Saturday, September 10, 2016

Vegetable Biryani

You know how there are some recipes you don't try, because you have tasted the ultimate version and can never hope to get even close to that level of flavor and taste?   Am I the only one who feels this way?  I rarely attempt to make sambar/rasam powder or dosai milagai podi at home unless I am desperate, mainly because I can never get it be as great as my mom makes it.  Each year I go back home, I vow to watch her make it so that I can learn her technique, but invariably I end up just asking her to make enough for me until next time.

Well, this post is about one such dish.  Biryani.  I have tasted several biryanis – several that others rave about, but nothing can come close to the one Shabana’s mom makes. 

When we were in high school, every time we went for a party to Shabana’s house – especially for her birthday, auntie would make vegetable biryani.  She used to say that it is more time consuming than mutton or chicken biryani – because of the prep work for the veggies, but she would make it just for those of us who didn’t eat meat.

We would devour it – relishing the perfectly cooked rice and vegetables, with just the right blend of onions, tomatoes, and spices.  She would also pack tiffin boxes of leftover biryani so that our families could also get a taste.  My dad, who normally would not eat anything with garlic or “masalas”, would ask – “did Shabana’s mom send biryani?”

This year, long before my trip with my friends to Cambodia, and eventually to Chennai, I told Shabana that I was craving auntie’s biryani.  Could her mom please make it for us while we were in Chennai?   And auntie did.  Anu and I went to Shabana’s work.  She brought steaming hot cases filled with flavorful biryani.  We closed the door and ate like pigs.  I think the office smelled of biryani for the rest of Shabana’s trip – making anyone who entered her room salivate because of the tantalizing aromas!

I have tried in vain to get the recipe for this biryani from Auntie.  Shabana, on one of her visits to Colorado, did call her mom to get the recipe for me, but true to Shabana’s style, she wrote down only half the recipe, and what she wrote down, even she could not decipher later!

Anyway, thanks to my friend Leelu, and some improvising, I have a recipe for vegetable biryani, which while not in the same league as Shabana's mom's, comes out well enough to fool people who haven't tasted the original!

I make biryani only occasionally, because I feel like I keep falling short, but hey, sometimes, second best will have to do :)

It is a bit time consuming, but totally worth it.  I had such a difficult time taking pictures today - so don't make up your mind by looking at the pictures.

There are three distinct steps to making the biryani (four – if you are making your own spice blend).  Don’t attempt to make this on a day when you are rushed for time!

Biryani Masala:

I make my own masala – really easy to do, if you have all the ingredients.


Here is what you need:

  • 2” piece cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. black pepper corns
  • 7 – 8 green cardamom
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 2 spears mace
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. cloves
  • 2 tsp. poppy seeds (khus-khus)

Dry roast all the masala ingredients for a couple of minutes.  Let it cool.  Grind in a spice grinder to a fine powder.


  • 4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • salt to taste
  • juice of half lemon

Wash and soak 4 cups of basmati rice for about 20 minutes.  Drain.
Bring 12 cups of water to boil in a pot.  Add oil, salt and lemon juice.  Add rice. Stir
Bring the water to a boil again.  Reduce heat and cook until rice is about 70% done.
You will know that the rice is ready if it is not crunchy, but not squishy either.  It will have a slightly chewy texture.  Do not overcook the rice!
Drain the water – saving about ½ cup for later use.
Spread the rice out gently on a large plate/tray and let it cool completely


Update: My friend Shabana says that her mom adds 1/2 kg of onions and 1/2 kg. of tomatoes for 1 kg. of rice.  She also adds 2 cups of yogurt. 
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 carrots, cut into diagonal slices
  • 10 – 12 green beans, cut into 1” length
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 Tbsp. oil (additional)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 – 3 medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 – 3 green chilies, minced (I had chilies that packed a punch - you may need to add more)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 – 3 tsp. red chili powder
  • ½ cup chopped mint leaves
  • ½ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • juice of ½ lemon

Heat oil in a saucepan.  Add potatoes and fry on medium heat till the turn golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon.
In the same oil, fry carrots, beans, and cauliflower separately, each for a few minutes, removing with a slotted spoon.  Set aside.
Add the remaining oil.  Add onions and fry till they turn golden.
Add minced ginger and garlic.  Mix well.  Add tomatoes and green chilies.
 Sauté on medium hear for about 10 minutes or so, until oil starts separating from the side.  Add mint, coriander, biryani malasa powder, salt and chili powder.  Mix well
Let this cook for a couple of more minutes, taking care not to let the mixture burn on the bottom.
Turn off the heat and add the Greek yogurt.  Mix well.
Add the cooked vegetables to this mixture.  Add lemon juice.  Toss with a fork so that the vegetables are coated. 
Let this marinate for about 20 – 30 minutes.


  • few strands of saffron
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 2 – 3 tsp. ghee
  • chopped mint and coriander leaves for garnish
  • caramelized onions

Soak saffron strands in warm milk.
Preheat oven to 300°F
Take a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot with an oven-safe lid.  Grease the bottom with oil. 
Layer the bottom with the marinated vegetables.
Spread the rice evenly on top. 
Melt ghee. Pour this on top of the rice
Pour the saved water (this helps keep the rice moist without drying out)
Pour the saffron milk
Sprinkle the caramelized onions, mint and coriander leaves
Cover this pot with aluminum foil.  Place the lid on top.
Put this in the oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes.
Let it sit covered for 10 more minutes.

To serve:

Gently fluff the biryani with a fork so that the vegetables and rice get mixed well – taking care not to mash the rice or the veggies.

Serve with raita of your choice

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