavor to the overall dish – well, that and the correct spice mixture. An assortment of nuts (pine nuts, almonds and cashews) ad raisins can be added to give more dimension to the texture of the dish. Mandi is a favorite on special occasions like Eid, weddings, feasts and celebrations in Yemen – and rightly so.
Before You Begin
Right of the bat, lets get the bummers out. While having a pit-dug-in-ground kind of tandoor is far-fetched, the other alternative (one that is the only option to cook Mandi at home) is to steam the chicken. For which you would need a steamer. If you do not have a steamer, a colander that fits into another heavy bottomed vessel can be used as well. You can also use the grill racks that comes along with your microwave oven, provided the vessel that you are about to put it in is large enough to hold it and it would not be too close to the bottom of the vessel. I had none of the above contraptions. So! I had to improvise. I took my saucepan and placed my too-large-for-the-sauce-pan grill rack over it. Since there was not way to cover this arrangement (and covering) is mandatory, I had to use another kadhai as a makeshift cover.
This recipe calls for a typical spice mix. There are a lot of different things that goes into it, so make sure to make the spice mix first before you do anything else.
The meat is very very important. Make sure you are using fresh meat (we used chicken). We used one whole chicken (skinless) that came up to almost 1 kg cut into four pieces (as seen for tandoori chicken)
After searching through a lot of recipes for this dish, I found that most of them used either saffron infused milk or yellow/orange food coloring. I skipped both.
- Chicken (Skinless) – 1 whole (1 kg appx), cut into 4 pieces with deep gashes in them
- Basmati Rice – 700 gms
- Refined Oil – 4 tbsp
- Ghee (Clarified Butter) – 2 tbsp
- Ginger-Garlic Paste – 2 tsp
- Green Chillies – 2 pcs
- Onion – 1 large
- An assortment of nuts (pine nuts, almonds and cashews) – 12 pcs
- Raisins – 12 pcs
- Salt – As per taste
- A piece of charcoal (for the dhungar)
- Aluminium foil
- Saffron – A few strands soaked in milk (optional)
- Yellow/orange food color (optional)
… for Mandi Masala:
- Coriander Seeds – 1 tbsp
- Cumin Seeds – 1 tbsp
- Cloves – 9 pcs
- Green Cardamom – 12 pc
- Black Cardamom – 1 pc
- Cinnamon – 5 pcs
- Nutmeg – 1 pc
- Mace – 1 pc
- Peppercorn – 1 tbsp
- Fennel Seeds – 1 tbsp
- Dry-Ginger Powder – 1 tsp
- Chaat Masala – 2 tsp
- Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp
- Red Chili Powder (I used Kashmiri Lal Mirch Powder) – 1.5 tsp
- Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice – 1.5 tsp
… the process:
- The first step is to make the Mandi Masala. Add coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, nutmeg, mace, green and black cardamom, fennel seeds and cinnamon barks to your grinder and make a fine powder.
- Add Dry-Ginger powder, Chat Masala, Turmeric Powder, Chilli powder to your Powder. This is the final Mandi Spice Powder.
- Take half of the Mandi spice powder and add freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 tsp ginger garlic paste, salt and a little bit of refined oil to make a paste. Reserve the remaining half for the rice
- Take your thoroughly cleaned and dried chicken and rub the spice paste on it. Make sure to generously apply the spice paste and massage the meat. Using your fingers insert the masalas onto the gashes made on the chicken to ensure that the flavor gets in as deep as possible.
- Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours (pro tip : the longer you marinate, the better it’ll turn out)
- Wash the Basmati Rice gently under water till the water runs clear. Be gentle with it. We do not want broken grains. Soak in about 1 lt of water for at least an hour.
- Fry the nuts and raisins in 1 tsp of ghee till the cashews become light golden brown.
- After 2 hours (or more) marination, take the chicken out. Place a heavy bottomed pan on your stove. Fill it with 1.5 lts of water. Let it heat up
- Place a colander, a grill rack into the vessel with water. Carefully place the chicken pieces on this. Make sure they are not overlapping.
- Cover and steam at high flame for 10 mins and then on medium flame for at least an hour.
- Use a knife/fork to check if the chicken is tender. If not, steam for another half an hour.
- If chicken has become tender, remove it carefully from the rack and place it on a plate.
- You will notice that the water in the steamer would have turned a beautiful golden brown color after being infused with the masalas dripping from the chicken. Reserve this stock for the rice.
- Heat a pan and add 1 tsp of ghee. Once its heated, add the chicken pieces and fry on medium heat till the surface gets browned. Remove and place on a plate
- Use another heavy bottomed vessel. Add refined oil and ghee.
- Once it heats up, add chopped onions and fry on medium till golden.
- Add 2 chopped green chilies and stir for another minute.
- Add the soaked Basmati Rice.
- At this stage you would need to add water. We will use the stock we obtained after steaming the chicken as a part of that water.
- Add water + stock till the rice is just about covered (about 1.5 lt in all). Check for seasoning. Add salt, if needed. (Be careful with the salt. The stock will have salt in it. Add only if needed)
- Cover and cook the rice till about 85% done. The water should be dried by now.
- Place the chicken pieces over the rice. Add the nuts, raisins and saffron infused milk over the rice. Cover and let it cook on dum for 20 mins or till done.
- Take a small piece of charcoal and burn it till red hot over the flame. Once its red hot, place the charcoal in a small bowl. Add a tbsp of ghee. Place this in the middle of the rice.
- Cover the vessel with aluminium foil and place its cover securely to ensure that none of the aroma escapes. Let the smoky flavor infuse for around 10 mins.
- Serve with Shorba and Tomato Chutney.
- Serves – 5 Adults
- Preparation Time:
- Estimated Price (based on the local prices on the day of preparation)
- You do get ready-made Mandi Spice Powder in the market. However, I would strongly recommend making your own fresh batch.)
- If you are using ready-made Mandi Masala you would still need to add Turmeric Powder, Chat Masala, salt and lemon juice to it.
To our profound joy, the dish turned out beautifully. The texture, the flavors – we couldn’t have asked for more. And to top it all, the kiddies loved it too. Well, it was a day well spent. Do try out this recipe and let us know how it turned out. And if you have any suggestions for us, any recipes you would want us to try, please let us know and we would surely give it a try.
If you wish to try out this dish from a restaurant before making it at home, do check out Yum Yum Tree, Mandi King and Al-Marhaba. Also, use the comment section below, or drop us a mail, for places where you may have tried them already, so that we can explore, if we are around.
We scoured through a lot of food blogs and channels before we dared ourselves to try this out. So a big thank you to Archana’s Kitchen, cookpad.com, Sooperchef, Cook With fem and VahChef – VahRehVah for giving us such insight into this beautiful dish.