If the test of a great dish is that you taste something new and delicious with each mouthful, then this northern Indian masterpiece is in the first ranks. It’s special occasion food there and it should be for us too.
Here you will find our vegetarian take, easily made vegan by substituting soy milk and margarine. Vegetables are roasted in a ginger-garlic-cashew puree, stuffed inside a mound of spice-studded golden rice and garnished with raisins, more cashews and browned slivers of onion.
Feel free to put your imagination to work on this biriyani. Substitute any vegetables you like, just remember to roast the hard ones with the hard ones and the tender with the tender. The vegetables can be roasted a day ahead and the biriyani then assembled and baked the day of the feast. In fact, roasting the vegetables a day in advance only makes the dish better.
Cook to Cook: If you have candied ginger at hand, chop up a tablespoon or two and add it to the garnishes at the end.
Wine: Both red and white work with this dish. Try a Pinot Gris or a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.
- 1 large yam, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks, about 2 1/2 generous cups
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups small Brussels sprouts (if large, cut in half), cored and trimmed of any brown edges
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into 1 inch strips
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cored and sliced into 1 inch strips
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced into 1 inch wedges
- Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Ginger-Garlic-Cashew Puree (see below)
- 4 cups basmati or other long grain rice
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, or a generous 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1/3 cup milk
- 2 cinnamon sticks (about 3 inches each)
- 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 4 whole cloves
- 1/2 medium onion cut into chunks
- 6 large garlic cloves
- 2-1/2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
- 1/3 cup salted broken cashews
- 1 fresh Serrano chile, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium to large onion, thinly sliced
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup roasted cashews or almonds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons roughly chopped candied ginger, optional
1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Combine the yams and Brussels sprouts in one large bowl, and the onions and peppers in another. Toss liberally with olive oil, salt and pepper until nicely coated. Spread the yams and Brussels sprouts, out on a large half-sheet pan, taking care to leave ample space between the vegetables so they have room to brown. Do this in batches if the vegetables are crowded. It may be a pain, but it is worth it. Spread the peppers and onions out on another half-sheet pan (or alternately roast the vegetables in batches). Roast the vegetables for 15 - 20 minutes until they begin to soften and color.
2. Make the Ginger-Garlic-Cashew Puree. While the vegetables are roasting, make the puree by combining all the ingredients, except the canola oil, in a food processor and pureeing them to a paste. When the puree is nicely blended, with the motor running, pour in the oil in a thin stream until completely combined.
3. Remove from the vegetables from the oven and divide the Ginger-Garlic-Cashew puree equally between the pans and toss it gently but thoroughly with the vegetables on the sheet pan. Return the pans to the oven and roast another 10 - 15 minutes until the vegetables are nicely browned, but the puree has not burned. If the puree seems to be burning, add a little water to the pan, turning the vegetables as you go. The onions and peppers will cook faster than the yams and Brussels sprouts, so pull then when they are individually done. Scrape everything into a large bowl and repeat until all the vegetables are roasted. Set aside. The vegetables can be made a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.
4. Make the rice.The day the biriyani is to be served, rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water is clear. Then soak the rice in enough water to cover (with 1 tablespoon salt added) for 30 minutes to 6 hours. Drain.
5. Fill a 6-quart pot two-thirds full of water. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and bring the water to a boil. Drop in the rice and cook it like pasta, about 5 minutes, or until it’s tender but with a slight firmness. Drain in a sieve immediately and spread the rice out on a towel or cookie sheet so it cools quickly.
6. Lightly toast the saffron for 30 seconds to 1 minute in a small, dry saucepan over medium heat. Immediately add the milk. Pull the pan from the heat and set aside to steep for a minimum of 20 minutes.
7. Assemble the biriyani. Take the vegetables out of the refrigerator if they have been made ahead and preheat the oven to 325ºF. You’re are going to top the vegetables with a dome of rice in a baking dish, tent it with foil and bake until it’s heated through.
8. Butter the inside of a shallow 3- to 3 1/2-quart baking dish. Mound the vegetables in the center and cover it with the rice, patting it with your fingers, (dip them in water if the rice sticks to them) into a smooth dome. Tuck the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and cloves randomly into the rice and drizzle the entire dome with the saffron or turmeric milk, trying to cover as much of the surface as you can.
9. Tent foil over the dome so that it does not touch the rice. Seal it around the edges of the dish, then bake the biriyani for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it is hot at its center.
10. Make the garnishes: While the biriyani bakes, prepare several layers of paper towel on a baking sheet next to the stove. In a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil and butter and fry the onions until crisp. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, spread on the paper towels and sprinkle with salt. In the same oil, fry the raisins until they puff, and scoop them out onto the towels. Finally, briefly fry the nuts until golden then cool them on the towels. You are done!
To serve the biriyani, remove it from the oven and lift off the foil. Remove the whole spices, if desired, and scatter the garnishes over the top. Serve it hot, making sure each helping has some of the garnishes.