Vegetable Biryani

vegetable biryani

Food spawns traditions– or maybe it’s the other way round. But you get what I mean, don’t you?

Most of life’s biggest celebrations, observations, and events center around food, gorgeous food. Special kinds of foods mark special occasions. Growing up, food was always the centerpiece of just about any day in our lives that was out of the ordinary. Puran Poli for Holi. Modaks for Ganesh Chaturthi. Chavde, Chakali, and Karanjis for Diwali. Shrikhand-Puri for Gudi Padva, the Maharashtrian new year (while most dishes were usually made at home, the Shrikhand was always bought “ready-made” from the bustling, family-owned Vijay Store in Vile Parle which made, unarguably, the best shrikhand ever).

When there was nothing to celebrate, the food alone would sometimes lift a day above mere ordinariness.In my home too, where celebrations don’t necessarily follow the beaten path, a number of traditions have evolved around food and, sometimes, its availability. And many of these delicious celebrations happen in summer.

When I planted my zucchini, for instance, I waited eagerly for the day I could collect enough of its flashy yellow blooms to make my favorite zucchini flower pakoras (I did, earlier this week). Light as gossamer, these have to be eaten to be believed, and they made the day one to cherish and remember.

Also in summer, I wait for the tomatoes to start forming on their delicate green vines so I can make Green Tomato Masial, one of Desi’s favorite foods that I usually cannot cook during the long months of winter because the only tomatoes I can buy here are already ripe. And when else but in summer can I make tons of different dishes featuring eggplants in every hue (you know it’s my favorite veggie)?

One more dish that’s like a tiny celebration in itself is a biryani.

I’ve posted biryani recipes before, and they’re all delicious, but this time I was looking to make a simple vegetable biryani. For inspiration, I turned to the VahChef.

veg biryani

 The VahChef’s biryani is not vegan, so I needed to make some substitutions, like using my “tofu yogurt” instead of regular yogurt, and skipping the paneer (you could add firm tofu cubes). I also ended up making other tweaks to the biryani masala  (he uses storebought masala in the recipe, but I wanted to try making his version of a biryani masala from another of his videos). The masala had some strange ingredients in it, like prunes, which I honestly would never have thought of adding to a biryani masala. But I did, and because the prunes I had were not quite dry, my blender ended up gasping and choking and begging for some water before it could move on. To make a long story short, my masala ended up being a wet one rather than in powder form. But all was well and ended well, and the biryani masala and the biryani were nothing short of spectacular. I also substituted the anardana, or pomegranate powder, with some aamchoor, or mango powder, because the role of the anardana in biryani masalas is to tenderize the meat. And here in Holy Cow world we don’t have to worry about tenderizing dead animals.

So here’s the recipe. Hope everyone’s enjoying the summer. Have a great weekend, all!

veg biryani

Vegetable Biryani
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 10
  • 1 onion, sliced very thin and fried on medium-high heat with 2 tsp oil until quite crispy. Set aside.
  • 1½ cups basmati rice, soaked for about half an hour, then drained
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • ½ cauliflower, separated into  florets
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 small potatoes, cut into a 1-inch dice
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 1-inch each
  • 1 recipe tofu yogurt -- blend half a block of firm tofu with ½ cup soymilk and juice of half a lemon.
  • ½ cup chopped mint leaves
  • ½ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 green chilies, slit down the middle
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • ½ cup cashewnuts, chopped
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • A generous pinch of saffron, soaked in ½ cup of warm water for about 30 minutes
  • 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat 2 cups of water and add to it some salt.
  2. When the water comes to a boil, add the rice. Bring the rice back to a boil, lower the heat, and cook about 4-5 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Be careful not to let the rice stick to the bottom of the saucepan. You want the rice to be mostly -- not all the way-- cooked. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil
  4. Add to it the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and saute for a few seconds. Add the cumin seeds and the ginger-garlic paste and then the veggies-- potatoes, carrots and cauliflower florets.
  5. Saute the veggies for about five minutes, stirring frequently, so they take on a golden-brown sheen.
  6. Add ½ a recipe of Biryani Masala (recipe on the Indian Spice Blends
  7. page), the coriander and mint leaves, green chillies, and the tofu yogurt.
  8. Mix well and cover the saucepan. Allow the veggies to cook until they are almost tender. Add salt to taste and take off the fire.
  9. Spray a thin coat of oil in the base of a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Now take half the cooked veggie mixture and spread it in the bottom of the pan.
  10. Pour out half the cooked rice and spread it on top of the veggies.
  11. Sprinkle the cashewnuts and raisins evenly over the rice.
  12. Add another layer of the remaining veggie mixture, and then the remaining rice.
  13. Sprinkle the saffron water on top, cover the pot with a lid, and place in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
  14. After taking the biryani out of the oven, let it stand, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes.
  15. Serve piping hot!

