Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vegetable Biryani - a magical ride on Aladdin's magic carpet

Fried rice, pulav/pilaf and biryani - is there a real difference between these? You bet there is. I had made vegetable pulav for a pot luck party once and my friend and host made vegetable biryani. Her poor, uninformed husband had to only open his mouth and ask, "are they both not the same?" before he had both women jumping in to explain and enlighten him on the nuances of each of those dishes and how they each held their own perfectly well :-). So for the uninitiated, though the ingredients list may look similar on these two recipes, the preparation is vastly different and so is the end product. While pulav has the spices ingrained in the cooked rice and the flavor surrounds the dish, biryani has rice and spices coexisting but not necessarily blended all the way though at the same time every grain is infused with the flavor of the masala. And where does fried rice fit in, somewhere in between depending whether you made rice first and mixed with other ingredients and let them cook together :-), it is like fast food in the world of pulavs & biryanis with milder spices. I will reserve that discussion for another day while we focus on the famed vegetable biryani for today. If you are looking for a pulav recipe, you will find it here.

Biryani making is a connoisseur process, it is slow and deliberate and takes you, the cook through steps leading to something utterly out of this world. You just have to let yourself go with the flow of the process (not recipe really), let your senses lead the way as you drop the spices in and believe in yourself. I picture myself taking a ride on Aladdin's magic carpet, going to hitherto unvisited beautiful lands and feeling light as a feather and a bowl of steaming hot biryani with a cup of cool raita is all I need to keep me cozy in this imaginary journey.

Hyderabad is famous for its Moghul biryanis, while these are heavily meat laden, the same technique is used to make a delicious vegetable biryani for the non meat eaters. While I am not a native Hyderabadi, nor have I eaten this famed dish in its city of origin, I am confident that the Biryani recipe below is nonetheless very flavorful and can compete with any Hyderabadi restaurant making it.

I have a real useful tip a Persian friend shared with me that is so simple and elegant I wondered why I didn't think of it before. Look for it in the recipe and notes section.

The ingredients list is long and the recipe/procedure looks laborious, I have arranged them in groups and sequenced them for easy following. Once you get the hang of what is going on, I assure you will find ways to make this more efficient to suit your working style.
What do you need to make vegetable biryani? 
Makes 5 servings
To pound/grate/food process: 
1.5 inch long fresh ginger root (wash & peel)
2-3 green chilies (adjust to taste)
2-3 garlic cloves (adjust according to preference)
To roast and powder: 
1 Tblsp saunf/
1 black cardamom
1 green cardamom
1 dry bay leaf/tej patta - use 2 if it is small
4-6 black pepper corns
1 Tsp black cumin/shahi jeera
2 cloves
2 pieces of 1 inch long cinnamon
1/2  nutmeg
4-5 strands of mace/javintri
Vegetables to parboil:
1 cup green beans - sliced in the middle and chopped to 1 inch long pieces
1 cup thin chopped carrots
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup green peas (optional)
Other ingredients:
2 cups good quality Basmati rice
1.5 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 cup yogurt (preferably home made and a day old)
2 packed cups chopped mint leaves
2 cups of finely chopped tomatoes
2 cups of thinly sliced onions.
1/4 Tsp saffron soaked in 1 Tblsp milk for 20 minutes or longer
1/2 Tsp ghee
4 Tblsp oil
2-3 potatoes (washed and cut into 1/2 inch thick discs)

