Vegetable Bombay Biryani

In Mumbai’s bustling streets, where vibrant chaos and diverse cultures come together, there lies a culinary masterpiece that has captured the hearts of millions – the Bombay Biryani. This iconic dish is a symphony of flavours, a testament to the rich culinary heritage of the city and a must-try for anyone seeking a gastronomic adventure.

The origin of Bombay biryani

Bombay biryani has a fascinating history that reflects the city’s cultural tapestry. It is believed to have originated in the kitchens of the Persian and Mughal rulers who brought with them the art of biryani-making to India. Over the centuries, this culinary tradition evolved, embracing local ingredients and techniques.

What sets Bombay Biryani apart is its unique blend of spices, a slightly sweeter taste due to the inclusion of raisins, nuts, fried onions (called ‘birista’) and potatoes. They bring together a perfect harmony of flavours that complement the key ingredient – fragrant basmati rice.

This dish is a testament to the cultural amalgamation that defines Mumbai, incorporating influences from various communities and creating a culinary masterpiece that is distinctly ‘Bombay’. The Parsis, Muslims, Hindus and Christians, among others, have all contributed to the diverse and dynamic food culture of Mumbai. This amalgamation of culinary influences is evident in the spices used, the cooking techniques employed, and the overall flavour profile of Bombay biryani.

The art of making Bombay biryani

Bombay biryani is typically prepared by layering flavours of marinated meat (chicken, mutton or beef), fragrant basmati rice, caramelised onions, fried nuts and raisins and a blend of aromatic spices. The inclusion of potatoes is a signature touch that sets Bombay biryani apart from its counterparts. The layering process involves alternately stacking the meat and potatoes with rice. There’s a layer of caramelised onions called ‘birista’ and fried nuts and raisins that go on top of the rice creating a wonderful symphony of flavours.

My take on Bombay biryani with vegetables

This biryani recipe is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Vegetarian because the meat is swapped out for vegetables like potatoes, cauliflower, French beans, carrots, baby corn and green peppers. It is vegan-friendly because other than two optional ingredients which can be easily substituted, there is no dairy used. Please refer to my Notes at the bottom of the recipe card.

My recipe involves cooking the biryani in the oven which is synonymous with cooking it in a ‘dum’. The ‘dum’ is a slow-cooking technique that involves sealing the biryani pot with a tight-fitting lid, usually using dough or a cloth, to trap the steam and cook the biryani in its own juices. This method is known for infusing the biryani with flavours of rich aromatic whole spices and ensuring that the vegetables are perfectly al dente and not overcooked, while the rice remains fluffy.

I also like to make my biryani delicately smokey and aromatic. So I adopt the ‘dhungar’ method for imparting smoke from burnt charcoal into the dish.

The dhungar method is a traditional smoking technique used in Indian cuisine to impart a smoky flavour to various dishes, especially biryanis. This method involves using a piece of hot charcoal to generate smoke inside the cooking pot.

Please follow the recipe below for

  • a vegetable biryani cooked in ‘dum’
  • a smokey-flavoured biryani
  • a vegan-friendly alternative
  • a slow-cooked oven-baked biryani

Vegetable Bombay Dum Biryani

Recipe by RieethaaCourse: MainCuisine: Indian, MaharashtrianDifficulty: Medium
Servings

6

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

15

minutes
Total time

1

hour 

45

minutes

Ingredients

  • For the biryani masala:
  • 7-8 dried red chillies

  • 12 green cardamom pods

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds

  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds

  • 5 black cardamom pods

  • 3-inch cinnamon bark

  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns

  • 7-8 bay leaves

  • 1 tbsp cloves

  • 3 blades of mace

  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds

  • 1 tsp turmeric powder

  • ½ tsp nutmeg (grated)

  • ½ tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)

  • 1 tbsp dried pomegranate powder aka anardana

  • 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt (or to taste)

  • For the birista:
  • 300ml cold pressed rapeseed oil for deep frying

  • 3 large onions (core removed, then sliced horizontally in medium to thin strands)

  • For the marinade:
  • 250g Greek yoghurt (whisked)

