A biryani may be the ultimate indulgence, food-wise, but truth is that it can also be transformed into a super-healthy– and decadently delicious– weeknight dish. All you need to work that magic is your imagination. My vegan Quinoa Biryani with Kala Chana has all the flavor of a traditional biryani because it has the same spices and flavor building blocks– with important modifications to the two main ingredients, the rice and the meat. The rice is replaced by nutty quinoa, a wonder food and one of the best sources of vegan protein, and the meat is replaced by kala chana, a smaller, darker version of a chickpea or garbanzo bean that you can find at any Indian store. Kala chana has more flavor and texture and it holds more firmly after cooking, compared to a chickpea. All of which makes it a wonderful meat substitute in this Quinoa Biryani. And being a legume, it’s also packed with protein, of course.
You can substitute chickpeas in this Quinoa Biryani. Be sure to cook your chickpea to a slightly al dente texture instead of letting it get too mushy. And don’t forget to rinse your quinoa thoroughly before you cook it to get rid of the saponin, a bitter coating that covers and protects each grain until it’s ready for you to eat.
You will notice that there is no cayenne in this recipe, nor green chillies. The reason is that I used storebought biryani masala which tends to already have chillies added and can be very, very spicy. If you’d like your Quinoa Biryani eye-watering hot, feel free to add some cayenne pepper along with the turmeric.
Spring is my favorite time to make biryanis because it’s still cool enough to stand over a stove, and the garden is already running amuck with leafy, verdant mint– an absolute must in any biryani. Don’t forget to pick handfuls to add to this one.
Vegan Quinoa Biryani
- For the quinoa "rice":
- 1½ cups quinoa, rinsed thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer
- 3¼ cups water
- 1 1-inch stick cinnamon
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 2 cloves
- Salt to taste
- For the kala chana sauce:
- 1 cup kala chana. Soak overnight, rinse and cook in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop until cooked but still firm. For the stovetop method, place the rinsed chana in a pot with at least two inches of water covering the chana. Bring to a boil, cover, slap on a lid, and cook until tender. Check regularly and add water if the chana gets dry. It should cook in about an hour. Honestly, a pressure cooker's much faster and you can also usually skip the soaking, so get one already.
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 3 cloves
- 1-inch piece of cinnamon
- 1 tsp shahjeera
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, very finely grated or put through a garlic press
- 1-inch knob of ginger, finely grated
- ½ cup tomato puree
- 1 tbsp coriander seed powder
- 1 tbsp biryani masala (available online or at any Indian store)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ cup coconut milk
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup fried onions (you can buy these in a packet at any Indian store. Fried onions might appear dispensable, especially to the health-conscious, but make the effort: they add a certain flavor to biryani that you cannot replicate with another ingredient. And since this biryani makes at least eight servings, they don't add many calories in a single serving).
- ¼ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
- ¼ cup finely chopped mint
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- To make the quinoa rice, place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and let the quinoa cook until it has absorbed most of the water.
- Lower the heat to low, slap on a tight-fitting lid, and let it cook another 10 minutes. Let the quinoa stand while you prepare the rest of the biryani.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot.
- Add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the shahjeera, stir, and then add the onions.
- Saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are browning at the edges.
- Add the ginger and garlic, stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the turmeric powder, biryani masala, and coriander seed powder. Stir again to coat the spices with the oil, and then add the tomato puree.
- Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, and then half of the fried onions, coconut milk and lemon. Add the mint and coriander leaves. Stir.
- Add the drained, cooked kala chana. Stir together and let it all come to a boil. If the mixture is too dry, add some of the stock from boiling the kala chana. You want a thick gravy.
- Reduce the heat to low. Now fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork so the grains separate. Pour over the kala chana masala in an even layer, using a ladle to help spread it evenly.
- Sprinkle the quinoa with the remaining fried onions. Put on a tight-fitting lid and cook over a low flame for 15 minutes.
- Let the biryani stand at least 15 minutes before serving. While serving, make sure you dig all the way to the bottom of the pot with the ladle to get a good mix of the quinoa and the masala.