How do you make Vegetable Biryani? 
Prepare Biryani masala powder:
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat, add all the spices listed under 'To roast and powder' and fry them on low heat with frequent stirring for 5-7 minutes until the spices start to give out a nice aroma. It is very crucial not to burn these, your only choice is to start over. 
  • Switch off, let cool and grind them into a fine powder. Keep in a covered container until ready to use. 
  • You can make this in larger quantities and refrigerate in air tight containers for later uses or prefer to purchase store bought biryani masala. I make it fresh just for the day. 
Preparing the vegetable sauce:
  • Par cook the chopped vegetables and peas (if using) until they are al dante. They should just lose the rawness but not be cooked. You can do this in an open vessel with enough water to cover all the vegetables or microwave them for 6-8 minutes. 
  • Drain the water and reserve the vegetables. 
  • Take the ginger, garlic and green chilies into a mortar and pestle or a food processor and make them into a coarse paste. 
  • Heat 2 Tblsp of oil in a wide kadai/pan, add the sliced onions and fry until they are pink on medium heat. 
  • Increase the heat to high and continue to fry onions until they crisp up a little. Set aside.
  • Add the remaining 2 Tblsp of oil, add the ginger-garlic-green chili paste and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the prepared biryani masala and mix it well.
  • Add the chopped tomato to the same pan, add 1/2 Tsp salt and let it cook on medium heat until it becomes completely mushy. 
  • Add the chopped mint and fry for 2-3 minutes until the leaves wilt completely. 
  • Add the yogurt and mix it in.
  • Add the par cooked vegetables and give them a nice stir to get coated with the rest of the ingredients in the pan. 
  • Continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until the sauce bubbles up and the liquid evaporates. Switch off, cover and keep aside until ready to use. 
Preparing the rice: 
  • Soak basmati rice in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes. 
  • Wash, drain the water. 
  • Bring to boil about 8 cups of water in a big pot with 1/2 Tsp of ghee. 
  • Add the drained basmati rice to the boiling water, reduce heat and cook covered for 7-8 minutes just until the rice grains plump up. 
  • Drain the water by pouring it into a colander, run cold water on the rice and let it drain. 
  • Pour the soaked saffron all over the rice and give it a gentle mix. 
Assembling and cooking biryani:
  • Put a wide and thick bottom pot on the stove.
  • Arrange the potato discs all over the bottom of the pot in a single layer to cover. 
  • Spread a 1 inch thick layer of rice on top. 
  • Spread a layer of vegetable sauce on top. Spread the fried onions on top.
  • Spread the remaining rice in a layer and repeat on top with the remaining vegetable sauce. 
  • Cover the pot with a snug fitting lid, keep the heat at the lowest and cook for 30 minutes or until the rice grains look all fluffy and your kitchen smells like something from the far away Aladdin's land :-)
Serving Biryani:
  • Do not try to mix in the contents, the layering will ensure that every scoop you take has a fair share of all the ingredients. Scoop out spoonfuls including the bottom most potato layer onto a plate. 
  • Serve it with a yogurt based raita and maybe some roasted papads or chips on the side. 
  • Biryani cooks perfectly well if you have a pot with a snug fitting lid. The idea is to let it cook in slow and low heat for a long time and give the spices time to work their magic.
  • If you do not have a snug fitting lid for the cooking pot, don't sweat, use any lid that will cover the top of the vessel, wrap a dish towel around so as to not let the steam escape. 
  • If you really want to create the 'handi' effect, make a chapati dough with wheat flour and water, knead it into a 1 inch thick rope, stick it all around the top of the vessel locking any crevices between the lid and the vessel. You can later cut this steamed wheat rope to small chunks, bake it in the oven and eat it as a ghatta with dal. Will post the recipes another time. 
  • You can use store bought fried onions to garnish on top but I prefer to fry the onions and add them as a layer in the biryani itself. 
  • It is important to have extra amounts of water and watch closely when the rice is cooked for the first time, you just want it to plump up and not really cook. Extra water and the ghee helps it to not become starchy. 
  • After you assemble the biryani, the rice cooks in the sauce itself and there is no need to add more water. 
  • Layering the bottom of the pot with potatoes prevents burning or sticking, creates a shield between the heat source and the biryani and makes it cook slower. And you get to eat the yummy caramelized potatoes along with the biryani :-).


prathibha Garre said...

I m just droooling over the biriyani Nagashree...especially that thick crisp potato chunk...yumm yumm..I wish I could eat this for lunch

Sangeetha Nambi said...

Perfectly done... Real flavored rice...

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow!! what a lenghty procedure for this tasty Biryani mouth watering really with raita and Chips whole day i can eat this nice dish. your narration is wnderful dear! thsnkd for the delicious recipe.

Saranya Balaji said...

Perfectly all time fav..

Premalatha Aravindhan said...

Wow that's too tempting ...lovely version...

Wer SAHM said...

a scrumptious biryani....

Priya Suresh said...

Wat a beautiful write up..Love those potato chunks in briyani.Briyani,the word itself makes me drool, wat a tempting one pot meal.

Kannada Cuisine said...

Ah! nammanna mane ge karitira? Ootakke hajar agtivi.

Nagashree said...

Khandita banni Smitha, HEli yaavaga anta, biryani ready maadtini.

Nava Krishnan said...

I just love love beriyani. The flavors in your version is so alive, enriched and total knock out in taste. My weekend meal which will replicating your recipe is on and now on the mission to look for the ingredients.

Vani said...

OMG! Small world! What a lovely coincidence that you're from CKC too! Which batch? Did you know there was a reunion in Dec 2011 and I met Thathi then? She has passed away since. We have a CKC group on FB too- do join, N! More later.