5 aromatic biryani recipes, from classic chicken to vegetable and paneer

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A one-pot meal of rice, meat, and aromatic spices, biryani is a dish that never lacks in flavour. From southern India to Singapore, travel through Asia via these delicious recipes. 

While we’re all eagerly counting down the days until we can venture out and enjoy a meal in a restaurant, the reality is that we still need a diverse slate of meals to pull us through the last of lockdown. We’re talking simple, one-pot dishes that can restore our willpower in just one spoonful; dishes like biryani. 

Although commonly believed to have originated in India, biryani – a fragrant, one-pot dish made from meat, rice and spices – actually travelled to south Asia by way of the Middle East. There are three main styles of biryani: pukka, where rice and meat are cooked separately then steamed together; kacchi, a method where raw meat and rice are cooked together, and dum, in which parboiled rice and raw meat are layered and slow-cooked over a low flame so the rice absorbs the flavour of the curry bubbling beneath. 

It’s the latter which is used to create hyderabadi, the pièce de resistance of biryanis that originated in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. 

Just like pilaf, there are a dizzying array of biryanis to be found across southern Asia – from the fish and shrimp recipes common in coastal regions, to the chicken, goat and mutton dishes that are more popular inland. Countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines have also created their own distinctive version of the dish. But while ingredients may differ in subtle ways, every bite of biryani is always suffused with flavour. 

While it’s true that there are a number of steps to making a biryani, the recipe is actually fairly straightforward: once you’ve got everything in the pot, you can put your feet up and let it do its thing. So, if you’re in need of culinary inspiration, we’ve five authentic recipes for you to recreate at home. 

For a simple midweek dish, Anjum Anand’s kutch chicken biryani delivers all the same comfort as your favourite curry – while her Hyderabad-style chickpea biryani puts a vegetarian spin on the traditional meat-based dish.

Dan Toombs’ kacchi lamb biryani, meanwhile, is a slow-cooked dish inspired by a Brick Lane curry house. His vegetable and paneer dum biryani, on the other hand, ticks several boxes: speedy, aromatic and packed with greens.

Lastly, when you’ve a little more time on your hands, Sasha Gill’s jackfruit biryani is a beautiful southeast Asian-inspired dish that makes use of the dum cooking method for layers of intense flavour. Try to resist taking the lid off to peek – come dinnertime, the clouds of steam are so worth it. 

  • Hyderabad-style chickpea biryani

    Hyderabad chickpea biryani recipe
    Anjum Anand's Hyderabad-style chickpea biryani recipe

    Anjum Anand says: “Biryani is one of India’s most elegant and elaborate party dishes, and Hyderabad is well known for her meaty version. The original biryani was made with lamb, but this soon extended to chicken when it gained popularity (much later), or seafood in coastal regions. Vegetarian biryanis were created for impoverished royalty in some states, but also to cater for India’s millions of vegetarians. 

    “This version is as delicate as any other biryani, where the rice is as important as the protein. Serve with a raita and, if you want, a vegetable side dish. I like to serve this with pan-fried aubergines with seasoned Greek yogurt and topped with pomegranate seeds, coriander and mint leaves.”

    Serves 6

    Ingredients

    For the rice:

    • 400g basmati rice
    • vegetable oil, as needed
    • 2 tbsp ghee
    • 5 cloves
    • 5 green cardamom pods
    • 2.5cm cinnamon stick
    • 1 dried bay leaf
    • 2 small onions, thinly sliced
    • salt
    • 750ml water

    For the chickpeas:

    • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
    • 4 tbsp plain yogurt
    • 2 small onions, finely chopped
    • 1 good tsp finely grated root ginger
    • 4 large garlic cloves, finely grated
    • ¼–½ tsp chilli powder
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 2 tsp garam masala (fresh if possible)
    • 2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • 3 tbsp chopped mint leaves
    • 3 tbsp chopped coriander

    To finish:

    • large pinch of saffron threads
    • 4 tbsp hot milk
    • 20g unsalted butter, cubed
    • large handful of store-bought crispy fried onions and chopped coriander, to serve

    Method

    Put the saffron in a small cup with the milk and soak while you get on with the dish. Make the rice. Wash it really well in several changes of water, or until the water runs clear. Leave to soak.

    Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil and the ghee in a large, heavy-based, lidded pan. Add the whole spices and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the onions and ½ tsp salt and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, then increase the heat and cook until golden.

    Drain the rice and add it to the golden onions. Stir well over a high heat to dry off any water and coat the rice in the oil for 2–3 minutes.

    Pour in the measured water, taste and season well. The water should taste a little salty, or the rice will be a bit flavourless. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat right down. Cook undisturbed for 6 minutes, then taste a grain; it should be nearly or just done. Take off the heat and set aside, covered, for 5 minutes. Spoon on to a large plate so it doesn’t overcook. Set the pan aside for the final assembly.

    For the chickpeas, blend together the tomatoes and yogurt. Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in a large pan. Add the onions with a good pinch of salt and cook until really soft, then increase the heat and cook until properly golden. Add the ginger and garlic and cook gently for 40–50 seconds. 

    Add the ground spices and a splash of water and cook until the water has evaporated. 

    Add the blended tomato mix and cook over a highish flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to the boil and then reduces to a thick paste. Reduce the heat a little and cook until the paste darkens. 

    Add the chickpeas and enough water to come halfway up the chickpeas. Return to the boil, taste and adjust the salt.

    Simmer for 5–6 minutes. Add the mint and coriander, and season for a final time. There should be some liquid in the pan; if not, add a little boiling water, or reduce if needed, until you have a watery curry.

    To finish, place half the butter cubes in the pan. Cover with half the rice, then drizzle with half the saffron milk. Pour over the chickpea masala and top with the remaining rice, saffron and butter. Cover tightly with a lid and cook over a really low heat for 20–25 minutes or until steaming. Scatter with crispy onions and coriander.

    From I Love India: Recipes And Stories From Morning To Midnight, City To Coast, And Past To Present by Anjum Anand (£20, Quadrille), out now

  • Kacchi lamb biryani

    lamb biryani recipe
    Dan Toombs' kacchi lamb biryani recipe

    Dan Toombs says: “The simple stir-fried biryanis served at most curry houses simply don’t compare to this slow-cooked kacchi biryani. I first tried it in 2013 at Sheba on Brick Lane in London. It was so good I had to get the recipe! This is my take on their delicious and hugely popular dish.”

    Serves 6-8

    Ingredients

    • 3 onions, finely sliced and fried, cooking oil reserved
    • 1 leg of lamb, cut through the bone into 12 or more pieces

    For the marinade:

    • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
    • 420g plain yoghurt
    • juice of 2 lemons
    • 2 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped
    • 1 tbsp ground cumin
    • 1 tbsp garam masala
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp ground mace
    • ½ tsp chilli powder
    • 30g fresh coriander leaves, chopped
    • 10g fresh mint leaves, chopped

    For the rice:

    • 2 tbsp sea salt
    • whole garam masala (1 cinnamon stick, 10 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, 1 tbsp cumin seeds)
    • 500g aged basmati rice
    • pinch of saffron threads infused with 300ml hot milk
    • 60g fresh coriander leaves, chopped
    • 20g fresh mint leaves, chopped
    • 6 tbsp melted ghee
    • 1 tbsp rose water
    • ½ tsp ground cumin
    • dried rose petals (optional)

    Method

    Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl with a quarter of the fried onions and 200ml of cooled reserved oil. Add the lamb and rub the marinade into it. Cover and marinate overnight in the fridge.

    To make the rice, when ready to cook, bring 1.5 litres water to a boil in a large pan. Add the salt, whole garam masala and rice, and simmer for 6 minutes. After the 6 minutes, remove half the rice from the water with a strainer and place in a small bowl. Cook the remaining rice for another minute and remove to a second bowl.

    Now spoon about 3 tbsp of the reserved onion oil into a large, heavy-based saucepan and tip in the marinated meat and all of the marinade. Spread the first batch of rice, including any whole spices over the lamb. Cover with half the remaining fried onions and half the chopped coriander and mint.

