My Mother's Bengali Vegetable Biryani

By • January 11, 2016 16 Comments

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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.
Dolphia Nandi

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Serves 6

  • FOR THE BIRYANI MASALA SPICE MIX
  • 1 teaspoon black cumin
  • 5 to 6 whole black peppercorns
  • One 1-inch piece cinnamon bark
  • 8 whole green cardamom pods
  • 8 black cloves
  • 1 whole mace (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
  • 1 dried red chile, whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • FOR THE VEGETABLE CURRY
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/2 cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Salt, to taste
  • 12 French green beans, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • One 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon teaspoon biryani masala (prepared above)
  • FOR THE RICE
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 cups white basmati rice, washed and drained
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 whole black cardamom pods
  • FOR THE POTATOES
  • 3 medium or 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 cups water, enough to cover the potato
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon kewra water
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • FOR THE SAFFRON MILK
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon saffron, lightly crushed
  • FOR THE TOPPING
  • 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 fresh mint, chopped
  • Raita, for serving
  1. First, make the biryani masala: In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat black cumin, black peppercorns, cinnamon bark, cardamom pods, black cloves, mace, bay leaf, and red chile. Cook, stirring, for about 2 to 3 minutes, until they release their aroma.
  2. When they are cooled enough to handle, tip the spices into a coffee or spice grinder and add ground nutmeg and white pepper. Process until smooth. Set it aside.
  3. Now make the vegetable curry: In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add cauliflower florets and a generous amount of salt. Continue to cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside using a slotted spoon.
  4. Without wiping the skillet, heat another tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat. Add chopped beans and salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until halfway cooked. Add carrot pieces and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until cooked through. Add peas, cook for 2 more minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer vegetables to another plate and set them aside.
  5. Without wiping the skillet, heat 2 remaining tablespoons vegetable oil. Add onion slices and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until they become golden brown.
  6. To the onions, add grated ginger and crushed garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until ginger and garlic is cooked through. Add back in the fried cauliflower, beans, carrot pieces, peas, along with the yogurt, biryani masala, and salt. Cook it for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the gravy is cooked through. Set it aside until the rest is prepared.
  7. Now make the rice: Set a colander over the sink.
  8. In a soup pot, add water and salt. Bring it to a boil. Add washed rice, bay leaves, and black cardamom. Cook it for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is 3/4 done. Strain over a colander, discard the spices, and set aside.
  9. After straining, divide the rice into 3 plates (you will color one of these with saffron in later a step).
  10. Cook the potatoes: In a saucepan, add potatoes, water, salt, kewra water, and turmeric. Cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until potatoes becomes fork tender.
  11. Make the saffron-infused milk: In another (small) saucepan, add milk. Bring it to a boil, and then lower temperature to medium-low. Add crushed saffron and stir well. Set aside in a pouring jar.
  12. In a small bowl, mix half of the saffron milk with one plate of rice to give it color.
  13. Make the biryani topping: In a non-stick pan, over medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil. When not, add onion pieces and fry for 5 to 8 minutes, or until brownish-red, while stirring continuously.
  14. Wipe out the pan, then heat the clarified butter. Add cashew pieces and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they start to become golden in color. Add raisins and mix well. Cook for a minute, and set it aside.
  15. Bake and assemble the biryani: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Have a 4-quart baking dish ready.
  16. Brush the dish with ghee. Add a layer of white rice.
  17. Add the potatoes, 1 teaspoon biryani masala, and cooked vegetables in the second layer.
  18. Add saffron-milk infused rice, some more potatoes, cooked vegetables, and 1/2 teaspoon biryani masala, and cover second layer well with the remaining rice.
  19. Finish with the fried onion, fried cashews and raisins, and another 1/2 teaspoon biryani masala.
  20. Add rose water and kewra water to the remaining saffron milk. Drizzle the milk over biryani well.
  21. Cover the container with an aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Take it out of the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before uncovering. Garnish with fresh mint and serve with yogurt sauce.

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Topics: Indian Cooking, Vegetarian Cooking, Weekend Cooking, Vegetables, Heirloom Recipes