Vegetable Biryani

This dish has a few steps but each is quite simple. I hope you find it’s worth it! One of the longest steps on Indian cooking is peeling, slicing and frying onions until they are browned and soft. I have recently discovered, crispy fried onions, the only ingredients are onion and oil. I get them from Wing Yip, my local Chinese Supermarket. They are a game changer for me, they dissolve into the sauce the way freshly fried onions do and add thickness and flavour in a fraction of the time.

Traditionally, I’ve always had biryani made with white basmati rice, but we are trying to increase our fibre and whole grains, so this experiment is with a brown basmati, wild rice and red carmagne (a pre-mixed blend from Waitrose). Most of the supermarkets have a wild rice blend in their healthy eating section and feel free to try any of them.


For the vegetable layer

1/3 head of broccoli – cut to bite sized pieces

1/3 head of cauliflower – cut to bite sized pieces

2 large carrots – peeled and cut on the angle to bite sized pieces.

Handful of crispy fried onions

3 tablespoons of thick Greek yoghurt

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of crushed ginger

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

1 teaspoon of salt

Handful of fresh coriander

Couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil

For the rice layer

200g Brown basmati rice. In fact, I use Brown basmati, red camargne & wild rice mix from Waitrose. Washed, and soaked for about an hour.

50g frozen peas

1 tablespoon ghee or butter

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 stick of cinnamon

3 cardamon pods

3 cloves

5 whole black peppercorns

A pinch of saffron strands dissolved in 80mls of warm milk.

A teaspoon of rosewater

A handful of crispy fried onions

1 teaspoon of garam masala

50g of chana dal.


Prepare the vegetable marinade

In the jug of a blender (I use a Sage Boss to Go) add the crispy onions, yoghurt, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, fresh coriander, and oil. Blend it to a smooth paste. In a big bowl mix it with all the prepared veg and ensure they are well covered. Marinade for at least a couple of hrs, or overnight if poss.

After a few hrs, or the next day…

Part cook the veg

Put a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and heat, add the marinated vegetables and start to fry them. When the mixture is bubbling, turn the heat to low, cover and allow to steam in its own juices for about 10-15 mins until the veg have lost their hardness but are not too soft.

Parboil the rice. 

Heat a couple of tablespoons of ghee or butter in a large saucepan and add the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods and peppercorns. Let them fry for about 1 min – don’t let them burn. Next, add the rice and coat it well in the oil, let it fry for a minute or so. Then add about 1.5 litres of water and bring it all to boil and add a pinch of salt and add the frozen peas. Turn it down to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the rice is almost cooked but still retains a bit of a bite. If you are using pain white basmati rice, you’ll probably only need to simmer it for about 10 minutes.

Drain the water away and spread the rice on a tray to cool and so that you can pick out the cardamon pods, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon stick (don’t worry about the cumin seeds!!).

Wash the chana dal well and place in a saucepan, cover with about 1 litre of water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer for about 40 min until it is tender but not too squishy. Drain and set aside.

Layering up

Preheat the oven to 180c conventional.

Rub the base and sides of a casserole dish with a lid with melted ghee or butter. Spread a layer of rice on the base of the dish and a handful of the chana dal and cover with a layer of the cooked vegetable mixture. Spread another layer of rice and dal over this, drizzle a little ghee or butter and a pinch of garam masala. Then another layer of vegetable and a final layer of rice and dal. Again, sprinkle the ghee or butter and a pinch of garam. Pour the saffron milk evenly over the top of the rice and sprinkle a layer of the fried onions.

Cover the top with a layer of foil and place the lid on top. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes – maybe longer if the contents had been in the fridge overnight.

Remove and carefully mix it all up before serving. Server with tomato salsa (of chopped fresh tomato, red onion, coriander and chilli in a lemon juice, salt and oil dressing); greek yoghurt, zingy chili sauce.… and perhaps a papadum!


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