Everyone's familiar with a biryani and I've posted about half a dozen versions of this popular Indian dish over the past four years. But there is something about a restaurant biryani that sets it apart and is rather challenging to capture in a home kitchen. It's not that it's better-- it's just different.
Since my craving for restaurant biryani lasted a few days, and since I cannot afford to order out every night of the week, I had no alternative but to try and recreate a restaurant-style biryani at home. Here were the thoughts I gathered to work from:
-- The rice in a restaurant biryani is usually cooked al-dente, whereas home cooks tend to cook the rice rather soft, even if the grains remain distinct and apart.
--Restaurant biryanis are typically not as gravied as home biryanis are, which also helps retain the firmer texture of the rice when it is cooked with the vegetables in the oven in the final stage.
--Restaurant biryanis are colorful because they use food coloring, and although that doesn't necessarily contribute to the flavor, it does give them a wonderfully kitschy look that's highly appetizing.
--Restaurant biryanis go a little heavy on the oil. While I was definitely not willing to pour in several tablespoons of oil, even for that fabulous flavor, I did realize that it would be impossible to make an extremely low-fat or fat-free biryani taste as good. I managed to make this with about 2 tbsp of oil which, when divided among six servings, is really not so bad at all.
--The veggies in a restaurant biryani, like the rice, have a rather al-dente texture. And while you can add just about any vegetable to a biryani, restaurant biryanis typically use "dense" veggies, like potatoes and carrots.
Armed with these thoughts off I went to the kitchen and got cooking. Since the restaurant-style biryani (as opposed to a home-style one) is rather dependent on technique for its unique flavor and texture, try and follow the steps closely.
I hope everyone's having a great and as vegan as possible Diwali. Have you already visited Holy Cow!'s Free Diwali page? And if you haven't already, do drop in on Mints of the blog Vadani Kaval Gheta, who is celebrating an almost vegan Diwali with dairy-free versions of popular Indian sweets. Check it out.
Restaurant-Style Vegetable Biryani
(Makes about six servings)
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, covered with water and soaked for 30 minutes, then drained
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1-inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 tsp mace
2 medium potatoes, cut in a 1-inch dice
2 carrots, cut in a 1-inch dice
1 cup tomato puree
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 heaping tbsp of store-bought biryani masala (I used the Shaan brand)
1/2 tsp turmeric
For the masala paste:
1 medium onion, thinly sliced, then sauteed over medium-high heat with 2 tsp vegetable oil until golden-brown and crisp
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roasted
1/2 cup packed coriander or cilantro leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
2 green chillies, chopped
1-inch knob of ginger, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Place all the ingredients in a blender, add enough water to make a smooth paste, and blend.
Pour the ground masala over the chopped carrots and potatoes and let stand for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp oil in a saucepan. Add the whole spices-- cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mace, and bay leaves-- and saute for a minute. Add the drained rice. Saute until the rice starts to turn opaque, about a minute.
Add the vegetable stock and when the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and cook 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Heat all of the remaining oil (you should have just under a tablespoon) in another saucepan.
Add the vegetables with the masala paste. Saute for about 10 minutes over medium heat until the paste begins to darken.
Add the tomato puree, turmeric, and biryani masala. Mix well.
When the mixture comes to a boil, slap on a tight-fitting lid and cook another 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but not mushy.
Spread the rice in the bottom of an oven-safe pan or in a saucepan with oven-safe handles.
Pour the vegetables and gravy on top.
Sprinkle on some red and yellow food color, if desired. (I don't typically use food colors when making biryanis, but this time I really wanted that restaurant look and flavor. For a more subtle color, use a mix of turmeric and saffron. Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of water or soymilk before sprinkling).
Cover with some foil and, if using a saucepan, the lid.
Cook in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let stand 10 minutes. Biryani always tastes better the next day, when the flavors have had a chance to mingle.
With a fork, mix the gravy and the rice together. Serve hot.