  • 12 garlic cloves (minced)

  • ½ inch ginger (minced)

  • 5 green chillies (ground to a paste)

  • 2 tbsp biryani masala

  • ½ tsp turmeric powder

  • 2 tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

  • 1 tbsp coriander powder

  • 1 tbsp sumac

  • 80ml (⅓ cup) birista oil

  • 25g fresh coriander (chopped)

  • 15g fresh mint (chopped)

  • 60% of the cooked birista

  • Juice of half a lime or lemon

  • Salt to taste

  • Vegetables for the marinade
  • 1 small cauliflower (cut into florets)

  • 2 carrots (sliced 1cm thick)

  • 200g French beans (chopped 2cm long)

  • 6 medium-sized new potatoes (cut in halves)

  • ½ a large green pepper (chopped into large pieces)

  • 40g frozen peas

  • 25ml (¼ cup) birista oil for frying

  • For the rice:
  • ½ kg extra long-grain basmati rice

  • 2.5 litre hot water

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 4 cloves

  • 4 green cardamom pods

  • 1 star anise

  • 6 black peppercorns

  • ½ inch cinnamon bark

  • 1 tsp caraway seeds

  • 2 green chillies (slit lengthways)

  • ½ a lime (juice)

  • salt to taste (enough to make the boiling water taste like seawater)

  • For layering the biryani:
  • 60g cashews

  • 40g raisins

  • 30g dried cranberries

  • 40g prunes

  • 25g fresh coriander (chopped)

  • 15g fresh mint (chopped)

  • 40% cooked birista

  • 75ml whole milk (hot)

  • 8-12 strands of saffron

  • 3 tbsp ghee (melted)

  • For the smokey flavour ‘dhungar’ and ‘dum’:
  • 1 piece of charcoal

  • 1 tbsp ghee (melted)

