Vegetable Biryani

by Kelly on September 14, 2012

When I dine out, I almost always order the dish that I can’t make (think soufflé) or one that is too labor intensive to make at home. Invariably, that means a mole sauce at a Mexican restaurant, sushi at our favorite Japanese place, or biryani when we’re eating Indian. For those not familiar with biryani, it’s a fragrant rice-based dish popular in Pakistan, India, and beyond. I’ve tried several biryani recipes at home over the years, with mixed results. Traditional recipes involve several steps and multiple pans. This version is easier and less fattening than other recipes. The taste is just as good, if not better, than many restaurant versions that I’ve had. Great for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, don’t be afraid of the long ingredient list and feel free to swap in whatever vegetables you have handy. The original recipe calls for a small head of cauliflower and small red potatoes instead of zucchini. My fridge was pretty bare, but it didn’t stop me from getting a decent meal on the table.

Although substitute vegetables will work in this dish, the basmati rice is essential. If you don’t normally buy basmati, consider adding it to your shopping list. It can elevate the most humble of rice dishes and I find it more forgiving to cook than other rices and grains. I recently bought a 20 pound bag from Costco. My husband thought I was crazy but my fellow Costco afficiandos can appreciate a good deal when they see it. Speaking of Costco, check out my friend Outlaw Mama’s funny posts on the subject.

Vegetable Biryani
adapted from foodnetwork.com

I think biryani tastes best served with raita. Here is an easy raita recipe or, if you are out of cucumbers, just serve some plain yogurt alongside.

serves 4-6 as main course

For the rice:
1 cup (180 g) basmati rice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons sliced almonds (blanched or toasted)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 3/4 cups (400 ml) water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons  raisins
2 tablespoons sliced almonds (blanched or toasted)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 whole cardamom pods
1 large or 2 small zucchini, diced
6 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium carrot, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Make the rice: Place the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the golden raisins, almonds, turmeric, cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 1 minute more. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, (wrap the lid tightly with a kitchen towel), cover, and steam until the rice is tender, 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the vegetables. Melt the butter in a medium straight-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the golden raisins, almonds, coriander seed, cumin seed, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, green beans, carrots, and salt. Raise the heat to high, pour in the water, and cook, covered, for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes more.

Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Divide the vegetable-rice mixture among plates and top with some of the almonds. Serve immediately.

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