Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday - The 21st Century Housewife's Vegetable Biryani

This is more an ode to biryani than a proper authentic version - I am no expert on Indian cuisine and any dishes I create are highly flavoured with my own experience and my family’s tastes. This dish, however, does have echoes of the vegetable biryani I have eaten in Indian restaurants and a wonderful warming and comforting flavour that is perfect for cool autumn nights.

My family and I do like spice, but in its milder, more subdued form, so if you are a spice lover, the quantities of in this dish may seem small. They can, of course, be increased, although I recommend increasing them proportionately (ie. use the same amount of cilantro as garam masala, and half as much cumin) as the flavours really do sing out beautifully in those proportions. Saffron can be expensive, so if you would prefer not to use it, feel free to leave it out. However if you do have some on hand it definitely enhances the flavours in this dish so is well worth including. It also adds a gorgeous hint of colour to the cauliflower and to the rice.

You can vary the vegetables in this dish according to what you have on hand, although cauliflower is almost always a part of a vegetable biryani so I encourage you to use it if at all possible. Make sure your vegetables are cut small, and that florets are kept small too, so that it does not take too long to cook. Again, this isn’t strictly authentic, as many biryani dishes are cooked long and slow, but I like the subtle crunch it gives this dish.

My method of adding some of the rice to the vegetable mixture at the end is definitely something you would not find in a true biyani, but I like the texture and appearance it gives to this dish. However if you prefer, just keep all the rice separate and serve the vegetables over top of it.

Lovely served with a basket of warmed nan breads on the side if you can get hold of them, this recipe will serve four to six people, depending on age and appetite.

2 cups of rice, basmati if possible
2 tablespoons olive oil, or other mild vegetarian cooking oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup green beans
½ cup cashew nuts
¼ to ½ cup vegetable stock
(You can use hot water in a pinch, but stock is best - ready made or from a cube is fine.)
1 teaspoon curry powder (I use garam masala)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried ground cilantro (known as coriander in the UK)
2 pinches of saffron
freshly chopped cilantro or parsley to garnish, if desired

Cook the rice in lots of boiling salted water according to package directions, adding a pinch of saffron to the cooking water if desired.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion over medium heat until pale and translucent. Toss in the carrots, cauliflower and broccoli florets and stir fry for a few minutes.

Dissolve another pinch of saffron in a quarter cup of the vegetable stock (if you are using saffron). Add the quarter cup of the stock to the pan with the vegetables along with the curry powder, cumin and dried cilantro. Add the green beans. Pop the lid on and cook over low to medium heat for two or three minutes until the vegetables are tender but still crisp.

Remove the lid and add the cashews, stirring to warm through. Drain the rice well and add about a quarter of it to the vegetable mixture in the pan, stirring through lightly. Add a bit more stock if you feel it needs it.

Serve this mixture on a bed of the remaining rice.

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