My Mother's Bengali Vegetable Biryani

January 10, 2022
2 Ratings
Photo by Dolphia Nandi
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

I grew up eating biryani. And while every region of India has its own special way of making it, the addition of potatoes is purely Bengali.

Mom used to prepare goat biryani on special occasions and chicken biryani for those not-so-special days when we still wanted to eat something fancy. She only prepared vegetarian biryani when my more traditional grandma or cousin visited.

It's the perfect one-pot meal and is always shared among family members. Mom would bring the whole pot to the table, where we would eat with conversation and laughter.

The first time I prepared mom’s vegetable biryani recipe after moving to the U.S. was in January 2012, when I made it to celebrate my first job offer with my friends. Since then, whenever my heart cries for Indian cuisine, I opt for this recipe rather than trying it from local Indian restaurants. Unlike the kind you would get from a restaurant, my homemade version is less spicy and greasy.

Bengali biryani is nothing more than boiled potatoes covered in layers of partially cooked white basmati rice and cooked vegetables, topped with caramelized onions, dried fruit, and freshly ground spices.

And while it sounds intimidating to many, with a few simple steps, you can make it at home—and better than any local Indian restaurant. —Dolphia Nandi

What You'll Need
  • Biryani Masala Spice Mix:
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 1 (1-inch) piece cinnamon bark
  • 1 teaspoon black cumin
  • 2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
  • 8 black cloves
  • 8 whole green cardamom pods
  • 5 to 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 whole mace (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Vegetable Curry:
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 French green beans, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 (1½-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • The Rice:
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups white basmati rice, washed and drained
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 whole black cardamom pods
  • The Potatoes:
  • 3 medium or 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 cups water, enough to cover the potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon kewra water
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt
  • Saffron Milk:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon saffron, lightly crushed
  • Topping & Assembly:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon clarified butter, plus more for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon broken cashews
  • 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  • 2 teaspoons biryani masala
  • 2 teaspoons rose water
  • 1 tablespoon kewra water
  • 1 tablespoon mint, chopped
  • Raita, for serving
  1. Make the Biryani Masala Mix: In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the chile, cinnamon, cumin, bay leave, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, and mace, if using, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.
  2. When cool enough to handle, transfer the chile mixture to a coffee or spice grinder. Add the nutmeg and pepper and process until smooth; set aside.
  3. Make the Vegetable Curry: In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the cauliflower; season with a generous amount of salt. Cook, tossing, for 7 to 8 minutes, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl or plate.
  4. Without wiping the skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the beans; season with salt. Cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, until halfway cooked. Add the carrot and cook, tossing occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through. Add the peas, cook for 2 more minutes to warm through, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to another bowl or plate.
  5. Without wiping the skillet, heat the 2 remaining tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, until golden brown. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add the cauliflower, beans, carrots, peas, yogurt, and 1 teaspoon of the biryani masala; season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the gravy is cooked through.
  6. Make the Rice: Set a colander over the sink. In a large pot, combine the water and salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice, bay leaves, and cardamom. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the rice is mostly cooked through. Strain the rice; discard the spices. Divide the rice among 3 plates (you will color one of these with saffron in later a step).
  7. Cook the Potatoes: In a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes, water, kewra water, and turmeric; season with salt. Cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender.
  8. Make the Saffron Milk: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the saffron, and stir well to combine.
  9. In a small bowl, mix half of the saffron milk with one plate of the rice to give it color; reserve the remaining saffron milk.
  10. Make the Topping: In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Fry the onion, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, until brownish-red. Transfer to a plate.
  11. Wipe out the pan, then heat the clarified butter over medium-high heat. Fry the cashews for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden in color. Add the raisins and mix well. Cook for about 1 minute, until warmed through.
  12. Bake and Assemble the Biryani: Heat the oven to 400°F. Brush a 4-quart baking dish with ghee. Arrange a layer of the rice on the bottom.
  13. Arrange some of the potatoes, some of the cooked vegetables, and 1 teaspoon of the biryani masala on top for the second layer.
  14. Add the saffron rice, the remaining potatoes and vegetables, and ½ teaspoon of the biryani masala; cover the second layer well with the remaining rice. Finish with the fried onion, fried cashews and raisins, and another ½ teaspoon of the biryani masala.
  15. Add the kewra water and rose water to the remaining saffron milk. Drizzle over the biryani.
  16. Cover the container with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before uncovering. Garnish with the mint and serve with the raita.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Afsana Liza
    Afsana Liza
  • Shalini
  • Jen Bluer
    Jen Bluer
  • Dolphia Nandi
    Dolphia Nandi

19 Reviews

porchapples September 30, 2020
Could you recommend some easily available ( preferably online) Indian brands of basmati ? What other brands of basmati do you prefer ? Do you prefer aged basmati? Thank you
Carol January 13, 2020
I have this lovely dish resting before removing the foil. Yogurt sauce?
Carol January 13, 2020
saw the sauce listed from reader below. Will try the yogurt cuke. Thanks!
Afsana L. March 5, 2017
Can this be made in advance?
catydid January 24, 2016
Made this last night - so delicious!!! Could not find the Kewra water, but found Rose Water. Definitely a unique flavor. We made more of the Masala spice mix than called for (more than doubled it) and I think next time we will triple it. We used every bit of the spice mix. Cooking the vegetables individually until just al dente in the skillet made for such great taste and texture. Very different than sauteing them all at once in a giant pot. So delicious. Made a simple cucumber-yogurt Raita to go with it. Fantastic! Thanks so much for this recipe!
Dolphia N. January 24, 2016
I am so glad to hear that! <3
Bette January 18, 2016
How much would this dish cost?
Shalini January 17, 2016
Hold the phone. What is kewra water?
Dolphia N. January 17, 2016
You can find that easily in any Indian store. Its aromatic water from kewra flower. You can replace that with rose water, but you wont get the authentic taste.
Shalini January 16, 2016
This looks and sounds absolutely delicious. I love biryani but rarely make it...this is a must-try!
Dolphia N. January 16, 2016
Jen B. January 16, 2016
Is it possible to substitute for Kerwa water and/or rose water? Thanks.
Dolphia N. January 16, 2016
You can replace with rose water however you won't get the original taste.
Saffron3 January 15, 2016
I think I get it. We make 3 teaspoons with the masala recipe. We use 1 teaspoon in the vegetables and then 2 teaspoons in the topping. I had to read a few times; hope I'm correct.
I've always wanted to learn to make just this very dish.
Dolphia N. January 15, 2016
Yes, you're absolutely correct! If you do make, let me know.
kgunterm January 14, 2016
Black cloves: What are they?

The recipe looks wonderful. Thank you. I am anxious to try it.

(I found a reference to 'brown cloves' but I am not sure what they are either, and whether they are any different from the whole cloves I have on my spice rack.)
Dolphia N. January 14, 2016
Black cloves are same as regular cloves - which you can get in any super market.
Here is an image:
marmar January 14, 2016
I'm confused. In step 6, we are to add the masala to the vegetables and yogurt. In step 17 you say to add 1 teaspoon of the biryani masala to the rice. So, 1 teaspoon of the vegetable mixture with the biryani masala which we made earlier? Is that correct?
Dolphia N. January 14, 2016
No, You add the biryani masala, not the vegetable with biryani masala to the rice. It adds the flavor to the biryani when it gets baked. Hope it clears your confusion.