Fluffy fragrant rice, richly spiced vegetables, and a scattering of raisins, cashews, and herbs make up this colorful and warming biryani. Whether you eat it as a one-dish meal or as part of an Indian feast, it's well worth the effort to prepare.
Biryani – of which there are dozens of variations in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East – is comprised of layers of rice and vegetables or meat. The first time I made vegetable biryani at home, I hesitated at the long list of ingredients and multi-step cooking process. No wonder it's one of the more expensive items on the menu at my local Indian restaurant! But I soon came to appreciate the special nature of this dish and, truly, it seems more complicated than it really is.
When making biryani, I recommend using Basmati rice; the long grains of of this rice are perfectly soft and don't stick together. The mixture of vegetables in this recipe is quite flexible, and you can use raw or frozen veg like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, and green beans. The rice and vegetables are cooked separately with a heady blend of spices and then layered in a dish and topped with crunchy nuts and sweet raisins. When spooned onto a plate, all the components get mixed together and provide a beautifully satisfying blend of flavors and textures.
Vegetable Biryani Rice
2 cups basmati rice (white or brown)
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf (preferably Indian)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 cups chopped mixed vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, green beans; can use raw or frozen)
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece ginger, minced
3 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large pinch saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon ghee or vegetable oil
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Rinse the rice 3-4 times until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in water for at least 30 minutes and drain.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the rice, spices, and salt. Boil until the rice is just tender and chewy (neither soft nor crunchy), about 10 minutes. Drain well. Return to the pot and cover to keep warm.
Briefly steam the vegetables until just tender but still crisp.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the ghee or vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring, until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the water, vegetables, and salt, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are warmed through.
Spread half of the rice in a 9x12-inch baking dish. Spread the vegetables evenly on top and then the remaining rice. Drizzle the saffron-water mixture on top. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes.
While the dish is in the oven, heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the raisins and cashews and cook, stirring, until the raisins are plump and the cashews are toasted.
To serve, garnish the biryani with raisins, cashews, and cilantro. Serve warm as a main or side dish. Delicious with yogurt or raita.
(Images: Emily Ho)