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

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  1. says

    I love biryani and am looking forward to preparing this meatless dish. The photos add to its appeal.
    Should I open the cardamom pods and just use the seeds inside? I think as a pod it will not get dispersed properly if I don’t.
    Is that a purse in the picture?
    Sorry to be so inquisitive.
    Thank You.

  2. says

    the biryani looks all spicy and perfect!.. reminder to self to put some biryani in next week’s menu!
    a nice write up too..
    our big family get togethers were all about food.. all the greasy punjabi rajma, pulao or parathas.. and the super human sizes of the lassi glasses.. which the kids would never finish. come to think of it.. i never liked the lassi much.. so i can still have a vegan rajma. pulao and paratha celebration! Hope you are having a great summer!

    -Richa @ Hobby And More Blog ,
    Hobby And More on Facebook

  3. says

    Biryani looks so delicious.. Adding prunes to the masala is quite interesting and I’m sure it made the biryani yummy.
    Enjoy your weekend.

  4. says

    Deepti, Divya, VegSpinz, Thanks!

    Anthony, use the whole cardamom pod– the flavors do get absorbed by the rice. Even the skin has tons of flavor, and the pods soften and open up when they are cooked. And yes, that is a tiny little purse that I got at the bridal shower for my dear friend, Margo. :)

    Richa, your family get-togethers sound like fun, with all that food! And yes, isn’t it great so many Indian foods are already vegan– all one has to do sometimes is hold the ghee.

    Pavani, thanks! I was surprised by the prunes too, but I think they do add that special something. Now I’m a believer. :)

  5. says

    soo true..its amazing how we associate festivals with food! Any number of biryani recipes is never enough as each one has something new thats great in it. Nice adaptation of the recipe to vegan.

  6. says


    I was looking for an excuse to go back to shop at Indian stores and markets in downtown Lisbon, and here it is! – this looks delicious!! I’m gonna try it!
    terrific pics as well – I’m feeling hungry ;-).

  7. says

    This is the one dish I have not ventured to try after turning vegan…thats about 4 months, only cos I didn’t know what to substitute for the yogurt which is so essential to the recipe. Now I know what I am making Sunday! YAY! Thanks.

  8. Pinky says

    i have a question for you As A Beginner in cooking…

    Why is this cooking procedure different from the ChickenFreeBiriyani(CFB)… here the Rice n Veggi mixture is cooked in a Pre-heated Oven where as the CFB is cooked on stove top ?? does it make a Big Difference…

  9. Shefali says

    Hi Vaishali,
    I’m a new reader to your blog and I can’t get enough of your recipes! I would like to make this recipe with brown rice if possible…do you have any suggestions on how to do this?

    Many Thanks!

  10. Hannah says

    Hi Vaishali!! This seems as good a place as any to ask my question (cos it’s the post that came up when I searched anardana) – I got some today and wonder if you have any recipes with it or know any good ones. I saw Sanjeev kapoor has a Pindi Chole any chance you’ve tried that? Thanks!

    • says

      Hannah, Anardana is great in almost any Indian recipe– it adds the perfect tang but at the same time the flavor is deep and sweet, not just sour, the way lemon is. You can mix it up in paratha stuffings or add it to, as you found out, chana masala. I have not tried Sanjeev Kapoor’s Pindi Chole but as a long-time fan of this great chef I can vouch that it would be amazing. Have fun!

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