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Mar 27, 2010 12:20 PM

Vegetarian biryani recipe

I make a mean mutton biryani, but with leg of lamb already on the menu for this Easter, I thought a vegetarian biryani might be a tasty side dish. I've only had vegetable biryani once and never from scratch so I am hoping one of the many experienced contributors out there might have a vegetable, or better yet, egg biryani recipe to share. TIA!

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  1. I've only had a veggie biryani once (restaurant offering). The veggies were layered up with the rice as in the traditional way with a meat one. Can't recall the veggies though (except for aubergine, which was overly predominent for my taste). I guess what I'm suggesting is that you cook it pretty much ike you cook your mutton one, but with whatever seems good for veg.

    1. I used to be a purist about birianis being meat based to be the tastiest, but I have a vegetarian bestest friend who I dine with often, so I have changed my views a bit and served her vegetarian birianis and pullaos.

      Have some crispy red fried onions ready for garnish, and keora jal (pandanus essence) for biriani perfume smell.

      You basically want to make a gravy filled with vegetables. You can go any typical route with this gravy: browned onion, ginger garlic paste, tomatoes, and yoghurt, plus garam masala type gravy is turmeric though. You could also do a meatless Hyderabadi biriani in which there is no tomatoes and the gravy is fried onion and yoghurt based and yellow colored with a pinch of turmeric. For the veg, anything will do. I use cubed potatoes, baby corn, french beans, carrots, button mushrooms, chunks of paneer, anything you think sounds like a good combo is fine. You just make your gravy and add in your veg in a proper sequence based on what takes the longes to cook to what takes the shortest. Make sure the vegetables stay a bit crunchy and don't get mushy because you don't want them to overcook when you put them on "dam" with the rice. So you have made your biriani gravy filled with vegetables. You have prepared your biriani rice (boiled water with salt and whole garam masalas, 3/4 cooked the rice and tossed the water). Make some extra additions to the layering to make sure everything has bright, rich flavor: whole mint leaves, whole slit green chiles, or mint ground to a paste with green chiles, and spread in layered with the rice, deep fried cashew nuts, sultanas if you like, a bit of crushed red-fried onions mixed with a dash of garam masala to spread in between your rice and gravy layers.

      On the top rice layer, add a tiny dash of pandanus essence and some biriani coloring powder soaked in milk. Steam covered for 20 mins (put on dam) as usual. Then put on serving dish garnishing with red-fried onions and more fried cashew nuts, drizzling with melted butter or ghee for extra perfume.

      edit: I forgot to add that if you are doing this for a party and don't mind the extra cals, deep fry any veg that can get mushy, then add it late into the gravy. Like potato or cauliflour or what have you. The two concerns in veg biriani are keeping depth of flavor and biriani taste without meat, and also keeping the vegetables crunchy enough pre-sealing with rice so that none of them get mushy. It usually works out fine...good luck.

      3 Replies
      1. re: luckyfatima

        My typical biryani masala is whole cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and bay leaves. Would you recommend adding anything else or is such a heavily seasoned biryani going to be overkill when there's no meat? I came across recipes such as which recommend additions, but I can't gauge whether the recipes are good. I have an unopened package of black cardamom so I'd be quite pleased if I finally found a use for it.

        I've never added pandan to biryani; I always thought of screwpine as a Southeast Asian flavor. I'm intrigued by the idea and may try using whole leaves to perfume the cooking water. The whole mint leaves in the gravy are also new to me. I'm thinking I will use green beans, carrots, button mushrooms, zucchini and deep-fried cauliflower for my vegetables along with paneer and deep-fried cashews. I will of course be drizzling the final casserole with melted butter and saffron before baking and topping with more cashews and fried onions.

        1. re: JungMann

          I think yours sounds fine, so does Mamta's recipe. I use ground as well as whole garam masalas, and red chile powder, extra cumin and coriander powder, nutmeg and mace. I also use yoghurt (maybe 3 tbs) in my recipe which is otherwise similar to Mamta's. The yoghurt is added in the gravy after the oil has risen to the top of the tomato gravy, then cooked until the oil rises again.

          The mint leaves go in at the layering stage before the lid is closed to finish the rice plus gravy layers, you shouldn't add the mint leaves into the gravy.