    Add the second bowl of rice on top and then the remaining fried onions and herbs. Spoon the melted ghee over the top layer, followed by the saffron-infused milk, the rose water and a sprinkle of cumin powder. Scatter some dried rose petals on top, if using.

    Make a soft dough with water and flour and run it around the top of the pan and secure the lid tightly on top. Heat the biryani over a high heat for a couple of minutes. When you hear it simmering, reduce the heat to very low and cook for about 40 minutes. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid.

    After 40 minutes, your kitchen will smell amazing. Take your biryani to the table and unseal the lid. Lift it and enjoy the amazing aroma. Stir the meat from the bottom into the rice about three or four times and serve with your favourite raita.

    Tip

    Ask your butcher to cut your leg of lamb into pieces.

    From The Curry Guy: Over 100 Lighter, Fresher Indian Curry Classics by Dan Toombs (£15, Quadrille), out now

  • Kutch chicken biryani

    chicken biryani recipe
    Anjum Anand's Kutch chicken biryani recipe

    Anjum Anand says: “The Kutch are people from Gujarat. It is a small community and one I only heard about when my brother became really close friends with one of them in university. He often told me how delicious their food was and what a great cook his mum is. I think at some point he even wrote down a chicken curry recipe for me to try to cook… but I don’t think I ever did. 

    “However, in Mumbai I tried some Kutchi food and it is indeed delicate, fresh and fragrant. Their chicken biryani is probably one of their more famous dishes and, while it has a few steps as does any biryani, it is fun and easy to do. You can put the whole thing together in advance and simply heat it through when you are ready. You can also just make the chicken curry separately; it is just as good.”

    Serves 6–8

    Ingredients

    For the marinade:

    • 125g Greek yogurt
    • 30g finely grated root ginger (peeled weight)
    • 10 large garlic cloves
    • ⅓–⅔ tsp chilli powder, or to taste
    • 1 tbsp garam masala (fresh if possible)
    • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 30g coriander stalks and leaves
    • 12g mint leaves
    • 3 tomatoes, skinned if you have time, roughly chopped

    For the biryani:

    • 1kg skinned, bone-in chicken joints, cut into large pieces by the butcher
    • 550g basmati rice
    • 4–5 tbsp ghee
    • 5cm cinnamon stick
    • 2 dried bay leaves
    • 8 green cardamom pods
    • 8 cloves
    • 1 tsp black peppercorns
    • 2 black cardamom pods
    • 1 large onion, finely chopped

    To serve:

    • vegetable oil, as needed
    • 1 medium-large onion, thinly sliced
    • handful of flaked almonds
    • 2 tbsp raisins (optional)
    • 3 tbsp milk
    • good pinch of saffron threads

    Method

    Start with the marinade. Blend together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, garam masala, turmeric, salt, herbs and 1 tbsp oil until smooth.

    Pour into a non-reactive glass or ceramic bowl. Add the tomatoes and the chicken, mix well and leave to marinate as you cook the rice.

    Rinse the rice under several changes of water or until the water remains clear when left in a bowl with the rice. Soak for 15 minutes.

    Heat half the ghee in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the cinnamon, bay leaves, 4 each of the green cardamom pods and cloves and half the peppercorns; cook until the spices puff up a little. Add the rice and sauté in the spiced ghee for 2 minutes. 

    Add 1 litre water and salt to taste (the water should taste well seasoned). Bring to the boil, then cover and cook very gently for 5 minutes. The grains should be only slightly undercooked in the middle. Take off the heat.

    Now for the onion, to serve. Heat up 5cm oil in a very small saucepan. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to blot off the excess oil. Once dry, they should crisp up. Set aside. Remove and reserve the oil (you can use this in cooking for the next few days and it will impart a lovely onion flavour to the food).

    Heat the remaining ghee and 2 tbsp of the onion oil in a large non-stick pan. Add the remaining green cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns and the black cardamom pods and cook until these puff up. Add the finely chopped onion and fry until soft and browning at the edges.

