In India, for the last 7 days and culminating tomorrow, Hindus have been celebrating the festival of "Navarathri", which basically means "Nine Nights", worshiping the Divine in the form of the Mother Goddess. It also marks the advent of winter. It is basically observed by fasting and various religious rituals. Because of this, even Hindus who are non-vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet during these days. So my recipe for today is for a vegetarian biryani (biryani is basically a rice dish, mixed with either vegetables or fish or meat, prepared for special occasions).
If you are a nonvegetarian like me, you'll understand perfectly what I mean when I say it's difficult for people like us to follow a vegetarian diet and sometimes the only dish that makes the cooking and eating worth it is a pulao or biryani! This recipe has been adapted from the book that was a gift from my dad and which has now become my Go-To book for vegetarian recipes-India's Vegetarian Cooking by Monisha Bharadwaj. As is my habit, I don't usually follow the measurements to a T and in this case, had modified some of the steps to suit my time and pace and changed some of the ingredients to suit my taste. Do the same!
We had some friends over for lunch when I made this and everyone was of the opinion that this was a very flavorsome, delicious dish-and it wasn't difficult nor did it take too much time to make either (maximum 60 minutes, including chopping, washing, frying, and baking). As everybody was impatient and just couldn't wait to start lunch, I really didn't have enough time to take a good picture-so this photo does not do justice to the taste or aroma of this dish...Don't let the photo put you off from trying the recipe!
Ingredients to serve 6
For the bouquet garni (called a "potli" in Hindi, it is nothing but spices tied up in a muslin cloth and submerged in water to make it flavorful. This way, you don't have all the spices floating around in the final dish!)
- 10 black or green cardamoms
- 12 to 15 black peppercorns
- 1-inch stick of cinnamon
- 10 cloves
- A few shavings of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (perinjeerakam)
- 2 bay leaves
- Tie up all these spices in a muslin cloth.
For the vegetable layer:
- 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or butter or vegetable oil
- 4 medium onions, sliced
- 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
- 1/4th cup tomato puree
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder (I used 1 teaspoon chicken biriyani masala powder!)
- 1 cup mixed vegetables, all diced (I used 1 large carrot, 1 large potato-you could also add half a cup of green peas)
- 200 g paneer (cottage cheese), cubed (this is my addition)
- Salt to taste
For the rice layer (normally the rice is washed, soaked and drained, but in this recipe, it was mentioned NOT to wash it beforehand)
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 3 cups basmati rice
- 6 cups water
- Salt to taste
For the garnish:
- Handful of mint leaves, chopped
- Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons cashewnuts, fried till golden
- 2 tablespoons raisins, fried till golden
- 1 small onion, sliced and fried till golden
- First off, in a saucepan, boil the 6 cups of water with the bouquet garni inside it. When it comes to the boil, turn off the heat and cover and keep aside. This will allow the spices time to get infused into the water.
- In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon ghee and fry the onions until they turn golden brown.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste now and stir for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Grind this mixture in your blender till it becomes a smooth paste.
- In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon ghee and transfer the onion paste into it and fry over high heat for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree, turmeric powder, the garam masala/biriyani masala powders, and salt. Fry for another 2 minutes.
- Wash and drain the vegetables and add to the pan.
- Add the paneer cubes also and fry everything well to combine with the spice powders. Cover and simmer for a few minutes until the ghee separates from the mixture (you will see the ghee/oil spreading out to the periphery). Remove from heat at this stage.
- Now onto the rice: heat the one teaspoon ghee in a separate pan and fry the rice over high heat. When it becomes shiny and the rice grains start popping, pour in the boiled aromatic water (remove the bouquet garni/potli). Add salt to taste and when it comes to the boil, simmer covered until all the water evaporates.
Now take a bake-n-serve dish, layer the rice first, top with the vegetable mixture, then sprinkle the coriander and mint leaves on top, followed by another layer of rice. Garnish with the fried onions, raisins and cashewnuts. Seal the dish with tinfoil/aluminium foil.
To Bake (or dum):
- Preheat your oven to 220 C.
- Place the biriyani dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Open the seal just before serving....to oohs and aahs from your family and friends :-)
This is quite a rich and flavorsome dish that does not require any side-dishes. I served it with an onion-tomato-green chilli raita, mango pickle, and pappads.