One of my favorite dishes lately is the Indian vegetable biryani. A biryani is an Indian equivalent of ‘mexican rice’ or an Italian risotto, a layered, and flavored rice dish with spices and vegetables (there are also meat varieties). For me, the vegetable biryani is the best option. It is a great side during the week, or a main dish, right out of the oven.
A biryani is cooked in a layered way. The basmati rice is pre-cooked separately but not fully cooked, and the vegetables are seared and flavored, and then both parts are finished off together so that the flavors melt.
It can be made with any kind of vegetables, but carrots, cauliflower, beans, even potatoes are a traditional Indian version. A biryani also has plenty of fresh herbs such as mint and cilantro, and a hint of saffron for a nice color and flavor. Cardamon, tumeric and garam massala round out the flavors.
First, the basmati rice is washed several times until the water runs clear and then soaked for 30min (a must for fluffy basmati rice!). It is then cooked with a very salty water that is also flavored with cumin seeds and a bay leaf. However, it is undercooked (!) and done in about 10min.
The next step includes preparing the vegetables: sauteing them in flavored ghee and mixed with herbs, and rounded out with yogurt. Once prepared the rice is layered over it.
There are 2 layers of rice, each one is sprinkled with more herbs spices and a fried onions. The last layer of hot, steamy rice gets an additional drizzle of saffron steeped in hot milk.
The dish is covered with a tight-fitting lid, and steamed for about 15min until the rice is fluffy and the vegetables fully cooked. For serving, a section from top to bottom is best to serve both vegetables and rice.
Vegetable Biryani (makes about 6 servings)
- 1 cup good basmati rice, rinsed several times, and soaked for at least 20min
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 TB salt
Also steep a few strands of saffron with a half cup of the hot, salty water in a separate cup.
- 2-3 TB (GMO free) canola oil or ghee
- 1 TB whole black pepper corns
- 1 ts cumin seeds
- 1 potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cubed
- 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets (or 1 bag frozen)
- 1 cup fresh fenugreek leaves (if available, otherwise omit)
- 1 TB fresh dill leaves
- 2 TB jarred ginger and garlic paste
- 2 small green chili, diced (you can also use jalapenos)
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, julienned (cut into very thin long stripes)
- 1/2 ts cayenne powder
- 1 ts tumeric powder
- 1 ts salt
- 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh green peas
- 1 cup long, skinny French beans
- 1 cup of plain cow milk yogurt
- 1 ts garam masala
- 1 ts green cardamom powder
- 1 TB melted ghee
- mint leaves of 2 springs
- handful fried onions (home-made or store-bought)
- 2-3 TB chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 ts ground coriander
- 1 ts garam masala powder,
- 1 ts green cardamom powder
- a few fresh mint leaves (chopped)
- fried onions
Seal the pot – and cook on stovetop on medium high for 2-3min (until steam comes out). Lower flame and cook another 10-12min. (Don’t cook on high heat for too long, because the biryani will burn quickly since it does not contain much liquid).