Saturday, February 17, 2007

Vegetable Biryani for a Crowd

B-I-R-Y-A-N-I. The very word conjures up images of a dish that is rich and exotic, redolent with spices and packed with "good eats". And so it is, a layered rice dish of Persian descent, introduced to India via Mughal cuisine. When I was growing up, Chicken Biryani was my Mom's specialty, a labor of love that took her all of Sunday morning to prepare and resulted in a delicious and heavy Sunday lunch to be followed by a sumptuous weekly siesta. This is her style of making biryani, Vegetable Biryani this time around. This is probably the most labor-intensive dish in my entire repertoire for sheer hands-on cooking time, and I allocate about 2 hours of non-stop work to its preparation. It just seems silly to make vegetable biryani for two, and I have adapted it to a larger scale that justifies the labor and feeds a crowd. If you are lucky, there will be leftovers, and biryani tastes even more delicious the next day!
I layer this biryani in a standard Pyrex 9x13 inch dish, which makes sense for many reasons. The Pyrex dish is sturdy and can go from refrigerator to oven to table, so I can make the biryani a few hours ahead of time, heat it until steaming hot, and serve right from it; and the size is generous enough to feed a crowd, say, at a potluck party. This recipe results in a mild biryani which hopefully will appeal to everyone regardless of their spice tolerance. Traditionally, biryani is layered in a metal pot and heated through until the rice at the bottom becomes crispy and delicious, but I am forgoing that for the convenience of using a glass dish. This might not be a dish for a beginner cook to make, but the truth is that it is far simpler than it looks if you follow the steps, so if you have a little experience with Indian cooking, give it a shot!

Here is the recipe, step-by-step...

Vegetable Biryani

1. Saffron-scented rice: Take 1/4 cup warm water or milk in a small bowl. Add 15-20 strands of saffron and leave it aside to soak. Take 2 cups of Basmati rice in a large pot. Rinse it three times to wash off the excess starch. Add 3 and a half cups of water and bring the rice to a boil, then simmer until rice is just tender. Turn the rice out into one or two large platters. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and mix in the saffron milk. Leave the rice to cool down, then cover and set aside.
2. Fried goodies: Peel one large or two medium potatoes, and cut into small cubes. Heat some oil in a non-stick skillet, and fry the potatoes until golden, then drain and set aside. To the same pan, add more oil if necessary, and then fry 3 onions, sliced thinly, until golden-brown. Then fry 1/4 cup each of halved cashew nuts and golden raisins. I prefer to shallow-fry these "goodies", but you can deep-fry them if you wish.
3. Vegetable Curry: I use my usual-suspects mixed veggies- cauliflower florets, peas, diced carrots and french beans. I like this combination for its easy availability and the pretty contrasting colors. Prepare about 4-5 cups of mixed vegetables of your choice and steam them until barely tender.
Then, make the masala paste by grinding together 2 onions, 2-3 green chilies, a few stalks of cilantro, 1/4 cup of mint and 2 tbsp poppy seeds. In a pan, fry the masala paste until fragrant, and then add 1/2 cup tomato puree, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tbsp of a nice aromatic garam masala. Add salt to taste. Stir in the steamed veggies and fry for a couple of minutes.
4. Cilantro: Mince 8-10 stalks of cilantro and set aside.
5. Layering the Biryani: Now for the really fun part! Take a 9x13 baking dish (or equivalent) and grease it with some ghee or butter or oil. Start with half the rice, followed by some fried onions, nuts, raisins and potatoes, and half the cilantro, like so:
Then the whole of the vegetable curry, spread out as evenly as possible, like so:
followed by the rest of the rice, fried goodies and cilantro. Drizzle with some ghee if desired and you are done...Ta Da!
6. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then bake at about 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, until steaming hot, or store in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.
7. Biryani can be served by itself, or with a simple raita or some yogurt on the side.
See you tomorrow, with the D of Indian Vegetables!


  1. Ooh, you must have read my mind, I just LOVE biryani, and have been searching around for a good recipe. Yours looks fabulous! One question about the fried goodies (potatoes, onions, nuts, etc.): are they deep- fried, or shallow-fried? Or does it not matter, i.e., either one is fine?
    Also I want to take this chance to tell you how much I love and admire your blog - it's simply amazing. I've tried several dishes from it, all great, though I have to say the Fig & Walnut Kulfi was simply the most divine thing I've EVER tasted!

  2. Hi Kamini, thanks for pointing that out! I edited the recipe to state that the "goodies" can be deep-fried but I prefer to shallow-fry them and save some oil :) So either option is OK.
    Thanks for commenting, I *really* appreciate the feedback :) and yes, I do love that kulfi too!

  3. I love biryani! Thank you for this great step-by-step of how to make it for a crowd. I think this will be the star of my next dinner party.

  4. Hey Nupur,
    This looks delicous! I am so tempted to try this... but right now our family is on a low carb diet. Will try it soon when it is turn to eat some good food :-)
    Love your pictures.