    Then add the chicken with its marinade. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the masala has dried, 20–25 minutes. Stir occasionally.

    Once the moisture has dried up and it has released oil back into the pan, increase the heat and stir-fry the meat in the masala for a few minutes to intensify the flavours. The chicken should be done by now; if not, add a small splash of water and continue to cook, covered, until the chicken is cooked. When done, adjust the seasoning and take off the heat. There should be a little sauce in the pan – it shouldn’t be too dry.

    Heat 1 tbsp more of the onion oil in a small saucepan, add the almonds and raisins, if using, and fry for 1 minute or until the raisins have puffed up and the almonds have browned. Set aside. Rinse the pan out. Add the saffron, stir-fry gently for a minute, then add the milk, simmer for a minute or so and set aside.

    Now you need to layer up the biryani in an appropriate-sized pan or oven dish. You can have as many layers as you like; traditionally it is 5 in total. Choose your pot or dish. Start by spooning in one-third of the rice, then spoon over half the chicken, add the next layer of rice, then the chicken then the last layer of rice. Drizzle over the saffron milk.

    Cover with a tight-fitting lid, making sure nothing escapes the lid.

    Place on the flame, turn the heat up and cook for 2 minutes on a high flame and then 10–15 minutes on a very low flame. (You can also cook this in a preheated 180°C/gas mark 4 oven for 20–30 minutes.)

    When you can see steam under the lid, you will know everything is well heated through. Serve garnished with the fried sliced onions, toasted almonds and raisins, if using.

    From I Love India: Recipes And Stories From Morning To Midnight, City To Coast, And Past To Present by Anjum Anand (£20, Quadrille), out now

  • Vegetable and paneer dum biryani

    vegetable biryani recipe with paneer
    Dan Toombs' vegetable and paneer dum biryani recipe

    Dan Toombs says: “To make a fragrant biryani in this way, you need a pot with a very tight-fitting lid. If you don’t have one, cover the pot tightly with foil, then put the lid on top. 

    “This is a delicious biryani that is great served on special occasions. Lift the lid at the table and enjoy the fantastic aroma as the steam fills the room.”

    Serves 8

    Ingredients

    • 370g basmati rice
    • 4 star anise
    • 10 black peppercorns
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 tsp salt

    For the sauce:

    • 2 tbsp ghee
    • 2 star anise
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds
    • 3 cloves
    • 1 onion, finely chopped
    • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
    • 50g each of broccoli florets and aubergine (cut into small cubes), carrot (roughly chopped), baby potatoes (cut into thirds), peas and green beans (cut into small pieces)
    • 250g low-fat Greek yoghurt
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (more or less, to taste)
    • 1 tbsp garam masala
    • 200g paneer, cut into small cubes
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • a good pinch of saffron
    • 125ml hand-hot low-fat milk
    • 20g coriander, finely chopped
    • 20g mint, finely chopped
    • 1 onion, sliced and caramelised (optional)

    Method

    Place the rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Swirl it around in the water until it becomes cloudy, then drain. Repeat this process until the water runs almost clear. Cover the rice with water again and soak for 30 minutes, then drain.

    Bring 1½ litres of water to the boil with the star anise, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick and salt and tip in the soaked rice.

    Simmer the rice for about 6 minutes until it is almost cooked through but still a bit hard. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

    Now make the sauce. Melt 1 tbsp of the ghee in a large saucepan that is just big enough to hold the rice and sauce. Toss in the star anise, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and cloves and let these spices infuse into the ghee for about 30 seconds. 

    Stir in the onion and fry for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and ginger paste. Stir it all up to combine and cook out the rawness of the garlic and ginger for about 30 seconds.

    Add the vegetables and fry for about 3 minutes, then add the yoghurt, turmeric, chilli powder and garam masala. Cook for another minute, then stir the paneer into the sauce. Remove from the heat and season with salt and black pepper. Transfer two-thirds of the sauce to a bowl.

