Tuesday, March 15, 2011

vegetable biryani

I made vegetable biryani* last night to make sure my house continues to smell like curry. Actually, I made it because I love biryani (lamb especially and especially if you call it lambs) and this looked like a good recipe to try from Indian Vegetarian Cooking from an American Kitchen.

I made some modifications, and I'm not sure they were entirely wise. I used 2 sweet potatoes instead of 1 regular potato, because I had them in the kitchen and I really prefer them to other potatoes. I also used more than 10 cauliflower florets, because I'm not sure how big a floret Vasantha was talking and I like vegetables. So I used probably 2/3 of a large head. I just had baby carrots, and I used a large handful of them, chopped in half instead of 2 carrots. I used 2 cups of frozen peas instead of 10 ounces. So yeah. A lot of extra veg.

I made my green curry paste, and I only used 1 jalapeño because I wanted EDW to be able to eat it. The recipe says to use 1 to 2, and I didn't seed my jalapeño before tossing it in the food processor. The curry paste smelled really pungent and delicious, what with the garlic, cardamom, coriander, cumin, coconut, ginger and jalapeño.
I sauteed 3 thinly sliced onions (yes 3; no I didn't increase the recommended amount) and then added in my paste. That smelled divine, and I added my cooked rice (cooked it on Sunday. It's what I do) and cooked vegetables. At that point I realized I had probably added too many vegetables, because they barely fit in my large skillet.
I tasted the dish, and was unimpressed. It tasted bland. I couldn't understand why it tasted bland, because the curry paste had smelled so very not bland, but it did. I added some green curry powder, and some salt, and prepared myself for an uninspiring meal.
Once we sat down and tasted our meals, EDW and I both decided to add more seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a good amount of cayenne pepper, and some extra hot mango chutney I bought at the international grocery store. Edwin added salt, regular pepper, and some cayenne. With the additions, the meal was pretty good and definitely edible, but I have to say, it wasn't my favorite. Edwin loved the texture of this, and was more impressed than I was.
What am I missing? Is it really because there's not a lot of deliciously soft lamb stirred in? I don't think it's all the extra vegetables. It would taste bland with fewer veggies I think. Isn't biryani usually reddish brown and more saucey? If you have a good biryani recipe, I'd love it. Maybe I'll try another version from one of the other Indian cookbooks I have on the counter. (I may or may not have 4 Indian cookbooks checked out to me right now). *Prasad, Vasantha. Indian Vegetarian Cooking from an American Kitchen. "Vegetable Biryani." p. 149.


  1. Hi Sarah. It would be easier to know what you're missing if you posted the exact recipe. You didn't mention tumeric, saffron, or tomatoes - all of which add both color & flavor. Were those in your version?

    You also need cinnamon, bay leaf, & black cardamom. Green cardamom won't work in biryani. A lot of people also add a little yogurt, but you could just sub water.

    Also, as much as I love vegetables, in your pic there is way too much veg relative to rice. Rice is gonna soak up the spices as it cooks, veg not so much. So you need more rice than veg.

    I would definitely fine dice the onions instead of slice. Either that or slice them into way thinner slivers. Cook the onions low & slow until they reduce in volume.

    I can't tell by your post if you sauteed the spice mix with the onions or just added it to the rice? The spices absolutely must be cooked down with the oil in the onions so that the spices "open up" and meld together.

    After sauteeing onions & ginger, add spices, cook while stirring, then add tomatoes, cook to a paste like consistency. Then add the vegetables & either yogurt or enough water to turn the spice paste into a thick sauce.

    Then take a big pot with a little oil or ghee at the bottom to prevent sticking, alternate layers of almost-cooked rice & almost-done spiced vegetables.

    Top with some water in which you previously soaked some saffron threads.

    Cover & cook til rice is done. Mix. Top with cilantro & cashews.

  2. Maneesha- Thanks SO much for the tips! Because of copyright restrictions, I can't post the full recipe (I know I'm a dork but copyright really doesn't let me post the entire thing).

    The paste had cardamom, but it didn't say whether green or black. I had both but used green. Woops. It also had cinnamon, but no bay leaf, turmeric or saffron.

    No mention at all of tomatoes, even though I kept rereading the list thinking they should be there!

    I did saute the paste with the tomatoes for about 5 minutes.

    Your way sounds so much better and I will definitely try it soon! Do you have a cookbook you recommend? Or a blog I can stalk?

    Thank you thank you thank you!