Makweti Chicken Biryani – a Feast for Fellowship

South Africa is an eclectic mixing pot of diverse cultures adopted from different territories – not only from the southern African region but from all over the world. Spanning centuries, native folk, Dutch settlers, British colonists, French Huguenot and Mediterranean settlers, and Indian emigrants have all contributed to shaping our country for what it is today.

What one doesn’t always consider is that many of these travellers brought with them their own age-old traditions. It can be hard to believe that here, on the southern tip of Africa, one of our most time-honoured dishes, Biryani, traversed the globe all the way from ancient Persia, where the original “biriani” (translated “fried before cooking”) was a mixed rice dish made with meat and a blend of Indian spices – very much like the delicious biryani variations we enjoy today.

Biryani is hugely popular in Durban, but enjoyed across the nation in varying ingredients and degrees of spiciness. At Makweti, we love biryani for its flexibility and flavour, and because it’s such a great feast to share among friends and family – a dish of fellowship.

Our traditional chicken biryani is a spicy, fragrant treat to our guests and we hope it’ll be the same for you, right at home.


Original recipe yields 7 servings

Meat portions:

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 4 small potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 (2 inches) cinnamon stick piece
  • 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken pieces, cut into chunks

Rice blend:

  • 1 pound basmati rice (approx. 450g)
  • 2 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 pinch powdered saffron
  • 5 pods cardamom
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 (1 inch) cinnamon stick piece
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

Cooking instructions for the meat:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Fry potatoes in hot oil until brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and fry onions, garlic, and fresh ginger until the onion is soft and golden.
  3. Add chilli, pepper, turmeric, cumin, salt, and tomatoes. Fry this blend, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in yoghurt, mint, ground cardamom, and your 2-inch cinnamon stick. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are cooked to a pulp.
  5. It may be necessary to add small amounts of hot water if the mixture becomes too dry and starts to stick to the pan.
  6. When the mixture is thick and smooth, add the chicken and stir well to coat the meat with your tomato mix.
  7. Cover and cook over very low heat until the chicken is tender – this usually takes 35 to 45 minutes. There should only be a little very thick gravy left when the chicken is finished cooking.
  8. If necessary, cook uncovered for a few minutes to reduce the gravy.

To prepare rice:

  1. Soak and wash rice well, for at least 30 minutes, and drain in a colander.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Fry your onion in hot oil until golden.
  3. Add saffron, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, ground ginger, and rice. Stir continuously until rice is coated with spices.
  4. Heat the stock and salt in a medium pot. When the mixture is hot, pour it over the rice and stir well.

Final assembly

  1. Add your chicken mixture and potatoes to the rice mix, and gently mix them into the rice.
  2. Bring this to boil.
  3. Cover the saucepan tightly, turn the heat to very low, and steam for 20 minutes.
  4. Do not lift the lid or stir while cooking.

Spoon your mouth-watering, heart-warming biryani onto a warm serving dish, and share with your favourite people!


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