Elegant vegetable biryani

Elegant vegetable biryani

Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast
Emma Lee

A biryani is a really special dish from the Moghuls, who made India their home many centuries ago. Originally made with all the ingredients they loved – lamb, rice, saffron, nuts and butter – it now can be made with any ingredient. This version consists of layers of spice-flecked rice hiding a layer of vegetables cooked in a rich sauce. I have departed from tradition and topped it with a layer of delicious fried potatoes and crispy onions. It is a multi-stage dish, but then it is for a special occasion and needs little more than yogurt on the side. (Try it with yogurt into which you have stirred some chopped coriander leaves, shredded mint leaves and seasoning.)


Quantity Ingredient

For the rice

Quantity Ingredient
450g basmati rice, washed well, then soaked for 20–30 minutes
6 cloves
6 green cardamom pods
3 black cardamom pods
2 x 7.5cm cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves

To assemble

Quantity Ingredient
4 tablespoons whole milk
large pinch saffron strands
15-20g unsalted butter
vegetable oil, to deep-fry
1 large onion, sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
chaat masala

For the vegetables

Quantity Ingredient
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
35g root ginger, grated, (peeled weight)
5 fat garlic cloves, peeled and grated
3 tomatoes, quartered
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 rounded teaspoons garam masala
1/2-1 teaspoon chilli power, to taste
1 small carrot, peeled and in 1 cm slices
300g cauliflower, washed and in 2.5 cm florets
4 small japanese aubergines, in 2.5 cm slices
5 large chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
140g yogurt
2 handfuls peas
3 tablespoons double cream


  1. Bring the drained rice and whole spices to the boil in salted water to cover by 3.5–4 cm. Simmer for four to six minutes, until just done. Drain the water, return the rice to the heat, allow excess moisture to evaporate for 10 seconds, then set aside. Heat the milk and saffron for assembling the dish together, then set aside.
  2. For the vegetables, heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan. Add the onion and cook until lightly golden. Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking until the garlic has turned light golden. Meanwhile, using a stick blender, blend the tomatoes until smooth. Add the spices and tomatoes to the cooked onion, season, then cook down until the tomatoes are getting thick. Add the carrot, cover and cook for five minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, aubergines, mushrooms and yogurt. Bring to the boil, stirring often, then cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, around 10 minutes, adding the peas after five minutes. Add the cream, taste and adjust the seasoning.
  3. Choose a large flameproof and ovenproof dish that has a tight-fitting lid and is table worthy. Butter the base liberally. Spread in half the rice, breaking up any clumps. Season lightly and drizzle over some saffron milk. Spoon over the vegetables, then the remaining rice. Drizzle over the remaining saffron milk, season, then evenly dot cubes of butter on top. Cover.
  4. About 40 minutes before dinner, place the dish in a very large frying pan half-filled with water, to make sure nothing burns. Warm it through for 40–45 minutes, or until you can see the rice steaming inside. (Or cook in an oven preheated to 160°C for 30–40 minutes, or until heated through.)
  5. Meanwhile, deep-fry the sliced onion until deep golden-brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the potatoes to the oil and fry until golden and cooked; place on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt and chaat masala. Keep these warm. Just before serving, top the biryani with the potatoes and crisp onions.
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