Get Cooking: How to make vegetable biryani, Asias multilayered rice dish

True, a recipe for biryani, Asia’s delicious rice dish, is long. So many ingredients, right? But also, so many aromas, so many flavors, so many textures.

It’s the price to pay. Hoist those reading glasses and prep that pot.

Keep in mind that the secrets to a great biryani are three. Observe them and you will taste why biryani reportedly remains the most popular order for both take-out and delivery at Indian restaurants worldwide.

  • First, layer the main components carefully. The chord of biryani’s distinct, physical layers both mirror and syncopate the many flashing flavors in this classic one-pot dish.
  • Second, caramelize the onions to a rich, mahogany brown. As its own layer, the vein of sweet onions may be the most important stratum of them all. It is so delicious, so haunting in flavor.
  • Third, mince well both the cilantro and mint and blend them thoroughly together. Then sprinkle them evenly when you layer them. They will be adult Pop Rocks of a sort, pleasurably punctuating bites of biryani with their verdant, heady aromas and tastes.

Vegetable Biryani

Adapted from and In place of the listed individual ingredients of both ginger and garlic, you may substitute 8 level tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste, always available at Indian grocers. Serves 6-8.


  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 9 green cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons ghee, or more, softened or at room temperature
  • 3 medium red onions, peeled, cored and sliced longways “pole-to-pole”
  • 4 tablespoons raw cashews, roughly broken or smashed
  • 1 large white or yellow waxy potato, partially peeled, cut up into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/3 head cauliflower, stemmed and broken into small florets
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen green beans
  • 1 cup pieces frozen sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 2/3 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon red chile powder
  • 4 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 2-inch piece canela or cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed into a paste
  • 2 serrano or jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (about 2 cups whole, lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped mint leaves (about 2 cups whole, lightly packed)
  • 3 teaspoons rose water


Prepare the rice: Rinse the rice well in 4-5 changes of cool water, swirling and rubbing the rice kernels with your fingers, until the water runs almost clear. Drain well. Over medium-high heat, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and to it add 6 cardamom pods, the 4 whole cloves and 1 teaspoon of the salt.

Add the rice, stirring, and cook at a slow boil for 8 minutes, then drain the semi-cooked rice and set aside, stirring in 1 tablespoon of the ghee.

Prepare the onions: In a large pot or skillet, in 2-3 tablespoons of the ghee, over medium-high heat (to start), cook the onions with 1 teaspoon salt, stirring and partially covered, until they soften markedly and begin to turn golden-brown, about 15 minutes.

Lower the heat slightly and continue cooking the onions, uncovered now, folding them over and over, until the entire mass is much reduced in volume and a deep brown, another 10-15 minutes or more, depending on both the heat and your pan. Remove and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables: To the same pan, adding a little more ghee if necessary, toast the cashews for 90 seconds, removing them to a small bowl or ramekin. Add the potato pieces and cook for 8 minutes at medium-low heat until they begin to slightly soften. Add the pieces of cauliflower and carrot and cook for an additional 7-8 minutes.

Add the frozen vegetable pieces and cook everything for 3 minutes more, stirring. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt, garam masala and chile powder, coating all the vegetables well with the mixture. Remove and set aside.

Prepare the saffron milk: Warm the milk, either in a small pot or in the microwave (if the latter, be careful not to boil or boil over) and to it add the crushed saffron, stirring. Set aside.

Prepare the aromatics: To the large pot, adding a bit more ghee if necessary, add all the cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, peppercorns and 3 cardamom pods and heat them so that they become aromatic, about 30-40 seconds over medium-high heat.

Clear the center and add the ginger, garlic and minced chiles and cook for 90 seconds, stirring, then stir in the spices from the edges. Collect everything, add it to the reserved vegetable mixture, stirring it in well and set the entire mix aside.

Assemble the biryani: Blend together the chopped cilantro and mint and keep the mix in a small bowl at the ready. Have ready the partially-cooked rice, the onions, the vegetable mix with its aromatics and the saffron milk.

In a large Dutch oven or other such baking pot (such as a cazuela or large casserole dish) that has been coated on its inside walls and bottom with a thin film of vegetable oil or more ghee, place 1/3 of the rice. Then add a layer of 1/2 of the onions, 1/2 of the vegetables and 1/2 the cilantro-mint mixture.

Do the same layering again, ending with a top layer of 1/3 of the rice. Evenly sprinkle over the biryani both the saffron milk and the rosewater.

Cook the biryani: Tightly seal the pot with heavy-duty aluminum foil and its cover and, in a 225-degree oven, place the pot, cooking the biryani for 90 minutes to 2 hours, rotating the pot at least once.

Check that the biryani is well-heated at its center or cook some more if not. Serve, with any number of typical Indian accompaniments such as naan or other breads, yogurt or raita, spicy pickle, lime wedges, more fresh cilantro leaves and the like.

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