Thursday, 12 July 2012

Vegetarian Biryani

Vegetarian Biryani – an elegant layered rice and vegetable main course

It’s the Calgary Stampede, the major festival of this city.  It’s a time for parties, especially at homes that have a view of the fair grounds.  We were lucky enough to be invited to Darlene and Roger’s Wednesday Barbershop party, one of about five that they host during the ten days of “Stampede Week”.  With his home being perched on the steep hillside across from the fair grounds, he has one of the best vantage points in the city. 

This party was a pot luck, so I thought what could be more Wild Western themed and Calgarian than a Hyderabadi Biryani?  Right?  Well, why not.  The hosts served a churduckin, which is a small chicken stuffed into a duck which is stuffed into a turkey, so clearly the old Stampede cuisine of beefsteak and baked beans has been thrown out of one of those fabulously situated windows.

I got this idea from my latest fave cookbook, 1000 Indian Recipes, by Neelam Batra, but I fiddled with it as usual.  This crowd isn’t used to spicy foods, so I toned down the heat, significantly, and I used vegetables that I had on hand.  And since I can’t seem to follow a single rule, I messed with the directions as well. 

2 inches fresh ginger, roughly chopped
4 cloves fresh garlic
3 hot chillies or to taste (I used two and it needed more heat!)
¼ cup water, more or less

1 pinch saffron threads
¼ cup coconut milk powder
¼ cup hot water

The house is perched on a cliff overlooking the river, fairgrounds and skyline.
2 cups Basmati rice
4 scant cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds and raw cashews

2 ½ tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
2 sticks cinnamon
4 cloves
5 green cardamoms, bashed
2 bay leaves
1 red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 leaves kale, cut into ribbons, stalks removed
1 large floret of broccoli, chopped into small pieces
1 huge red sweet pepper, diced into sizes similar to broccoli
1 cup butter fried paneer cheese (I used frozen)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tiny limes, juiced
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
½ teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom
½ cup fresh pomegranate seeds

Put the ginger, garlic and chillies into a blender, and buzz.  Add enough water to mix it into a paste.  Set aside.
Stir hot water into the coconut milk powder, and add the saffron.  Stir gently.  Set aside.

Pour the rice into a good saucepan with a tight fitting lid.  Turn the heat on to high, and shake the dry rice a few times to distribute it evenly over the pan.  After a few minutes, add the water and salt, and cover the pan.  As soon as it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and leave it alone.  After twenty minutes, remove from heat, but don’t open the pan.  Set aside.

In a small dry saucepan, roast the nuts, stirring frequently, till they brown up a bit.  This should take only about five minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the ghee on medium high heat.  Add the cinnamon, cloves, bashed cardamom and bay leaves.  Fry for a couple of minutes.  Pour in the ginger paste and cook till the water boils out. Add the salt and sliced onion, and fry till the onion is browned and cooked.  Add the kale, and cook for another ten minutes, stirring often.  Then add the broccoli and paneer and cook for less than five minutes, to keep the broccoli bright green.  Add the red pepper and cook till it’s barely soft.  Stir in the yogurt.
Butter a large oven proof dish.  Spread half the rice over the bottom .  Carefully layer the vegetables over the rice.  Sprinkle the cilantro,mint and lime juice evenly over the vegetable mixture.  Spread the remaining rice over the vegetable layer.  Distribute the nuts over the rice.  Dribble the saffron and coconut milk over the rice, being careful to include every last expensive strand of the saffron.  (It’s so expensive you wouldn’t want to wash any down the sink!)  Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes to set it and warm it through.  Sprinkle ground cardamom and pomegranate seeds over the top. 

Serve with some fresh raita, and you have a beautiful and festive high protein dish that will dazzle.  This dish has more protein than Neelam Batra’s version, but I was serving people who are used to tons of protein, and who’d normally balk at anything vegetarian.  Not to worry though, what they lacked in red meat they more than made up for in all the ghee! 

The food was great, Close Encounter's singing was fabulous, and did I mention the view includes not just the scintillating view of the grandstand show, the rides and the skyline, but dazzling fireworks as well!  Nobody throws a party like Darlene and Roger!

This wonderful cookbook is well worth buying too!


  1. Yumm!! I have been planning on Biryani for a long time, but its just too hot for it round here!!

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  3. There I was leaving a comment for Meg about grinding grains on my blog instead of hers... Thanks Meg, Apu and Kanan for your comments, and visiting the blog.