  • 1 small steel or heat-proof bowl

  • A lid to fit the pan

  • 250g whole wheat flour

  • Water as needed to knead a dough

Directions

  • Wash and rinse the rice once and leave it fully submerged in water for 45 minutes
  • Preparing the biryani masala:
  • Prepare the biryani masala by gently toasting all the whole spices mentioned in the ingredients. In a flat pan over a low to medium flame, add red chillies followed by cardamom (both green and black), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, cinnamon bark, fenugreek seeds, cloves, black peppercorns, mace and bay leaves. Toast all the above for no more than a minute.
  • Allow the toasted whole spices to cool. This could take 10-15 minutes. Then whizz them up in a coffee grinder.
  • Mix in the turmeric, nutmeg, kasuri methi, ground pomegranate and pink Himalayan salt.
  • Preparing the birista:
  • In a deep pan or kadhai, heat the rapeseed oil until it starts smoking. Drop in the sliced onions and deep fry over a high flame to start with. Once the moisture from the onions disappears i.e. the bubbles have reduced, turn the flame down to medium and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to cook the onions evenly.
  • Remove the onions from the pan using a slotted spoon once they turn golden brown. Ensure all the residual oil goes back into the pan by pressing the onions against the slotted spoon using another spoon.
  • Transfer onto a kitchen paper-lined flat surface, plate or tray. Remove excess oil by gently dabbing it with kitchen paper. Then separate each strand of onion using a fork whilst spreading them thinly. Allow to cool and crisp up in a dry place.
  • Frying the nuts:
  • Fry the cashews until golden in the leftover birista oil. Once ready transfer them onto a kitchen paper-lined plate and keep aside.
  • Preparing the saffron milk:
  • Heat the whole milk in a deep cup or bowl in the microwave on the highest setting for 2 minutes.
  • Add the saffron to the hot milk and put aside to use later.
  • Preparing the marinade:
  • Tip the yoghurt into a bowl. Mix in the minced ginger-garlic and green chilli paste followed by the biryani masala prepared
  • Tip in all the other spices i.e. the turmeric powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder,  coriander powder and sumac.
  • Add the salt, fresh coriander and mint as well as 60% of the birista prepared earlier. Also add 80ml of the leftover deep frying oil used to make the birista, into this marinade. Mix it all together with a whisk. Add the lime juice.
  • Finally, mix in all the veggies into the marinade. Ensure all the veggies are coated with the marinade.
  • Heat another 5ml of the birista oil in a wide-bottomed pan over a medium flame.
  • Stir the entire marinade into the pan and cook until the oil separates from the yoghurt. This is long enough to cook the spices in the marinade but not long enough to cook the vegetables. It could take between 5-10 minutes. Switch off the flame once the oil starts separating from the marinade.
  • Cooking the rice:
  • Pour the hot kettle water into a deep pan over a medium flame. Throw in all the whole spices i.e. green cardamom, whole peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon bark and star anise. Followed by a generous squeeze of lime.
  • Season with salt. Enough to make the water taste like seawater.
  • Once the water comes to a rolling boil, tip in the soaked rice.
  • Let it cook for no more than 4-5 minutes or until the rice is no more than 80% cooked.
  • Switch off the flame and drain the water by passing it through a sieve or colander. The rice and whole spices will be collected in the sieve or colander.
  • Layering the biryani:
  • Using a slotted spoon transfer and spread half of the par-cooked rice a little at a time over the par-cooked marinade in the wide-bottomed pan. Ensure the marinade is fully covered under a thin layer of rice.
  • Top the rice with a scattering of the remaining 20% birista (fried onions), the fresh coriander, fried cashews, raisins, dried cranberries and dried prunes.
  • Cover the nuts and fruits with another layer of the remaining par-cooked rice.
  • Drizzle the saffron milk and the melted ghee over the rice using a spoon.
  • Preparing the ‘dhungar’ for smokey flavour:
  • Place the charcoal piece over a naked flame using a pair of tongs. Allow it to burn and start to smoulder.
  • Place the burnt charcoal into a tiny steel or other heat-proof bowl placed over the layered biryani rice in the pan.
  • Pour the melted ghee over the charcoal. It will start smoking.
  • Immediately place the pan lid on.
  • Seal the lid using a dough prepared beforehand by kneading the whole wheat flour with water. Alternatively, use a wrung damp cloth to seal the lid airtight.
  • Baking the biryani in ‘dum’:
  • Transfer the pan to a preheated oven at 180C and bake for 40 minutes.
  • Once fully cooked, allow the biryani to rest for 20 minutes. Break the hardened dough seal using a blunt knife and open the lid. Remove the tiny steel bowl and discard the burnt charcoal. And enjoy the biryani served warm.

Notes

  • Preparing the biryani masala:
  • When roasting the whole spices, ensure they’re only lightly roasted. They should not turn brown.
  • Preparing the birista:
  • Stir the onions continually so that they turn a nice even golden brown and don’t burn.
  • Ensure the birista is free of moisture and excess oil. Otherwise, the birista won’t be crispy. Dab the birista with kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.
  • Ensure the leftover deep-frying birista oil is passed through a sieve to remove burnt debris and collected in a cup or jug ready to use in the recipe.
  • Preparing the marinade:
  • Don’t forget to season the marinade well with salt.
  • Don’t fully cook the veggies when frying the marinade. The veggies get cooked in the oven.
  • Cooking the rice:
  • The longer the basmati rice is soaked the faster it will cook. So reduce the cooking time if the rice is soaked for longer.
  • The rice gets cooked quickly when soaked. Once the rice is 80% cooked, you can optionally, rinse the hot rice with cold water to stop it from cooking in its steam.
  • Dhungar and dum
  • Adding a smokey flavour is a nice touch and does enhance the flavour of the dish. However, it is an optional step.
  • If you don’t have an oven, you can cook the biryani in a ‘dum’ by placing the pan over a tawa (a flat pan). Place a heavy object on top of the pan’s lid. Heat the tawa on a high flame. Place the biryani pan or pot on the tawa. Turn the flame down to medium. Continue cooking for 20 minutes.
  • General tips:
  • This biryani can easily be made vegan. Just use a dairy-free milk to soak saffron and skip the ghee altogether during the layering process. 
  • Do not forget to add salt where indicated in the recipe.

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