          Screwpine essence is called keora jal in Hindi/Urdu, it is available at any South Asian grocer. It is the "biriani perfume." It is a clear to slightly yellow tinged liquid in a bottle. I believe it is actually from the flower and not the leaf. Just use a little drop, and never add it into anything on high heat because it turns bitter. It is also used to perfume meat qorma, just a drop at the end. The biriani perfume gives extra umph. You add it at the layering stage before sealing the lid to finish the rice and gravy layers. Sorry, I didn't mean the leaves. If you buy a little bottle you can keep it in your cupboard for a long time. I think when you smell it you will recognize it because it is used in a lot of desi sweets as well as biriani, qorma, etc.

          Mmmh, it looks like you have a good biriani in the making. Please post pics when you do it and let us know how it goes.

          1. re: luckyfatima

            Oh hey about the eggs, just hard boil perfect eggs and slice them in half and embed them in the biriani rice just before serving. Some people briefly deep fry their hard boiled eggs before slicing for this type of dish, but there is no need to, really. I think fried ones get rubbery anyway.

            To make it extra pretty, garnish with cilantro and also mint leaves as well. Green for Easter.

      2. Spring boarding from the advice here, I purchased a variety of vegetables that looked good at the market: tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, peas and potatoes. I fried the potatoes and cauliflower (along with cubed paneer) as suggested and cooked all the vegetables with fried onions, ginger garlic paste, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, mint, cilantro and yogurt. The rice I par cooked with bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon as per usual. I alternated layers of rice with gravy, mint, leaves, green chili and a sprinkling of garam masala. Before covering the casserole to bake for 30 minutes, I drizzled the rice with red-dyed butter and saffron milk which left the rice pastel hued and rather festive for Easter (though I didn't add the dyes until after photographing). When finished, I topped with roasted cashews.

        The vegetable curry on its own is great (although my potatoes ended up mealy), but the flavors faded away in the casserole. I was cautious with my masala as I didn't want to overpower the vegetables or put off any timid diners but in retrospect I should probably have amped up and complimented the flavors of the vegetables with more seasonings and a heavier hand with aromatics like mint and cilantro. Keora jal is likely a necessity for vegetable biryani and though I am normally too lazy to properly fry onions to go on top of biryani, I'm going to have to next time. What this did have going for it, though, was a great combination of textures -- snap from the carrots, creaminess from the paneer -- it's going to be an interesting challenge to come up with a bold masala that can make this a winning dish.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JungMann

          Hahaha I was eagerly awaiting your Easter biriani review. It sounds like it came out pretty good and you know what to do to tweak it to perfection for next time. The star is so cute.

          1. re: luckyfatima

            When we were in India we went on a cookery course and this is the recipe we make our vegetable biryani's great!

            It's made in two stages - the masala sauce and the biryani rice.


            Small cubes of carrot, green beans, cauliflower and potato (boiled)
            Bit of finely chopped onion
            1 green chilli
            1 pinch of cinnamon
            1 clove
            1 cardamom seed
            Tomato paste
            ½ spoon ginger/garlic paste

            Fry spices, onion, chilli and salt. Add ½ spoon garlic/ginger paste, ½ spoon turmeric, ½ spoon chilli powder, ½ spoon garam masala, ½ spoon coriander. Add tomato paste and boiled vegetables. Heat on high until the sauce dries out. The mix finely chopped mint leaves into the sauce.

            BIRYANI RICE

            1 onion finely chopped
            1 carrot finely chopped
            2-3 cashews and raisins
            3 cardamom seeds
            1 star anise
            1 pinch cinnamon
            2 cloves
            1 pinch fennel seeds
            2 teaspoons of ghee
            Julienne carrot to garnish

            To make
            Fry ghee, spices, cashews and raisins until brown and then add onion and carrot. Add ¼ spoon turmeric and add boiled rice, chopped mint, pineapple and salt. Add pineapple essence (3 drops) and more salt to taste.

            You then put rice in a bowl and layer with sauce and rice so there are 3 layers in total. Tip out onto plate.