  5. Biryani looks lovely and delicious. Thanks for the detailed recipe. Will try this soon.

  6. Nupur,
    This was SO delicious! And it was delightful to meet you last night. So fun to find people who are also obsessed with food and cooking! :)


  7. Hi Nupur! Wonderful recipe and with perfect details! I am a huge fan of Biryani too and that's all I need to start and finish my meal !! thanx :)

  8. I have never actually made a vegetable biryani before! I have to try this out.
    Nupur a Q - should we post our D entry today or tomorrow along with you? Thanks

  9. Great! Loved your detailed recipe and pictures.

  10. Hi Lydia, it is a wonderful entree for a dinner party...let me know if you try it!

    Latha and Pavani, thanks :)

    Brooke, it is wonderful to meet you too! You should stop by anytime for Indian food :) I'm in the 'hood!

    Thanks for stopping by, Manasi!

    Hey Ashwini, if possible, post the "D" entry today and mail me the permalink so I can include you in the round-up tomorrow. Looking forward to it!

  11. Hi Nupur

    That's a wonderful recipe for biryani. Thanks so much.

  12. Hi Nupur,
    I'm so glad you are back from your hiatus and are cooking up a storm.
    I've been enjoying your A-Z entries and have bookmarked a few so far :)
    This vegetable biryani looks scrumptious...although I remember reading somewhere that a biryani consisted of rice that has been undercooked and then finished by cooking it in layers with veggies/meat. You biryani by that definition would make it a pulao I guess...but no matter what, its definitely worth trying...after all, who doesn't love fried goodies? ;)

  13. Hi Nupur, your veg. biryani looks simply beautiful! I can almost smell those onions from here :) As you said, it looks time consuming, but not overly difficult. That dish is sure to make you belle of the ball... or princess of the potluck! ;)

  14. this looks awesome and I saw it just when I sat down with my khitchdi.
    It really made me crave the biryani.

  15. Glad you like it, Lakshmi!

    Hi Anon, you are right...technically this should be a pulao. As you can tell, I don't know much about North Indian cooking :)

    Linda, actually, everyone else who cooked for the potluck was a much more experienced and accomplished cook than me :) too much competition!

    Hey Bilbo, thanks for stopping by! You need to come visit me, girl.

  16. This looked so good I could not wait for the excuse of cooking for I simply halved the recipe, for my husband and myself: two's company, right?
    I did not have any poppy seeds on hand, so I put in cashews instead, but otherwise followed your recipe faithfully. Delicious! Thanks so much for yet another winning recipe!

  17. Hi Nupur,

    Is this the delicious dish you brought to Karen's?

  18. Hi! I just made my first biryani last week and I was totally thrilled to pieces! :) I did it all in one pot and had some chiken...I couldn't believe I actually did it! I will keep you recipe as sounds (and looks!) fantastic :)

  19. Kamini, thanks for trying it! Your comment made me smile, because when I made this biryani a few months ago, I was out of poppy seeds and substituted cashews too! We do think alike :)

    Bruno, yes, the very same! :) thanks for visiting the blog...V and I are still talking about your delicious multigrain bread. Mmmm....

    Joey, biryani is a thrilling dish!! I'm proud of you for attempting it and making a success of it. This version is pretty simple to pull together too.

  20. Nupur, your step-by-step instructions are so good. I'll be sure to follow them soon, because Tom is craving biryani - he loved it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. Excellent recipe. I prepared this and surprised my friend on his B'day. YUMMY!...........

  22. Ela, thanks so much for trying it! I'm so glad it worked out :) I appreciate you leaving the feedback!

  23. Hi there,

    I came across your blog quite by chance and love it's simple chatty style.As well as the lovely Maharashtrian recipes!!
    Though a Tamilian, I'm a born and brought up Mumbaikar who shifted to Chennai 10 years back and has fond memories of gorging on Waran Bhaat and Poli Shikran at my neighbours.

    I love cooking and am a complete foodie. I love entertaining too and all our gatherings at home have home cooked food usually.

    I saw your Veg biryani recipe and really liked it, so I made it for 2 consecutive parties at home this week, one for my birthday and one for my daughter's 2nd birthday. Both times it was a complete hit and wiped clean!!

    Thanks so much :)


  24. Hi, Nupur. I'm trying to make your Biryani for 40 people. Any suggestion as to how many cups of rice etc. Thanks.

  25. Raji, sorry for taking sooo long to reply to your comment! I am so thrilled to know that you tried this recipe, and that you and your guests enjoyed it :) That just makes my day! Thank you for taking the time to leave your feedback, that is much appreciated.

    Anon, this tray feeds 8-10 as part of a spread of dishes, as one normally has at a potluck/ party. To feed 40, you would need 4 times the quantities of all ingredients, I would imagine. This means about 8 cups of rice (this recipe calls for 2). Please note that I have never tried making it in such large quantities....this is as much as I normally make. Good luck!

  26. The recipe looks good.. but the picture looks a little bit non-biryanish....

  27. Nupur, Awesome recipe. I have been wanting to try this for a long time. Have seen friend cook with meat. Since we are vegetarians, I have never been able to eat. Knew there was something like this out there. Today was the day when I could try it. This came out really well. (My mom loved it too and is now going to use this to make it for my sisters in law as well:-). Thanks a lot.......