    In a cup, stir the saffron into the warmed milk. Add the remaining tbsp of ghee to the saffron/milk mixture. Now cover the remaining sauce in the pot with one-third of the rice and top with some of the coriander and mint, some low-fat caramelised onions (if using) and drizzle with one-third of the saffron/milk mixture. 

    Repeat with two more layers. Place the lid back on the pot and steam over a low–medium heat for a further 20 minutes. To serve, stir it all up at the table and dig in.

    Note

    This biryani is delicious and moist just as it is. However, I can highly recommend serving it with pickled pearl onions and/or cucumber raita. 

    From The Curry Guy: Over 100 Lighter, Fresher Indian Curry Classics by Dan Toombs (£15, Quadrille), out now

  • Jackfruit biryani

    jackfruit biryani recipe

    Sasha Gill says: “While the origins of biryani can be traced back to Persia or India, dum biryani is a variation that is especially popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It involves layering the rice and curry in a large pot, then scattering it with herbs before sealing it and letting it cook in its own fragrant steam.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 250g basmati rice
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 cardamom pods, crushed
    • ½ cinnamon stick
    • 3 cloves
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 15g chopped mint
    • 15g chopped coriander
    • 4 tbsp plant milk
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric

    For the fried onions:

    • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 large white onion, sliced
    • 45g sultanas
    • 40g cashews
    • ¼ tsp salt

    For the curry:

    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 large white onion, sliced
    • 5 cardamom pods, crushed
    • ½ cinnamon stick
    • 5 cloves
    • ½ tsp chilli powder
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 1 bay leaf
    • ¼ tsp black pepper
    • 2 large tomatoes, pureed, or 125ml passata
    • 1 chilli, very finely chopped
    • 130g vegan yoghurt
    • 140g frozen peas
    • 155g chopped carrots
    • 150g sliced green beans
    • 1 x 565g tin young green jackfruit, prepared (see below)
    • 375ml vegetable stock
    • 1 tsp salt

    Method

    After draining your tin of young green jackfruit, rinse it well in a sieve under cold running water – this helps to get rid of the slightly sweet jackfruit flavour. After rinsing, cut away the tough core of each piece of jackfruit, then shred the remaining flesh into something resembling pulled pork. Discard all the seeds and seed pods.

    Place the rice, bay leaf, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves and salt in a saucepan with 625ml water. Bring to the boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer until the rice is three-quarters cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and spices, and set the rice aside.

    Now for the fried onions. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and fry the onions until wilted and lightly golden, stirring constantly to prevent them from burning. This could take up to 10 minutes, but watch them closely. 

    Add the sultanas and cashews and continue to fry until the cashews start to brown, about 5 minutes. Tip out onto a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.

    In the same saucepan, make the curry. Place the pan over medium heat, add the oil and fry the onion until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add all the spices, together with the bay leaf and pepper. Stir to coat the onion in the spices, then add the tomatoes and chilli. Let it bubble away until the tomatoes have thickened slightly and are saucy, about 4 minutes. 

    Stir in the yoghurt, all the vegetables, jackfruit, stock and salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the carrots and beans are three-quarters done – they should still be slightly crunchy.

    Now it is time to layer your biryani. This works best in a heavy-bottomed flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, but a large saucepan will also do the trick. Spoon the curry into the base, then spread the rice out evenly on top, flattening it down as best you can. 

    Sprinkle the fried onion mixture over the rice, then scatter over the mint and coriander leaves. Mix the plant milk and turmeric together and drizzle it over the top, dying patches of the rice yellow – this will create a beautiful marbled effect later. 

    Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over low heat for 7–10 minutes, by which time the rice should be lovely and tender. Serve piping hot, garnished with coriander and mint if you like.

    Note

    Instead of the vegan yoghurt in this dish, you could use soured soy milk: place 2 tsp of lemon juice in a 125ml measuring cup and top up with soy milk. Set aside for about 15 minutes to let it curdle.

    From Jackfruit and Blue Ginger: Asian favourites, made vegan by Sasha Gill (£18.99, Murdoch), out now

Photography: Martin Poole; Kris Kirkham; Sasha Gill

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.