        2. i had monday off from work, so i planned a day entirely around making a vegetable biryani. i rented a car from phillycarshare, and drove it across town to west philly to visit my favorite indian grocer to stock UP on all the ingredients. had to make a second grocery visit to whole foods on my way back for some of the veggies, and topped it all off with a run to the beer store for a case of IPAs to keep me fueled throughout the day ahead. :)

          got it all home and the car returned by 1pm, and started slicing. 1.5 hours of slow, loving prep work. veggies all sliced evenly, spices sorted out and measured ahead of time, cookware ready to go.

          i'd done plenty of recipe research the day before, comparing recipes. i wanted to make a vegetarian version for my first biryani experiment, but i still read plenty of meat recipes to see what techniques i wanted to harbor in my own kitchen. after hours of reading up, i finally settled on this recipe, with a few changes:

          - i added coconut meat, a good fistful to the vegetables and another fistful to the saffron yogurt.
          - squeezed lime into the mix in several places where it seemed appropriate (and whenever i wanted to cleanse my fingers of the overwhelming onion smell radiating from them
          )- i didn't use peas. i don't dislike them; i just don't appreciate their presence in a dish like i do all those other veggies mentioned. i know it's not standard, but on my next biryani project i might experiment with edamame. i prefer the texture and their ability to stand up as a unique vegetable even after cooking. previously i have used them in place of peas in samosas and was sufficiently impressed.
          - doubled the yogurt
          - cumin. i didn't see it listed in the recipe, but i felt the sauce needed it. liberal amounts.
          - doubled all of the spices except for the chili powder which after the 4th IPA i brazenly tripled.
          - doubled the entire recipe, in order to make one version on the stove as close to traditional as i could, and one version in a lidded casserole dish in the oven.

          while i was soaking the rice, i called the customer service department of the manufacturer of my rice cooker (aroma) to get their opinion. how long would they recommend cooking 3 cups of dry rice and in how much water to achieve 75% doneness? they consulted, and arrived with the figure of 3 1/2 cups of water and for 17 minutes. i have concluded i do not agree. after 17 minutes the rice still sat in a ton of water. i set the rice cooker on for another 7 minutes. after the 7 minutes i found the rice totally done. darn tasty (i could not stop snacking), but done throughout. next time i will try an uninterrupted 20 minutes with an even ratio (or perhaps slightly less) water. admittedly i am a total novice at cooking rice. pasta i can cook perfectly blindfolded. rice... i still need some work.

          the vegetables: i added the potatoes first, cooked for several minutes, then the carrots, cooked a few minutes more, then cauliflower and finally the green beans. next time i will space them out even more; i tend to like my potatoes and carrots well-done and my beans and cauliflower almost raw. matter of fact i might just add the beans and cauliflower immediately prior to layering next time. i used a very heavy-bottomed soup pot and found the ghee did such a nice job of keeping anything from sticking. when the veggies were half-done i removed half of them and half the sauce from the pot and made the base layer in the casserole dish. layered the rice, added the yogurt and herbs, and realized i'd forgotten the nuts and raisins. doh! i sprinkled them atop the rice of both the pot and casserole dish, and used a chopstick and a fondue fork to gently push them through down to the base. next time i will also add more raisins, these little gems are sweet little fireworks in my mouth whenever i trap one.

          i finished layering, and placed a damp towel over the pot, followed by the lid, followed by an upside-down bowl to cover the handle, followed by three heavyweight cutting boards, followed by two MAMMOTH bins of protein powder (my roommate, he is not a foodie...) to hold in all the steam. i didn't do the dough seal i've read about, i figured this would suffice. the oven version was simpler; i placed the lid on the dish and it was ready for the oven. here is where 6 IPA beers over the course of the afternoon gets the better of me. somewhere in turning on the oven's timer, i managed to shut off the oven completely. i hate that oven. this is what saved the oven dish. i discovered my mistake 35 minutes into a 60-minute baking cycle. the oven was lukwarm at best, so i cranked it back up to 350F and let the timer run out. when it beeped i checked both the stovetop and oven versions. the cloud of fragrant steam from the stovetop version was out-of-this-world amazing, but the entire dish was overcooked. the oven version turned out absolutely perfect. added a lime slice, fresh cilantro and a pretty red onion garnish, and some pickle and spoonful of yogurt on the side. i have fed this dish to everyone i've encountered in the last 24 hours, and have received raves across the board. today i had a leftover biryani breakfast, lunch, and dinner. debating an after-midnight snack and i'm STILL not tired of it. i'm very happy with doubling the spices and absolutely adore the raisins as previously mentioned. the pickle, yogurt and lime satisfy my intense sourness addiction (can't keep my spoon out of the pickle jar). i will be making this recipe or something like it over and over again. i think for the next few attempts i will continue with the double recipe, just because i want to experiment with the pot cooking but now i know the oven method is a safe bet (though i could not rely on this alone; the steam cloud from the stove pot upon opening was too overwhelmingly heavenly). i also think i will be hosting a beer and biryani dinner party soon. :) it was the perfect monday off work: shopping, cooking, eating and drinking.