Thursday, 15 November 2018

Banarasi Vegetable Biryani ~ My Biryani Trail


I sat holding the hands of my Bua (paternal aunt) tightly, on the steps of the ghats of Banaras, looking into her eyes filled with love for me. I didn't want to let go of her hands let alone her entire being. I continued to take in every bit of her, from her smile, to her words to her scent, to her touch, in desperation, trying to cling on to them for eternity. I was only 12 but I could feel the pain in my young heart, pain of accepting that this might me the very last time I would ever see her. Bua was suffering from terminal cancer & we all had made that one last long train journey to Derhadun to meet her, spend time with her and say our final goodbyes.


She had expressed her desire to travel to Varanasi / Banaras & those were our final moments spent with her. She left this world for her onward journey a month after that day on the ghats of Banaras. Today when I sit here in solitude & reflect on those penultimate moments, that I had spent with her, now very distant yet vivid, I can still feel a sadness tug my heart. Another memory of Bua which never fails to return back to me time and again is that of her delectable food. Even in our final visit, though not well, she insisted at being present in the kitchen to oversee what the cook was cooking. Frail, with not much strength left, she would lie next to the dining table as we ate, taking about each dish with childlike fervour. 

Oh I so miss her. Sharing one of her dishes with you, my favourite from her repertoire of fantastic dishes, Banarasi Vegetable Biryani. I sometimes wonder if there is any connection between this dish and her last moments with me, don't really know. This dish is native to Banaras and I spent my endmost time with her in Banaras on the banks of the Holy Ganges, sitting by her side on the steps leading to the Ghat.

Also this dish might stir up a debate and open up the Pandora's box again with many saying that there is nothing called a Vegetable Biryani. I totally accept this side of the theory, as whatever I have read  in books or discussed with Biryani connoisseurs or aficionados, food historians, Biryani is meant to be cooked with meat & is a non~vegetarian dish. I would gently like to put forth that as true as this is, it is also true that Biryani which originated in Persia & travelled to India with the Mughal rulers have undergone many modifications over time. Also Biryanis in Different parts of the Indian Sub~continent, have incorporated spices indigenous to that region. For example coconut is never an ingredient used in Biryanis, but some region which have abundant coconuts, have included it in Biryani.

So it would only be fair to accept that even vegetables can be included as a part of the modification which has taken place, numerous times from the dish of inception. Well you might say then why should you call it Biryani & not coloured rice? My answer to this is, Vegetable Biryani will be cooked using the same technique, same spices, aromatics, herbs, flower extracts, dry fruits & nuts etc. just like the non~vegetarian one. However meat will be replaced with vegetables. I truly hope I am sounding convincing, but if you disagree, I will surely respect that. As for me I think even the vegetarian palate needs to taste this excellent one of a kind dish, so I would not refrain from making a VEGETABLE BIRYANI.

The Banarasi Vegetable Biryani contains assorted vegetables and cottage cheese / paneer cooked in yogurt and khoya / milk solids before being layered with fragrant rice and cooked on Dum, topped with a selection of dry fruits and nuts. Let's quickly have a look at the ingredients used in making Banarasi Biryani.


Banarasi Vegetable Biryani Recipe ~

Author ~ Piyali Sekhar Mutha
Serves ~ 4
Cuisine ~ Indian / Banarasi / From Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)\
Type ~ Main Course / Biryani / Rice Dish 
Time ~ 15 Minutes Preparation + 45 Minutes Cooking + 30 Minutes Soaking the Basmati Rice

Ingredients ~

For Vegetables & Paneer Gravy ~

2 Tbsp Oil or Ghee / Clarified Butter
2 Medium Onions, sliced
2 Inch piece Ginger, grated or 1 1/2 Tbsp Ginger Paste
8 Cloves Garlic, grated or 1 Tbsp Garlic Paste
4 Green Chillies, grated or 1 Tbsp Green Chilli Paste 
1 Small Cauliflower, cut into medium sized florets
1 Large Potato, cut into medium sized cubes
1 Carrot, cut into medium sized cubes
1/2 Cup Green Peas, fresh or frozen
200 Gms Paneer, cut into medium sized cubes
1 Cup Yogurt / Dahi
1 Tsp Turmeric Powder
1 Tbsp Red Chilli Powder
2 Tbsp Coriander Powder
1 Tbsp Cumin Powder
1 Tsp Garam Masala Powder
2 Tbsp Khoya / Milk Solids
Salt to taste

