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
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 10
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

Vangyache Bharit

I haven’t yet posted an eggplant recipe this summer despite my obsession with this incredible vegetable, and here’s the story why: I planted half a dozen eggplant seedlings this year, but being the slow-learning gardener that I am, I planted them a little too late. It was only a week ago that I finally started seeing tiny, bulb-like eggplants sprouting, and they are still too small to be picked. At the same time, I’ve been deluged by other veggies from my garden and have been trying to resist buying more from the market simply because I have no room to store any more.

Then this week my neighbor, Heather, offered me a beautiful purple eggplant she got from her CSA. I grabbed it, brought it home, and as I cut blissfully into its succulent flesh I realized just how much I had missed the little fellow.

Since it was a weeknight and I was running short on time, I decided to do what my mom did in a hurry: make Vangyache Bharit, a Maharashtrian-style mashed eggplant dish whose more popular north Indian version, Baingan Bharta, is often found in restaurants here.

While I love Baingan Bharta, I have a special place in my heart for Vangyache Bharit which is a very different recipe, despite the similar sounding name. Baingan Bharta is made with a cooked tomato-based sauce and is spicier, while Vangyache Bharit is creamy and tangy and mellow with yogurt and requires no cooking other than roasting the eggplant. Which in turn makes it a perfect dish for a hurried meal.

Besides, it’s perfect comfort food, reminding me of times long gone and never forgotten.

There are many versions of this dish, including some that add tempering at the end, or add ginger and garlic and other spices or condiments, but I prefer to stick with this super-simple version that I find the most delicious, not least because it allows the eggplant’s subtle but amazing flavor to shine through

Enjoy, all!
Vangyache Bharit

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant, slit in half. Place in an oiled, oven-safe pan, cut side down, and roast in a 400-degree oven for 25-30 minutes. (My mom would roast this directly on the open flame of the gas stove, but I use a toaster oven which is perfect for this. If a knife pierced through the center slides in easily, it is thoroughly cooked and ready. Remember, half-cooked eggplant will be bitter and tough and will turn you off this delightful vegetable forever, so don’t take shortcuts here).

1/4 cup shredded coconut (I use pre-shredded coconut from Whole Foods because that’s all I get here, but freshly grated coconut would be wonderful).

1/4 cup soy yogurt (it works beautifully in this dish as a replacement for regular yogurt)

2 green chillies, minced

1/4 cup packed mint or coriander leaves, thinly shredded

1/2 medium onion, finely minced

1 tsp roasted cumin powder (optional)

1/4 tsp red chilli powder (optional– don’t add if you don’t like too much heat because there’s already some from the green chillies)

Salt to taste

Scoop the flesh of the roasted eggplant into a bowl. It will be golden brown and really tender. Mash with a fork until you don’t have any large lumps.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.

This is perfect with any spicy dal-rice combination or with biryani. I also love to just scoop it up with a chapati.

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

Baghare Baingan


I gave up cooking with non-stick pots and pans a long time ago. I am a gal who likes stuff to be low-maintenance and safe, and non-stick pans, it seemed, were neither. You had to be ultra-cautious in cleaning them, and if you got a scrape, heaven forbid, unwanted chemicals could leach into your food.

But non-stick pans do, of course, serve a valuable purpose: you need less oil to cook your food which is important in our health-aware world. And some foods, like a stir-fry, for instance, are better off cooked in non-stick pans. Of course, I never cooked in a non-stick pan that was 100 percent non-stick, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I decided to give up non-stick pans, I was in a dilemma. My sturdy stainless steel pots and pans were good enough for most every day cooking, but with low-fat stir-frys, for instance, I did feel the need for a surface that was slicker and more forgiving.

That’s when I read a newspaper article on cast-iron pans. This was almost a decade ago, but that article so impressed me, I still have it — yellowed and fraying– in my kitchen cabinet. I prize it not so much for the information any more, which I have almost by heart, but for the fact that it marked a significant milestone in my kitchen routine.

In India, tavas, or flat griddles used to bake chapatis and such, are usually made with cast iron. But until I read this article, that was the extent of my knowledge about cooking with cast iron.

When seasoned, the article said, cast-iron pans made great non-stick pans one could fry, saute, stir-fry and cook just about anything in.

So the next time I went to the market, I picked myself a cast-iron skillet.

It was metallic-gray and I don’t think it cost me more than eight bucks at the time, which was a steal compared to most good-quality non-stick pans. The article had details on seasoning the pan, which sounded really strange and really odd to someone who had never done anything like it before, but I gave it a go.

Then, I tried cooking in my cast-iron pan. It was a disaster.

Everything stuck to it, didn’t come off, and tasted funny. Still, I wasn’t about to give up. One of the most magical things about cast-iron pans is, they are supposed to improve with use. And so I continued to season my pan and used it only to do oily stuff like deep-fry at the beginning. Gradually, my cast-iron pan began to get that prized black, shiny hue and smooth texture that turns it into a naturally non-stick pan.

