I usually visit Passage to Asia in Chaguanas, just to purchase one item; their biryani Rice!  Passage to Asia serve's authentic Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine. They provide sit down table service as well as a pick-up service. There are dozens of variations of biryani in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East – is comprised of layers of rice and vegetables or meat. The first time I decided to make vegetable biryani at home, I hesitated for months, as the list of ingredients is quite long and the multi-step cooking process seemed tedious. But eventually I gave in, made a trip to a local supermarket to pick up a few ingredients. I must admit here, it seems more complicated than it really is so please don't hesitate as long as I did to try your hand at it.

When making biryani,  Basmati rice is recommended; the long grains of of this rice are perfectly soft and don't stick together. Your choice of vegetables in this recipe can be quite flexible, and you can use raw or frozen veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and green beans. I opted to use fresh veggies, as this was the main reason I decided to try to make biryani in the first place. I didn't particularly enjoy the frozen veggies in my biyani and always said I'm sure this will be much better if fresh veggies were used in place of frozen ones.

The important thing to note here is, the rice and vegetables are cooked separately with a heady blend of spices and then layered in a dish and topped with crunchy nuts and sweet raisins. When spooned onto a plate, all the components get mixed together and provide a beautifully satisfying blend of flavors and textures which is guaranteed to take you on a fragrance journey.

Vegetable Biryani Rice
Serves 7-8
4 cups basmati rice (I used white but you can use brown if you desire)
5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon sea salt

6 cups chopped mixed vegetables (such as cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, green beans, corn, etc)
4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece ginger, minced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup water
Sea salt to taste
2 teaspoons saffron

1 teaspoon ghee or vegetable oil
1/4 cup medjool dates
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Rinse the rice three times or until the water runs clear.
Soak rice in water for at least 30 minutes then drain.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the rice, spices, and salt. Boil until the rice is just tender and chewy, about 10 minutes. Drain well. Return to the pot and cover to keep warm.

Briefly steam the vegetables until just tender but still crisp.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large heavy bottom pot, heat the ghee or vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring, until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the saffron and continue cooking for a further 2 minute. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the water, vegetables, and salt, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are warmed through.

 Spread half of the rice in a baking dish. Spread the vegetables evenly on top and then the remaining rice. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes.

While the dish is in the oven, heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the dates and almonds and cook, stirring, until the raisins are plump and the cashews are toasted and crunchy.

To serve, scoop rice and vegetables out of dish and place of plate, garnish the biryani with the dates and almonds. Add a sprig of cilantro as garnish and serve warm as a main dish or side dish.

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