  28. Hey tried it... was very good... Thanks!

  29. Hi!

    Thanks for posting this recipe and instructions! I haven't read other parts of your blog yet, so pardon the question. I did see your Mom used to make a version of this with Chicken when you grew up. So are you authentically of India descent? (I ask because I do want an authentic recipe. :) )

    I am very fascinated with many different ethnic foods and since moving to Salem Oregon about 4 years ago, I had my first opportunity to try it. Wow, I love the vegetarian dishes! Last night we had some Vegetable Biryani for the first time and I loved it! So, today needless to say I sought out a recipe to learn how to make it at home.

    Thanks again for sharing! I will definitely give this recipe a try!


    PS Goodness my mouth is watering and it is only 7aam lol :P

  30. Sripriya, I am so glad you liked it! Thanks for the feedabck...I appreciate it :)

    Anon, glad it worked out!

    Joy, "authentically of Indian descent"...I am an Indian and have the passport to prove it. But don't forget that India is a vast and diverse land. I am not from North India, which is the place biryani is associated with. So I am not making claims to authenticity, for a certified "authentic" recipe, you need to look elsewhere. This is just my family's recipe and we love it.

  31. HI Nupur,

    I Ready ur Blog very often. I Tried this Receipie. I added 1 Tsp of Dhania powder & 1/2 Tsp of Jeera Powder & 1 cup Yogurt & didn't used Poppy Seeds. Also didn't griend Onion/Mint/Dhina & used as it is, as sometime if u griend onion before cooking it taste bitter.

    Biryani taste very good & everyboday at the party liked it.


  32. Hi Nupur!
    Your Biryani recipe looks mouth watering... I'll be making Biryani for the first time, just a question, why you have to to bake it? all the ingredients r cooked earlier ans then we r mixing them.

  33. Erina, Thank you so much for the feedback and sharing your variation of this dish! Your added spices sound delicious and I am so glad the dish was a success!!

    Sp3, Here is why the biryani is cooked again at the end: the flavors of these different things that are layered has to come together as one dish- simply placing them together won't do that. Giving the dish one thorough steaming helps to do that. The reason I choose to bake is because it is convenient for this large a quantity. However, if you want, you can layer the biryani in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook it on very low heat on the stove until it is steaming hot all the way through. In any case, the biryani won't taste as good if not "cooked" together at the end, so please don't skip this step!

  34. HI, You realy know to make me hungry I like to cook so much and mainly bariyani. The crenel of rice are so perfect and it look so nice please post how to make a meat baryani. BY the way I am a photographer too and the photo for the baryani are lovley


  35. Hi Nupur,
    Sorry to burst the bubble but the recipe is indeed anything but vegetable biryani! neither it resembles the biryani's look nor the method is anywhere near the authentic recipe.
    Anyways, I liked your way of introducing the dish and the way you went about the entire exercise of cooking it. It would be better if you rechristen the recipe with some exotic name you may think of.........I am sure it must be tasty as such except that it is not biryani!! All the best.

  36. Amazing Recipe. Thank you!

  37. hi nupur,

    Thats really greta recipe,I wanna make biryani for 30 people.I have never tried biryani in oven.can I make same layered biryani in Foil tray instead of pyrex dish?do I need to cover the foil tray with foil sheet as well?plz reply
    Thanks for posting

  38. oh my god...this is amazing!!! my hubby loved this biryani and it is now our standard Sunday dinner because he takes leftovers to work on Monday. Thanks so much for this...!


  39. Hello Nupur,
    I am a regular follower of your blog and today I tried your vegetable biryani recipe, my friends and my husband loved it. Thanks to you for posting this recipe with such beautiful pictures.


  40. HI Nupur,
    We made this for a dinner party this week and it was a huge hit!

    I do have one question however. I was stumped by the instruction to "grind" 2 onions. I am an inexperienced cook when it comes to indian food and onion is not something I grind. I got out my motor and pedestal, then decided differently and blended everything in the food processor. Can you describe what you do and what you think it best?

  41. Val- Glad it was a hit :)
    To grind onions, I chop raw onions coarsely and pulverize them into a paste in a spice grinder (a food processor or blender would also work)- the idea is simply to get them into a thick paste if possible. A mortar and pestle would not have worked so I'm glad you did not waste your time.

  42. Hi Nupur,
    Im new to your blog. I tried this recipe today and it came out really well! Absolutely enjoyed it! Thanks for posting! :D

  43. Hi Nupur,
    I used your recipe as the source and tried a variation of the same. We loved it. If not for your step by step pictures and procedure I would have never dared to make this! Thanks a ton

  44. hi nupur,i really admire your blog. i take inspiration from your blog and try new recipes. i need some help, my rice always comes sticky. would you have any suggestions for me?


  45. HI Nupur, tried this one today with a little variations.. and it came out awesome :)

  46. Hey Nupur, a strong fan of your blog happens to be my closest friend. I have heard of your blog name so many times from this friend. So I decided to visit this blog a month ago and since then I admit I have also become a fan of yours. She recommended this recipe for me for a potluck.Can I cook and layer this dish one day in the evening and bake it the next day evening before I go the party?


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