Vegan Chicken Biryani

vegan chicken biryani
I don’t cook with meat substitutes often but sometimes I like to experiment because I know many vegans do enjoy them. Both because they offer tons of healthy protein without the fat usually found in meat, and because they simulate the texture of meat.

The secret to cooking with meat substitutes is to infuse them with tons of flavor– or else they end up tasting like, well, substitutes for the real thing and that defeats the purpose of it all.

For my Vegan Chicken Biryani I used seitan, a wheat-based protein that’s got a really chewy texture and that’s quite popular even with some lacto-vegetarians I know. My memory of seitan was for a long time tainted by a dish I once had at a popular vegetarian restaurant here in the DC area. The dish was called “Kale Infinity” and as the name suggests it was packed with an infinite amount of almost-raw kale and flavorless slices of seitan.

Despite my adamant refusal to waste food, I am ashamed to say I did end up throwing most of that mess into my compost heap.

So when I decided to try my biryani with seitan, I wanted to make sure I put into it as much of a punch as I could pack. Which was not difficult because there are so many dashing and brilliant flavors you can add to a biryani.

It was perfect, and for the first time I can stomach seitan again. Joyfully.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
vegan biryani

Vegan Chicken Biryani
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A very authentic tasting vegan chicken biryani with seitan as a meat substitute.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
  • For the rice:
  • 1½ cups of long-grain rice like Basmati
  • 2½ cups water or vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • A bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • Add the spices to the water, bring it to a boil, then add the rice and bring back to a boil.
  • Lower the heat, cover, and allow it to cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
  • For the gravy:
  • 1 8-oz package of seitan
  • ½ block of silken tofu
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, miced
  • 1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves and stems
  • 2 green chillies
  • ¼ red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp garam masala powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander for garnish
  1. Place the tofu, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, chopped onion and coriander leaves in a blender and grind to a fairly smooth paste.
  2. Drain the seitan and place it in a bowl. Pour the tofu-ginger-garlic marinade over it and toss with a spoon till all the pieces are thoroughly coated. Set aside for at least an hour.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the sliced onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden-brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove half the onions to a bowl and reserve. To the remaining onions, add the garam masala, turmeric and chilli powders and stir well for a few seconds. Add the tomato puree.
  5. Saute until the tomato turns darker and begins to express oil.
  6. Add the seitan along with the marinade, stir together well, bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes or until the flavors have merged well. Add salt to taste.
  7. Take the cooked rice and gently spread it on top of the gravy in an even layer.
  8. Close the skillet with a tight-fitting lid, ensure the heat is still turned to low, and allow the biryani to cook another 10 minutes. If you like some additional color in your biryani, mix 2 tbsp of soymilk with a few strands of saffron or a generous pinch of turmeric and sprinkle on top of the rice before putting on the lid.
  9. Turn off the heat and allow the biryani to stand at least 10 minutes before opening. Garnish with the fried onions you had reserved and the coriander leaves. I also love sauteing a few cashew nuts and raisins in a smidgen of oil until the raisins are plumped up and the nuts golden, and then sprinkling them on top of the biryani for a fabulous final touch.
  10. Enjoy, all!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    This looks really good! :) I love biryani, but since going veg, I haven’t ever tried the dish with any sort of meat substitute–just veggies. I’m glad you liked the seitan this time around. I had some textural issues at first, but when done just right, it can be pretty tasty!

  2. says

    ooh very nice, Vaishali! The rice looks perfect.
    Do you it will work with something like Nutrela (soy chunks)? I can never get them to catch the flavor of the sauce though, could you?

  3. says

    Great header Vaishali! Chickfree. :-)
    That biryani looks perfect to the t … every single grain separate and every single layer visible. Awesome! :-)

  4. says

    That looks delicious. I usually make my own seitan, next time I’m going to use Indian spices to flavor the seitan and use that in this dish.. yummmmm..

  5. says

    Very interesting briyani with seitan….this looks like the normal nonveg version and much tastier too…super spicy and delicious Vaishali…I am going to try this :)

  6. says

    I like biryani with meat subsitute, done with soy crumble and taste exactly like meat! Seitan-i didn’t cook yet, looks and sounds delicious too!

  7. says

    Chitchat, Parita, Tiffany, Peteformation: Thanks!

    Skay, you can try this with the soy chunks, but I agree that the chunks never seem to absorb the flavors well enough. I don’t think they’d be very appropriate for the biryani for that reason. When I make a vegan “beef” stew, I sometimes season the soy chunks with some pepper and salt and dredge them in flour and then saute them until browned, just like one would with the meat. That does improve the texture of the soy chunks and makes them more “meaty.” Also, since the stew is more liquidy, the longer they sit in the stew, the more flavor them seem to absorb.

    Sharmila, thanks! Desi, my witty husband, came up with it :)

    Pavani, that’s wonderful that you make your own seitan. I want to try it too with the recipe from VWAV.

    AMA, stock adds great flavor to any dish, giving it that long-cooked taste without the long cooking. Do try it in curries and biryanis– and, of course, soups.

    Gita, thanks dear– hope you’ll try it.

    Latha, Cham: thanks!

  8. says

    Oh my! That biryani looks perfect. Where can I get Seitan? will common grocery stores carry it or does it have to be from a specialty store. I live in the DC suburbs too (VA) so i’m hoping you buy at a chain that I have in my neighbourhood :) Thank you.
    Btw, I love the name – cute!

  9. says

    YUM! I love seitan SO much. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find vital wheat gluten in ages, so we’ve had to go without. Grrr! But once I get my hands on some this will be one of the first things I make. It looks DELICIOUS!

  10. says

    Nostalgia, Thanks!

    Laavanya, in the DC area you can find it at any Whole Foods market– I am sure you must have some in Northern Virginia.

    Gulmohar, Thanks!

    Zengirl, Thanks! I felt the same way about seitan suntil I tried adding all the flavor, and then I changed my mind :)

    Uma, Thanks!

    Indhu, this marinade would work with tofu, but try and freeze the tofu first which changes its texture and makes it more spongelike and therefore more likely to absorb flavors. Use firm or extra-firm tofu. One word of warning, though, if you use it for a biryani: tofu doesn’t have a texture as strong as seitan and likely it will just crumble into pieces.

    Voracious, Thanks!

  11. Anonymous says

    Yum! Your biryani looks better than the ones served at restaurant here.I have never tried Seitan before but will give it a try soon.


  12. Gayathri Bhandarkar says

    Made this yesterday! Another awesome recipe!! LOVE it!! You did a good job getting the seitan to really absorb some flavor!


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