For Making Biryani Rice ~

2 Cups (1 Cup = 250 Gms. approximately) Basmati Rice
6 ~ 8 Cups Water
4 Green Cardamom
1 Star Anise
2 Bay Leaves
4 Cloves
1 Inch Cinnamon Stick
1 Tbsp Whole Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Ghee / Clarified Butter
3 Tbsp Salt

For Special Spice Powder Mix ~

1 Tsp Shah Jeera / Shahi Jeera / Black Cumin 
2 Petals Mace Flower / Javitri
1/2 Nutmeg / Jaiphal
1 Black Cardamom

For layering and garnishing Banarasi Vegetable Biryani ~

1 Tbsp Special Spice Powder
1 Tbsp Khoya
2 Tbsp Coriander Leaves
2 Tbsp Mint Leaves
2 Tbsp Deep Fried Onions / Birista
1 Tbsp Cashew-nuts
1 Tbsp Pistachios
1 Tbsp Raisins / Kishmish
1 Tbsp Almonds
1 Tbsp Dried Figs / Anjeer, chopped
2 Tbsp Rose Water
2 Tbsp Saffron Water
Dried Rose Petals (optional)
1 Tbsp Ghee / Clarified Butter

Cook Banarasi Biryani With Me In Easy Steps ~

STEP ~ 1

* Soak the Basmati Rice in water after washing thoroughly with water for 30 minutes.

* Cut the Vegetables, herbs, aromatics etc.

* Deep fry the onions, nuts & dry fruits.

* Take all the ingredients listed under "For Special Spice Powder Mix" in a grinder. Grind into a smooth powder.

* Take 6 tbsp water in a pan. Add a few crushed between the palms of your hands Saffron strands to the water. Bring to a boil. Remove from flame, keep aside.


STEP ~ 2

For Cooking the Vegetable & Paneer Gravy ~

* In a pan take Oil or Ghee, throw in the sliced Onions. Fry till golden brown.

* Add the Garlic, Ginger, Green Chilli paste or freshly grated. Fry till raw smell disappears.

* Throw in the cubbed Potatoes. Cover & cook till the potatoes are 30% done. 

* Now add Cauliflower florets & Cubbed Carrot. Cover & cook for 2 minutes not more.
NOTE ~ Don't cook a single minute more as the vegetables will break when we put on dum.

* Mix Turmeric, Red Chilli, Cumin & Coriander Powder to the yogurt. Add this to the vegetables in the pan. Mix well & cook for a minute.

* Add Paneer / Cottage Cheese Cubes, Green Peas, Khoya, Garam Masala. Mix all. 

*Add salt to taste. Simmer for a minute or till the Khoya melts. Keep aside.

STEP ~ 3

For Cooking Biryani Rice ~

* Take a pan, add water. Add all the ingredients listed under "For Making Biryani Rice" except the Basmati Rice. Bring to a rolling boil.

* Drain the water out from the Biryani rice. Add the rice to water. Cook till rice is 70% done.

* Drain all the water out and spread the rice out on a large plate to stop it from cooking. You can handpick and discard the whole spices, if you don't like them falling into your mouth while eating. I always do that.

STEP ~ 4

For Layering And Garnishing Banarasi Vegetable Biryani ~

* Take a large pan. Brush a little Ghee / clarified butter at the bottom of the pan.

* Spread a layer of the rice, exactly half the rice, leaving the other half for the top layer. 

* Now spread the Vegetable & Paneer Gravy over the rice layer.

* Next again add the remaining rice over the Vegetable & Paneer Gravy.

* Add rose water to the rice.

* Add saffron water to one side of the rice. We want both white and saffron coloured rice.

* Add chopped Mint & Coriander leaves.

* Add Khoya, nuts, dry fruits, Clarified butter, rose petals.

* Seal the pan with an aluminium foil. Tightly cover with lid.

STEP ~ 5

* Place a griddle / tava on the flame. Place the Banarasi Vegetable Biryani pot on the griddle / tava. Dum cook on high flame for 10 minutes. Simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Don't open the aluminium foil till you are ready to serve.