Biryani for the vegetarians

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

Biryani for the vegetarians

The delectable biryani is not just for the non-vegetarians. You can make a variety of vegetarian biryanis. Radhika D Shyam tells you how.

It is no surprise that one of the interesting tales about the origin of the all time favourite biryani, traces back to none other than Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631), Shah Jahan’s queen who inspired the Taj Mahal. It is said that she once visited army barracks and found the army personnel under-nourished. She asked the chef to prepare a special dish which provided balanced nutrition, and thus biryani was created.

It seems huge sealed cauldrons containing ingredients of Biryani in them, were placed over burning charcoal on bricks in plates which in turn were placed on elephants’ backs, before setting out on war expeditions. And, after a certain distance was covered, the biryani would be cooked and ready to be served to the soldiers.

The word ‘biryani’ comes from the Persian word ‘birian’ which means “fried before cooking”.

One could conclude that the biryani originated in Iran. And along its journey across the world, it has picked up many influences and variations. In India itself, there are different types of Biryani and this is with reference to the way it is cooked and not just the variant main ingredient, depending on the cultural influence and cuisine of the geographical area. 

Easy and rather fast to cook, it is a complete meal in itself. Here is the basic recipe of a ‘quick-fix’ biryani and options of varieties to choose from. Since the non-vegetarian palates are spoilt for choice, what with various biryanis – mutton, chicken, prawn, egg, fish, and now even crab, beef, lobster, mussel, pork, partridge, deer, rabbit and what not, let’s pamper the vegetarians for a change.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 cups rice of your choice – washed and soaked for 5 minutes, 3 big onions – sliced; 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste – freshly pounded/ground; 5-6 green chilies – chopped; ½ cup curd (slightly sour preferably); ½ tsp turmeric powder; 3 cloves, 2“ piece cinnamon, 3-4 green cardamoms, 2-3 stone flowers (optional), 2-3 star anise, 1 bay leaf broken into 2 parts, 1 cup mint leaves – washed and chopped, 1 lemon, 3 tbsp oil, 1-2 tbsp ghee, 4 cups water OR a mixed solution of 3 ½ cups water+ ½ cup coconut milk, Salt to taste

Method: In a pressure cooker, saute the onions in oil till they turn pink. Add ginger-garlic paste and chilies. When it starts sticking to the base, add all the whole spices.
Stir for 2-3 minutes. Choose any one of the following options to add: 200 gm or more of washed and cut mushrooms / 250 gm of Soya chunks (pre-soaked for 2-3 hours)/ 200 gm Paneer (washed, cut into required sized pieces – fried or as it is; dipped in warm water) / 250 gm Makhaana [lotus seeds] (washed) / 250 gm Kamal Kaakdi [Lotus stem] (scrape-peeled, washed, cut into ½” pieces diagonally and pressure cooked with salt up to 3-4 whistles) / 250 gm Kathal [raw Jackfruit] (cut into 1” cubes). Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes

If you want to add vegetables, curd is not required in the following steps.
Add the curd and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the ghee, turmeric powder, juice of the lemon and mint leaves. Mix well and cook till oil floats on top. Add water, salt to taste and rice. Pressure cook up to 2 or 3 whistles. Serve hot with a raitha that complements your main dish.

Variations: You could add 1 cut tomato or 3 pureed tomatoes (for a reddish colour) after adding the main ingredient. For the greener variety, substitute ginger-garlic paste and chilies with a paste of 2 cups of finely chopped coriander and mint leaves each, green chilies, ginger and garlic.

Shahi handi biryani is even more wholesome. It has vegetables like carrots, beans, peas, cauliflower, capsicum along with mushrooms and paneer pieces. Fried/roasted cashew nuts are optional. Pureed tomatoes and the ½ cup coconut milk are mandatory.

Add 1-2 big black cardamoms and 2 gm jalandri (mace) along with the spices mentioned above.

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