Biriyani, a rice and meat casserole, came to India from Central Asia by way of the Mughals, who ruled much of India from the 16th to 18th centuries. To this day it is considered one of India's most elegant dishes and is particularly popular in North India. This version, with South Indian touches like coconut and curry leaves, is the pride of the Mappila (Kerala Muslim) community and a mainstay at Muslim weddings.
In a blender or mini food processor combine the coconut, poppy seeds, curry leaves, green chili, and 1/2 cup water (or more) to make a paste like thick pesto. Set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil and 3 tablespoons ghee in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 cups onions and saute until the edges are lightly browned. Put in the garlic and ginger and continue frying about 3 minutes, until you smell the aroma and the onions are brown. Stir in the ground masala, garam masala, salt, and coconut paste and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the yogurt, lime juice, cilantro, and mint. Stir over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Now put in the lamb pieces and stir. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the meat is tender. Stir occasionally.
In a large bowl, wash the rice in many changes of water until the water no longer appears cloudy. Drain thoroughly.
Prepare the garnish by heating 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons ghee in a frying pan. Add the 2 cups onions and fry over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until they turn deep reddish brown and crisp (10 to 15 minutes). Remove the onions to a plate with a slotted spoon. Fry the cashews in the reamining oil until brown. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and repeat with the raisins. Set aside.
Prepare the rice by combining the 2 teaspoons salt, the drained rice, and 5 cups water in a large heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 20 minutes on low heat. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Fluff the rice and spread one third of it in the bottom of a casserole or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle one third of the fried onions, cashews, and raisins on top of rice, then add half the lamb mixture. Continue to layer with one third of the rice, one third of the garnish, all the remaining lamb, and finally the last third of rice. Reserve the last third of the garnish for later. Seal the top with foil, then place the lid over the foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
Spoon onto a large platter and garnish with the remaining fried onions, cashews, and raisins. Place the halved boiled eggs, yolk up, around the edges of the platter. Serve immediately.
In a heavy, preferably light-colored skillet melt the butter over medium-low heat. The melted butter will sputter gently as the moisture boils out of it, and the bubbles will change from large to fine and foamy.
Once the foam appears, push it aside every few seconds to see if the milk solids have settled to the bottom of the pan. When this sediment appears golden brown, remove it from the heat. Do not let it turn dark brown.
Cool the ghee for a minute or two, then pour the liquid into a container with a tight-fitting lid, leaving most of the solids behind. Cool it completely, cover, and store at room temperature for 1 month or in the refrigerator for 3 months.
Ghee turns to a solid as it cools, so bring it to room temperature before using, or melt it by placing the jar in which it is stored in hot water.
Place the star anise in a coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. Measure out 2 teaspoonfuls, reserving the rest for another use.
Grind the fennel seeds in the coffee grinder to form a fine powder.
Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight jar away from the light. It will keep for 6 months.
Recipe courtesy of Savoring the Spice Coast of India, Maya Kaimal, HarperCollins