Vegetable Biryani

Vegetable Biryani - A Cookbook CollectionLook how pretty this is!

I like nothing better than a good curry. I have one at least once a week. Unfortunately, it’s not normally a healthy choice. This recipe however, might just change that. It is such a tasty meal and it’s adapted from Gizzi Erskine’s Bollywood Biriyani in Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts – the skinny part! Well, it is if you stick to the half fat coconut milk in the recipe, I just can’t do that.

Gizzi describes it as gaudy looking, but I think it is beautiful. And believe me, it is so so tasty. The top goes all crispy from the bake but under the top layer is rich and gooey. Perfect also if you are looking for a delicious meat free meal.

There are just a few things to note before you start:

– The recipe calls for green cardamom pods. At the time I was making it I couldn’t get hold of them – of course they are everywhere now! After a bit of research I found that for each cardamom pod in a recipe you can use 1/6 of a teaspoon of ground cardamom instead. (That website is a great reference point if you are ever stuck for an ingredient, it will give you an suggested substitution.) If you do use whole cardamom pods add them to the rice with the other whole spices.

– The recipe uses 2 tbsp. of tamarind juice. I have concentrated paste which I usually use but in Rick Stein’s India he says it is much better to make your own. I decided to do that just to see if it’s worth the effort. It is. To make it, soak 60g of solid tamarind pulp in 100ml of just boiled water and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. Then squish the pulp to break it down as much as possible and pass the mixture through a sieve, pressing as much pulp through as possible. If you can’t get any form of tamarind, this will tell you what you can use instead. See, I told you it is a great site!!

– In the past I have used natural yoghurt instead of greek in recipes as that is what I usually have in the fridge but it tends to curdle. So I would recommend to use the greek yoghurt if you can.

– Next time I will add a handful of frozen peas just for a bit more colour and added sweetness.

Serves 4


For the curry:

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp of yellow mustard seeds
  • 8-10 curry leaves
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 10g fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp each of chilli powder, ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 2 green chillies, halved lengthways. De-seed if you wish.
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 head of cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tbsp. tamarind juice (see notes)
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml coconut milk – half fat if you must!
  • A handful of frozen peas

For the rice:

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 onions finely sliced
  • 10g fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/3 tsp ground cardamom (see notes)
  • 2 tsp curry powder – I use a medium powder
  • A large pinch of saffron
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 cloves
  • 230g basmati rice, soaked and drained
  • 2 tbsp low fat greek yoghurt
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. flaked almonds
  • Seeds of ½ a pomegranate
  • A handful of fresh coriander leaves – optional


  •  Start by making the curry and then while that is simmering, cook the rice.
  • Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and allow them to pop for a few seconds. Then add the onion and cook gently until it is soft.
  • Add the ginger, cinnamon, ground spices and chillies and fry for a minute.
  • Add the tomatoes, stir and cook for 3-4 minutes until the tomato has softened and formed a thick sauce.
  • Add the cauliflower, chickpeas, tamarind juice, water and coconut milk.
  • Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Start on the rice by heating the oil in a deep heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat.
  • Add the onions, ginger, turmeric, curry powder and ground cardamom. Cook until the onion is softened, stirring frequently.
  • Keep an eye on the simmering curry sauce and stir every so often to prevent it from sticking.
  • Once the onions have softened, add the saffron, star anise and cloves. Then add the rice and mix everything well together.
  • Add the yoghurt and mix well to coat the rice and then add the stock.
  • Cover the rice with a tight fitting lid, bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Lower the heat and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Then turn the heat off and leave the pot uncovered for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the frozen peas to the curry and preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas mark 6.
  • Spread half of the curry onto the base of a cast iron pot or casserole dish.
  • Top with half of the rice and repeat with the sauce and then again the rice.
  • Scatter over the almonds and bake in the oven with the lid off for 20 minutes.
  • Serve straight out of the oven and scatter the pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves on top.
  • Be careful of the whole spices, try to discard them if possible. No one wants to bite into a whole clove or star anise.
  • Gizzi also recommends scattering rose petals on top, if you’re feeling very indulgent!

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