Put the almonds in a bowl of hot water (enough to cover them) and set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove skins from all the almonds by pressing each one between your thumb and forefinger. The almonds will slip out of their skins!
Mix the garlic and ginger pastes, the peeled almonds and grind to a smooth paste in a food processor.
Wash the rice in a sieve and add enough water to fully cover the rice – at least 4″ over the surface of the rice. Add salt to taste. Set the rice up to boil. Cook till almost done. To determine when it has reached that stage, remove a few grains from the pot and press between your thumb and forefinger. The rice should mostly mash but will have a firm whitish core. Turn off the fire. Strain through a colander and keep drained aside.
Heat 3 tbsps of oil in a pan and fry 2 of the onions till caramalized – golden brown. Drain and keep aside on paper towels for later use.
Heat 3 tbsps of oil in another pan and add the whole spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns. Fry till the spices turn a little darker.
Add the 2 remaining onions and fry till they are translucent.
Add the ginger-garlic-almond paste and fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add all the spice powders – coriander, cumin and garam masala and mix well.
Fry till the oil begins to separate from the masala and then add the lamb/ chicken. Keep frying till the meat is fully sealed (it will become opaque and lose its pink colour).
Now add the yoghurt, lime juice, stock, coriander and mint leaves and salt to taste (if needed). Mix well.
Cover the pot and allow to cook till the meat is tender.
If you are using the food coloring, divide the rice into 3 equal portions and put into separate dishes. Add the orange food coloring to one portion of the rice and the green food coloring to another portion of the rice. Leave the third portion white. With each portion, mix the rice till all the grains are well colored. Keep aside for 10 minutes after which you can mix all 3 portions of rice together in a bowl for use in the next step.
Grease a deep baking dish and evenly layer the cooked rice, meat (and its gravy) in it to form at least 2 sets of layers (rice-meat-rice-meat-rice). Garnish with the previously caramalised onions. Cover the dish tightly. If the dish does not have a cover use 2 layers of aluminium foil (shiny side of both layers pointing down towards the rice) and secure on to dish with baking string.
Put in a pre-heated oven set at 350 F/ 180 C/ Gas mark 4 for 20 minutes.
Turn off the oven and let the dish sit in the oven till you are ready to eat. Only open when you are ready to eat. The way to serve Biryani is to gently dig in with a spoon so you get through the layers.
While Mughlai Biryani tastes great by itself, add a raita like Chatpata Channa Raita (chickpeas in hot-sour yoghurt) and you’re really in business!