This recipe is going to get a bit ridiculous. Fair warning. I was heading out into the Ontario farmlands with my two friends, Jim and Andrew, to record a rock and roll album at Chalet Studio, and since we were staying overnight, we needed to bring food. One problem: Jim is a stubborn vegan, and Andrew leans vegetarian (or at least, he did) so I built a hybrid vegan biryani out of recipe ideas for 3 or 4 vegetable curry and rice dishes. The end result was pretty great: a spicy-hot tomato curry infused into richly flavoured baked rice, with large pieces of potato, cauliflower, and carrot mixed throughout. The whole thing was topped with fried cashews and raisins, and lidded with phyllo pastry (egg-free, naturally).
The concept of the pastry lid is one I borrowed from a sub-section of biryani recipes called “parda biryani”, parda meaning “veil” in Hindi. They typically use a puffed pastry crust for the “veil” but I could not, as it is not vegan-friendly. The store-bought phyllo sheets were. The pastry lid is optional, and I have not included directions in this recipe for handling the phyllo. If you want the pastry veil, follow the directions on the box of a frozen roll of phyllo dough. Use about 6 sheets, lightly oiled in between. Trim the edges of the dough so they overhang your casserole dish by about 1″ in all directions, then tuck the edges into the casserole dish, and add a few 1/2″ slits across the middle of the dough to release a bit of steam.
Well, there’s a lot of work to do here (nothing hard, just a series of simple processes) so let’s get to it. The first section of ingredients is for the vegetable curry. The second shorter set is the large chopped vegetables. The last second is for the spiced rice. Cashews and raisins are optional, but desirable.
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
- 1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup plain tomato sauce, unsalted (not pasta sauce! just some kind of cooked tomato puree)
- 2 medium-sized onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly
- 2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 green cardamom
- 2 bay leaf
- 1 tsp North Indian garam masala
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup of 1-2″ cauliflower florets
- 1 medium-sized peeled potato, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1/2 cup green peas
- 1/2 cup 1/4″ peeled carrot slices
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small French shallot or small onion
- 2 black cardamom
- 2 bay leaf
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads
- 1 tsp salt
- fried cashews (optional)
- raisins (optional)
Serve with: raita
What you will need: chef’s knife and cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, 2 relatively deep frying/saute pans, some stirring spoons, a few large bowls, a handful of smaller bowls (for mis en place), a 9″ casserole dish or something close
- Rinse the rice thoroughly. Check out this video on rinsing/soaking rice. We do this so the rice isn’t starchy and won’t stick together when it’s cooked. Then put the rice into a bowl and cover it with cold water. We’re going to let it soak for an hour or so. While we’re waiting, let’s get all the ingredients ready for cooking.
- Mise en place: prepare everything you are going to need before you need it. It’s just easier this way. Slice onions, chop garlic and ginger. Measure out the curry’s dry spices into one bowl, and the powdered spices and salt into another. Cut up all the vegetables. Repeat the same for the ingredients listed under the rice, but keep them separate.
- Let’s say your rice has been soaking for 30 minutes by now. Give or take. Let’s start the curry. Get one of your deep frying pans and add the first 2 tbsp of oil to the pan. Heat it to medium heat (5 on my dial).
- When the pan is hot, add the 2 sliced onions. Fry them until they start browning, about 10 minutes. Stir them often to prevent burning.
- Once the onion is brown, add the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaf) and fry them for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for 2 minutes until the garlic loses its raw smell.
- Add the chopped vegetables to the pan and stir them around to coat them with spiced oil.
- Sprinkle in the powdered spices and salt (Kashmiri powder, garam masala, turmeric, salt) and fry for 10-15 seconds.
- Pour in the cup of tomato sauce, and stir all the ingredients together, scraping up any browned onion bits from the pan if you can.
- Bring the sauce to a bubble, then lower the heat to low (2-3 on my dial), cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. At the end of this time, check the seasoning of the sauce. If it needs a bit more salt, add a sprinkle now. Remove the curry from the heat.
- The rice has soaked long enough by now. Let’s make it. Preheat oven to 350 F.
- In the second frying pan, heat the 2 tbsp of oil listed with the rice.
- When the oil is hot, add the whole spices (black cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, cumin) and fry them for 15-20 seconds until the spices are fragrant.
- Add the sliced shallot to the pan and fry for a few minutes until softened with some light brown edges.
- While the shallot is frying, drain the rice as best as you can. You want as little water left in the rice as possible. Once drained, add it to the frying pan. The leftover water will crackle quite quickly. Watch your hands.
- Add the saffron to the rice, and stir the rice into the oil and spices, getting as much of the rice coated in oil as possible. Fry the rice until the edges of the kernels appear translucent. Or a few minutes. Whatever.
- Add 1.5 cups of water and the salt and stir the mixture.
- Bring the rice to a gentle bubble, and cook until the rice starts absorbing the water. The sign you are looking for is when the air bubbles popping on the surface leave craters in the rice.
- Take the rice off the heat.
- In the casserole dish, pour in about half of the curry. Then layer in half of the rice over top of the curry. Then add the rest of the curry, then the rest of the rice on the following layers. It should go, from bottom to top: curry-rice-curry-rice.
- Top the rice with cashews and raisins if you’re using them.
- Add the casserole’s lid, or follow my tip at the top for covering the biryani with phyllo. Either way, cover the biryani and slide it into the pre-heated oven.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes.
- When done, remove from the oven (turn your oven off while you’re at it – sometimes I forget and leave it on for an extra hour or two) and let it cool off for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with raita (a recipe for raita is here but keep it mind, it’s made with yogurt, vegans, and it is delicious)