I have learnt that what makes Hyderabadi food so delicious and unique is the attention paid to every detail and technique, from marinating the meat and grinding masalas to the process of cooking, and then the garnishes, as well as how the dish is served. For example, the secret of a good saalan lies in the grinding of its masala, which must have the texture of silk. The stories of legendary hospitality and rich feasts are far too many to recount, and I have attempted to retain that vibrant spirit of the family through the recipes in this book.


  • 1 kg Basmati rice
  • 1 kg adla mutton (meat from the shin bone)
  • 500 gm yogurt
  • 250 gm oil
  • 2 tsp black cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp saffron strands
  • ½ cup ginger-garlic paste
  • 10-12 cardamoms
  • 8 green chillies
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 bunches coriander leaves
  • 2 bunches mint leaves
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 limes
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 glass milk
  • Salt to taste


  1. When you buy the meat, get it cut into medium-sized pieces. Wash the rice and soak for at least 30 minutes in cold water.
  2. Mix meat with ginger-garlic paste, turmeric powder, two teaspoons of salt and yogurt. Set aside for at least an hour. You can leave it to marinate for 2-3 hours or overnight.
  3. In a large pan, heat oil and fry onions until golden brown. Remove onto a plate lined with absorbent paper, and set aside. To the same oil, add six cardamoms and a teaspoon of black cumin seeds. When these splutter, add the meat and cook until a thick gravy forms. This takes about 30-45 minutes.
  4. Just as the meat is nearly done, add two teaspoons of chilli powder and leave the pan on the stove until the oil rises to the surface. Put 10-12 cups water to the boil, with cloves, cinnamon sticks, six cardamoms and a teaspoon of black cumin seeds. Once it comes to a rolling boil, add the drained rice to it and cook until three-fourths done.
  5. Pass the cooked rice through a strainer, making sure you retain the whole spices and about half a glass of water. Do not dry out the rice completely. Grease a pan and layer half the rice on the bottom. Then spread a layer of meat. Sprinkle half the fried onions, half of the chopped coriander and mint leaves, green chillies and the juice of three limes. Repeat all three layers.
  6. Cover with the remaining rice and pour over the oil that you drained off the meat curry.
  7. Mix saffron in milk and sprinkle over the rice. Seal the pan and cook on dhum for 15 minutes.
  8. Before you serve, use a very large spatula or a small plate to cut through the biryani from the top to the bottom. This makes it easier for everyone to serve themselves. Garnish with the remaining fried onions and coriander and mint leaves.

Excerpted with permission from Saffron and Pearls: A memoir of family, friendship & heirloom Hyderabadi recipes, Doreen Hassan, HarperCollins.

Doreen Hassan

Doreen Hassan

Doreen Hassan was considered one of Delhi’s finest hostesses, and was celebrated for the elegant parties she hosted. The meals she crafted had been perfected over the years, based on heirloom recipes she had inherited from family members.

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