Indian Cooking for the Uninitiated Soul: Vegan Biryani

Let me begin with a disclaimer, biryani is technically a Persian dish that has become a well-loved favorite amongst Indians ever since the Mughals first introduced it to the country. A meal fit for emperors, the biryani has now become a household name in India with each region adding its own unique twist. Popular versions are the Hyderabadi, Ambur and Malabar biryanis of the South named after their places of origin.

Essentially a meat-lover’s paradise, this dish brings together the goodness of flavored rice and succulent meat. However, owing to the large population of vegetarians in India, the dish can be tweaked into a mouthwatering vegetable biryani which is completely plant-based. This recipe uses tofu but if you want to go the vegetarian way you can also use paneer or leave it out altogether. Another alternative, if you’d like to something to bite into, would be soya nuggets depending upon the availability.

The traditional recipe is a bit daunting owing to the method of cooking and long hours of waiting. This is why it is still considered grand and ordered from restaurants to celebrate special occasions. Those with friends in the Muslim community eagerly await the festival of Eid to enjoy this gastronomic indulgence. Of the course the benefits of making it yourself at home are unbeatable! If you’re wondering why I’m unconventionally starting out with something so extravagant instead of something simpler, rest assured. This recipe is equally unconventional and incredibly easy but will leave those who taste it applauding your culinary skills.

Before jumping to the recipe it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few ingredients that just about every Indian kitchen has in store such as garam masala which is a mixture of ground spices. It’s a great excuse to browse through your nearest Asian supermarket too. Below you can find the list of whole and ground spices that are used for this and several other Indian delicacies.

Credit: Tanushree Basuroy

Ingredients

  • 250g chopped vegetables – carrots, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes (optional)
  • 150g plain tofu cut into small cubes (Do not use silk tofu)
  • 400g rice (preferably basmati or long grain rice) washed and soaked at least 20 minutes before cooking.
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • 1.5 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 slit green chilli (optional)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped mint or coriander leaves to garnish
  • Whole spices:
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 cardamoms
    • 5 cloves
    • 0.5inch piece of cinnamon
  • Ground spices
    • 0.5 tsp biryani masala powder (can be found in Indian/Asian store)
    • 1 tsp garam masala powder
    • 0.5 tsp red chilli powder

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized heavy bottom pot. Add the whole spices. When fragrant add the onions.
  2. Fry the onions until golden brown. Adding a pinch of salt helps quicken the process. Once fried, remove a quarter of the onions from the pan to be used later.
  3. Next, mix in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for a minute. Be careful not to let it burn. To this, add the tofu cubes and allow them to braise a bit. If you choose to use the green chilli this would be the time to add it.
  4. Once the tofu looks a bit braised, throw in the vegetables. Again, add a pinch of salt so that they cook through.
  5. While the vegetables cook, drain the soaked rice. Add the rice and then the biryani masala and garam masala. Mix well.
  6. Pour in 4 cups of water and add salt to taste as well as the chilli powder. The water must be salty enough for the rice to be flavored.
  7. Cover the pot with a lid and allow it to cook on medium heat for 15 minutes or until the water dries up. Stir occasionally to ensure the biryani doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  8. Garnish with the chopped mint or coriander leaves and the fried onions that had been set aside. It can be served with a salad and some Greek yogurt on the side.

Your healthy and delicious vegan biryani is ready and so are you to dish out other Indian recipes!