Now, I have an assortment of cast-iron pans in all shapes and sizes (except a dutch oven. Desi, are you reading?), and I use them all the time for everything from making pancakes to curries to veggies and, of course, to deep-fry.

I couldn’t be happier. They look great, clean easily (forget all those stories about never washing your cast-iron pan. I do it all the time, sometimes even with soap, and it’s never hurt them), and they are supposed to add iron to your food which is great when you are a vegan like me. You do need to take some precautions, like not putting them away when wet (I usually just put mine on the stove after washing and wiping to make sure all the moisture is gone), and you also need to season them a little more frequently when they are new.

This ode to cast-iron pans was just the precursor to this delicious stuffed-eggplant dish that I wanted to share with you, and which I cooked, surprise, in a cast-iron skillet.

Baghare Baingan is a dish from Andhra Pradesh, in South India. It’s very close to Bharleli Vangi, or Bharli Vangi, which is a dish I often ate growing up at the home of Maharashtrian relatives, but has some differences that make it quite unique.

This dish typically uses a lot of oil, but I cut it down quite a bit. You do need the small, round Indian eggplants for this, usually available in Indian grocery stores if you happen to live outside India. These smaller eggplants have a more delicate flesh and skin, and they are the perfect size for stuffing.

Here’s the recipe.

Baghare Baingan

Ingredients:

About 10 small round eggplants, washed and stemmed. Make two slits, crosswise, on the non-stem side, stopping short of making a clean cut, so the eggplant holds together at the base.

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp sesame seeds

2 tbsp peanuts

1 tsp poppy seeds (khuskhus)

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi seeds)

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp tamarind pulp

1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1-inch piece ginger, chopped

6 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 sprig curry leaves

1/4 cup canned (or thick) coconut milk

Salt to taste

Roast the onions on a dry cast-iron or non-stick skillet until they soften and brown spots appear. Remove to a blender.

Roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fenugreek seeds and peanuts until they start to change color and smell fragrant, about a minute or two on medium heat. Add to the blender.

Now add the ginger, garlic, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, sugar, salt and coconut milk to the blender.

Blend until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Now stuff this paste into the prepared eggplants.

Heat the oil in a cast-iron or other skillet.

Add the curry leaves, stir for a minute, and then add the eggplants one by one, placing them away from you so the oil doesn’t splatter on you.

Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes or until the eggplants begin to soften.

Now add the remaining paste and 3/4 cup of water.

Bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, to ensure all sides of each eggplant get cooked.

The dish should be done when the eggplants are tender enough to be pierced through with a fork, and when specks of oil have risen to the surface.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves

This dish tastes best with hot phulkas or chapatis.

Enjoy!

As eggplants fill the summer vegetable market and garden, you can find some more of my favorite eggplant recipes here.

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

Creamy Roasted Eggplant And Tofu Dip

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A reader once called me an “eggplant freak” (in a nice way, of course :)) because of how often I cook with this wonder veggie, and I completely agree.

I love eggplant, it is very likely my most favorite vegetable, and I think that when it’s cooked well, there isn’t another veggie that comes anywhere close.

Eggplant’s also one of the reasons I look forward to summer. I grow some of my own, but I also find all sorts of amazing varieties at the farmer’s market, from tiny white, green or purple eggplants to streaked eggplants to skinny Japanese ones.

For this super-delicious, super-easy and super-healthy dip I am sharing today, I used just your regular old bulbous purple eggplant– the one you can find in any supermarket grocery section.

I seasoned and roasted the eggplant first, and then just gave it a whir in the blender along with some silken tofu and a few spices. Scoop it up with crudites, pita bread or even tortilla chips. Delicious.
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Vegan Roasted Eggplant and Tofu Dip

1 large eggplant, cut in half, placed on a baking sheet.

Slice 4 cloves of garlic very thin. Now make slits in the eggplant and slide the garlic slices into it. Take care not to leave the garlic exposed in the oven because it will burn. You can roast the garlic separately, but I think this really helps infuse the garlic flavor into the eggplant.

Drizzle the eggplant with a mixture of 1 tsp olive oil + 1/4 tsp red chilli powder + 1/4 tsp turmeric (optiona) and salt to taste.

Bake the eggplant in a 350-degree oven for about 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center slides in easily. Set aside to cool, then scoop out the flesh from the skin and place it in a blender.

Add to the blender:

1 package silken firm tofu

1 tbsp grated ginger

1/2 cup packed mint leaves

2 tbsp lemon juice

Salt to taste

Add between 1/4- 1/2 cup of soymilk to the blender to help give the dip the consistency you’d like. I made mine rather thick, as you can see.

When the dip is quite smooth, check for salt and add more chilli powder if needed.

Enjoy!

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