Step-by-step Vegetable Biryani

Veggie biryani(2)

Traditionally, biryani is a rice dish prepared for feasts or special occasions by cooks who are hired specially to cook a huge vat, often outside in the garden on an open fire or even in the street if you don’t have a garden. It is served with yogurt raita and salad and, for me, doesn’t need any other supporting dish. Most families will treat themselves to a simplified version of biryani over weekends or holidays.

Biryani is rice layered with a spicy, fragrant vegetable curry where the vegetable curry is sandwiched between two layers of rice – it is quite simple and hardly ever goes wrong.  The rice is cooked till it is al dente (almost cooked with a tiny bite to it) and you can use a whole range of vegetables or step out of line and add a tin of chickpeas or white beans. 

One would think that rice layered with a vegetable curry would taste no different to eating rice and curry, but you will be surprised how different it tastes once it is layered and steamed.  The trick with biryani is to use generous amounts of fragrant whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg and star anise – biryani cooked by professional chefs for weddings etc use an awful lot of fragrant spices and liberally sprinkle the rice with rose water and saffron prior to steaming the rice.

Here is a step-by-step vegetable biryani recipe which works for me every time with a perfectly balanced amount of fragrant spices and if you cook curries often, the chances are you have all the ingredients in your cupboard – so what are we waiting for….let’s venture forth and cook biryani like the professionals or better!

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups, about 300 grams Basmati rice (soak for an hour at least)
Half a large cauliflower, cut into large florets
400-500 grams waxy potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
1 tin of seitan, cut into bite-size pieces (I use “Mock Duck” by Marigold) – you could use soya chunks or any other substitute
Fry together
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
Few cloves, cardamom, black pepper (about 4-5 each)
2-3 small pieces of cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons oil PLUS 1 tablespoon for layering rice (see below)
Mix together in a bowl
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon nutmeg powder
2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons natural unsweetened soya yogurt
Juice of half lemon
½ teaspoon salt
Garnish – fry in a little oil for 1 minute
2 tablespoons each of cashews and raisins

Method

  • Fry onions together with the whole spices listed above until onions are golden brown

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  • Mix all the other spices listed above and add to onions
  • Fry spices for about 5-7 minutes, adding small splashes of water, until the spices are cooked

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  • Add potatoes, cauliflower and “mock duck”
  • Add approximately 200ml of water, cover and cook on low for about 20 minutes until veggies are cooked, but not mushy

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Cooking rice and layering

  • Rinse the rice, add a little salt and bring to boil in plenty of water in a large, deep saucepan
  • Boil for about 3-4 minutes in which time the rice should be almost cooked (al dente) – it is best to keep an eye on the rice at this stage as Basmati rice comes in numerous grades/varieties and the cooking time depends on the quality and type of the rice; strain in colander
  • Put about ¼ cup of water in the pan and 1 tablespoon of oil
  • Spoon about one-third of the rice in the pan and tip all the vegetables on top of the rice
  • Add rest of the rice to the pan to complete the layering

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  • Cover lid with a clean tea cloth and place firmly on the pan

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  • Steam rice on medium heat for 5 minutes, then lower heat to lowest and continue to steam for a further 20 minutes by which time the rice should be steaming
  • Serve garnished with cashews, raisins and the fried onion you set aside earlier

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