For the vegetable layer
Heat oil, add jeera followed by laung, green ilaichi, black ilaichi, tej patta, dalchini, star anise and whole red chilliies. When the whole spices become fragrant, add ginger-garlic-green chilli paste and some chopped onions. Sauté till light brown. Add vegetables of choice (cauliflower, red & green bell pepper, carrots, beans, peas, mushrooms etc). Bhuno, for 4-5 minutes till they are about half cooked. Add puréed tomato, salt, red chilli powder, dhania powder( freshly roasted and coarsely ground) along with 2 tbsp of yogurt and a tbsp of cream. Cook till the masala in the vegetables, reduces and veggies are almost done…but still have a slight bite. At this stage you can also mix in some lightly seared and seasoned paneer if you like. Keep aside.
For the onions
Thinly slice onions, sauté in a little oil on medium low heat till light brown, keep aside.
For the saffron milk
Immerse a few strands of saffron in half cup warm milk and let soak for 15-20 minutes. You may also add some raisins and thinly sliced blanched and peeled almonds to the milk if you like.
For the nuts
Heat ghee, lightly fry some cashew nuts, keep aside.
For the rice
Bring water to boil along with a hefty pinch of ground green ilaichi. Add washed and drained rice, salt and a squeeze of lime. Cook till almost done, but the rice grain has just a little bite. Drain the rice and spread out in a shallow dish. Gently mix in 2 tsp ghee. You can also adjust salt at this stage.
Assembling the Biryani
Grease a Dekhchi with a liberal coating of ghee. Spread a layer of rice. Sprinkle some onions, followed by some saffron milk and some dry pudina powder. Top with a layer of the mixed vegetables. Repeat layers till you use up all the rice and vegetables, with the top most layer being that of rice. Sprinkle the top of the assembled Biryani with the fried cashews, pudina powder, saffron milk and a drizzle of some warm melted ghee. Place a tight fitting lid on top of the Dekhchi. Seal sides of lid with some dough. Place on preheated Tawa on low heat for 25-30 minutes. Alternatively you can assemble Biryani in a baking dish. Seal with foil and bake in a 350 F oven for half an hour. Serve hot with mint Raita!
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