Traditional Vegetable Biryani – A Perfect Symphony of Aromatic Spices & Condiments
Biryani is a symphony of aromas, color and texture played by the various spices & condiments that goes into making it. Although the origin of this spicy and decadent dish is from the land of Persia, the endless list of Indian versions will make you believe the authority of India over Biryani. Kashmiri, Chettinadu, Coorgi, Calicut, Lucknow, Tihari, Dindigul Biryani..you name any region of India and they have their own special Biryani to boast upon.
The whole process of making the Biryani, layering, giving ‘Dum’ and the long wait is quite intimidating and would easily deter many to try the same. The reason I often opt for the easy and the less time consuming Biryani recipe at my home. But believe me you will not be one with me once you try this traditional Biryani. A little bit of extra effort and you will be certainly rewarded with a royal treat. This recipe is from my mom’s kitchen and one of my favorite dishes I demand from her as soon as I land at her place.
When I ask her about why my recipe never taste like hers even though I use the same method of cooking, and her answer is that homemade and home ground spices is what makes the difference. Gosh…I can not imagine sitting down like her, grinding my ginger-garlic paste and pounding all the spices on mortar & pestle. But do it if you can and see the difference by yourself
What makes Biryani different from Indian Pulav;
- Mostly the long grain fragrant Basmati rice is used to make a traditional biryani.
- Rice is first fried in oil or ghee before cooking it with other vegetables.
- Saffron and mint are the two most important ingredients in amking a biryani.
- Unlike a pulav, biryani is all about layering the rice and vegetable gravy alternately.
- Rice and veggies are cooked separately and then layered to get a textured rice dish.
- Deep fried brown onion rings used in the recipe gives a caramelized flavor to biryani.
- The vegetables cooked separately in a thick yogurt sauce keeps the biryani moist.
- The most important feature to biryani is that each grain of rice should have its individual identity.
To make it easy let us differentiate the cooking process into;
1. Cook the rice
- 1 cup long grain Basmati rice
- 2-3 cloves
- 4-5 black peppercorn
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 small bay leaf
- A small piece of cinnamon
- 3 cups of water
- 1 tbsp. oil/ghee
- Salt as desired
2. Make the vegetable sauce or gravy
- 200 gms Mushrooms or any vegetable
- 1 cup yogurt/curd
- 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tsp. red chilly powder
- 2 tsp. garam masala
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 tbsp. oil/ghee
- 2 tbsp. of brown onion (from the list below)
- Salt as desired
3. For layering the biryani
- 2 large onions (browned in oil)
- 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
- 8-9 saffron strands
- 1 tbsp. warm milk
- A little wheat dough to cover the pan
1. Cook the rice: Wash and soak the rice for at lest 2 hours while you assemble and prepare all the ingredients for the biryani. Drain the rice. Heat 1 tbsp of oil/ghee in a kadai/wok and add cardamom and all the whole spices in it and cook for a few seconds. Add the rice in it and fry the for two minutes till it becomes transparent.
Heat water at the same time and pour the hot water in the spice and rice mix in the wok. Let it cook for about 7-10 minutes at medium heat till the rice is 3/4 done. Do not cook the rice fully.Drain the extra water from the rice and spread the rice in the wok to let it cool.
Meanwhile peel and slice the onions and shallow fry them in oil till they turn dark brown in color. Keep them on a layer of tissue paper. Take out 3/4 of the fried onion and grind it into a coarse paste. Keep the rest for layering the biryani. Soak the saffron strands in warm milk for 10 minutes. Clean and chop the mint leaves finely. Knead the wheat flour with water to make a dough.
2. Make the vegetable sauce/gravy: Wash and slice the mushrooms or vegetable finely. Carrots, peas, cauliflower, beans, corn and colored capsicum blend very well in a biryani.
Heat oil in a wok and add caraway seeds in it. Add ginger garlic paste, sliced vegetables and fry for another minute. Add garam masala, salt, chilly powder and the ground fried onion paste in it and fry for one more minute. Beat the curd lightly with a fork and pour it over the vegetable mix in the wok. Add 1/2 cup water if the curd is too thick and let it simmer for about 5-7 minutes at medium heat.
3. For layering the biryani: Traditionally a biryani is layered in an earthen pot for the rustic look and earthy flavors. You could use any steel vessel for the same.
Pour a ladle ful of vegetable gravy in the vessel which will make the first layer of biryani. Add 2-3 ladles of cooked rice as the second layer. Sprinkle the rice with a tsp. of saffron and milk mixture. Add the reserved fried onions and a little of chopped mint leaves over it. Make a third layer with vegetable sauce and cover it with a fourth layer of rice following the saffron milk, fried onion and mint leaves. You can add a couple of tsp. of butter or ghee on top of the rice layer if you wish for extra flavors.
Cover the vessel with a tight lid and secure the lid with the dough as shown in the picture and place a heavy object such as grinding stone on the lid. This will help the in letting the biryani cook in its own steam and also preserve the freshness and flavors of the spices & condiments. Keep a thick pan or tawa on flame and put the handi or vessel on it. This process is called giving ‘Dum‘ to the biryani.
Cook the biryani for about 20-30 minutes at slow flame. Take off from the pan/tawa and keep aside for a couple of minutes to let the flavors get infused in the dish. Remove the dried out dough from the sides of the cover and break open the seal.
Do not mix the biryani, let there be different layers of plain rice, saffron colored rice and mushroom rice while you serve. Biryani is best eaten with a fresh yogurt raita and veggie salad.
- If you cannot get saffron use a pinch of turmeric, you may not get the flavors but the purpose of getting saffron color will be solved.
- You can hasten the process a little by using your rice cooker or pressure cooker to cook the biryani, but you may have to forgo the textured layers which is very peculiar in a biryani.
- Use vegetables such as carrots, peas, corn, colored bell pepper for a veggie biryani recipe.
- Shallow fry a few cashew nuts and almonds and garnish the cooked biryani with it for an exotic look.
Yes, making and assembling biryani is a time consuming process and it certainly is not a regular dish at my home. I prefer the easy recipe of Biryani which does not require me to slog in the kitchen for hours yet please me with wonderful results though not as great as the traditional biryani, but then I do value my time. In case you are one with me do check in the this easy biryani recipe.