Food

Vegetable Biryani: A vegan dish worthy of a celebration

This saffron-scented dish will please everyone around the table.

This saffron-scented dish will please everyone around the table

(Photography by Leila Ashtari)

This biryani is perfect for those who prefer to enjoy a vegan dish during Eid festivities. But this saffron-scented dish is a crowd-pleaser, and will appeal to all your guests, vegan or otherwise. The vegetables are roasted until they’re bronze and lightly charred then enveloped in a spiced tomato sauce. Carrots, cauliflower, green beans and chickpeas are tucked in under a fluffy layer of white basmati rice. 

Vegetable Biryani 

The rice, saffron milk and spiced tomato sauce can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator separately in airtight containers. 

The vegetables (cauliflower, carrots and green beans) be chopped up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. 

* If you don’t own a pestle and mortar, place the saffron in a teacup and crush the strands with the back of a spoon.

** You can substitute the almond milk with any other unsweetened plant-based milk, or dairy milk if you’d prefer (for a vegetarian but non-vegan option).

*** The Thai bird chili can be omitted if you prefer less heat.

Ingredients

Rice:

  • 3 cups white basmati rice
  • 8 cups water

Saffron milk:

  • 1 tsp saffron strands, crushed to a powder in a pestle and mortar*
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk**

Roasted vegetables:

  • 2 tbsp neutral oil (grapeseed or sunflower)
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup cauliflower florets, cut small
  • ½ cup green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds
  • Sea salt or Kosher salt, to taste

Spiced tomato sauce:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 6 black pepper berries
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 bay leaf (fresh or dried)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red chili pepper (adjust according to preference for heat)
  • 2 +2 green Thai bird chilies, (2 finely chopped, 2 whole)***
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • Sea salt, to taste

Garnish and layering:

  • 2 tbsp neutral oil (grapeseed or sunflower)
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced crosswise into rings
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves and stems, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, julienned

Preparation

Prepare the rice:

Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Soak basmati in cold water for 1 hour. Set aside. Bring the 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot and add the soaked rice. Cook for 7-8 minutes, until the rice is al dente. Drain the rice and set aside. 

Prepare the saffron milk:

In a small bowl, stir together the saffron powder and the milk. Set aside. 

Prepare the roasted vegetables:

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Pour 2 tablespoons of neutral oil into a large sheet pan or oven proof dish and place in the oven for a couple of minutes to heat. Remove from oven and immediately add the carrots, cauliflower and green beans, stirring well to coat them in the hot oil. Season with salt, and place on the lower rack of the oven for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. 

Prepare spiced tomato sauce:

While the vegetables are roasting, place a medium saucepan on medium-high heat and add the coconut oil and onions. Sauté until the onions are golden, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and continue to sauté for 3 more minutes, until fragrant. Reduce heat to medium, add the coriander, cumin and turmeric powder and saute for 2 minutes, then add all of the whole spices: the black pepper berries, green cardamom, cloves, black cardamom, bay leaf and the cinnamon stick. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, red chili pepper, chopped and whole green chillies, cover with a lid, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the roasted vegetables and the chickpeas to the sauce and stir to ensure they are coated well. Season with salt.

Prepare the crispy shallot garnish:

Add the oil to a frying pan over medium-high heat, then add the shallots and sauté until they are golden and appear to be crispy, about 3-5 minutes (these can go from bronze to burnt very quickly, so do monitor them). Transfer the shallots with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Layering of biryani:

In a heavy-bottomed pot (6-quart), add a thin layer of basmati rice. Then add a layer of sauce, and 4-5 slices of lemon. Cover with the remainder of the rice, and sprinkle with the cold water. Drizzle the saffron milk over top. Cover the pot with a tea towel, and place lid snugly on top, then tie the corners of the tea cloth into a knot on top. Turn the heat to medium-high for 2 minutes (for the pot to come up to temperature), then immediately decrease to low and allow rice to steam for 15-20 minutes. 

To serve:

Transfer the rice to a serving dish. Tip: use a wide rimmed spatula or the saucer of an espresso cup when transferring to prevents the delicate rice from breaking. 

Garnish the rice by scattering the crispy shallots, and the coriander and mint over top, and the slices of lemon. 

Serve with eggplant borani.

Yield: Makes 4 servings


Shayma Owaise Saadat is a Food Writer and Chef. She lives in Toronto with her husband and son. You can follow her culinary journey at www.ShaymaSaadat.com or on Instagram as @SpiceSpoon.

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