Mushroom Biryani

Mushroom Biryani

The other day, as the fragrance of my easy and quick Mushroom Biryani filled the kitchen, I was back for a moment in my aunt’s kitchen in Bombay.

Akka, my dad’s sister in whose Vile Parle home I spent many wonderful summers as a girl, was at the stove, frying up the onions for her mutton biryani in a small Indian wok, known as a kadhai. My cousin Tai was sitting on the cold, red, cement-tiled floor at an adoli, a cutting implement often used in Indian homes instead of a knife, cutting coriander leaves into lacy fronds with a deftness I have never mastered. A plane closing in to land at the Santa Cruz airport just a couple of miles away drowned out, for a moment, the sounds of gods alternately battling and pontificating on my uncle’s favorite Sunday morning television show, Mahabharat.

Akka passed away last year, and it’s been a long time since I’ve physically been in my hometown, Bombay. But the food I cook in my kitchen often takes me back, like a time machine, to her and into other long-lost corners of the past.Mushroom Biryani

The smell of cumin sputtering in oil reminds me of the swell of excitement I felt the first time I visited Delhi along with other students in my class at journalism school. We were about to start the most exciting trip of our lifetimes thus far. We were going to meet leaders of top political parties, visit the pink-marble building of the Indian parliament, and explore the capital city. I don’t remember many details of the central government dorm we were staying at, after a day and night’s train journey from Pune, but the overpowering scent of burnt cumin floating atop a dal that we were served for dinner is seared forever in my memory.

The scent of turmeric in a curry reminds me of the lunch I ate at the US Embassy in London, along with journalists from around the world on a fellowship. The curry we were served was nice enough although really heavy on the turmeric. But what was even more memorable was the American diplomat who shared our table. He had somehow gotten a dab of butter on his forehead and as the meal progressed the butter slowly melted and ran down his face and his nose, even as he talked vigorously, completely oblivious to the butter and to the inadvertent entertainment he was providing the rest of us (we weren’t being cruel– we just didn’t know how to tell him).

Rolling a paratha reminds me of the first recipe I ever cooked for Desi– an Aloo Paratha. Each time I make parathas now, he reminds me, to this day, that he nearly starved that afternoon as he waited for me to turn out one that was fit to eat.

Among all the things food is, it is a wonderful reminder of the paths our lives have taken. Its effect is certainly not strong enough to shape lives– unless you happened to choose a career in food, perhaps– but it often becomes a delicious marker for life’s milestones. The best part is, it doesn’t even really have to be delicious to be memorable, although that doesn’t hurt.

What are the foods that mark the milestones of your life? I’d love to hear.

I adapted my recipe today from the Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s version of a low-fat fish biryani. I love biryanis– who doesn’t?– but as anyone who’s made one knows, it is not the stuff of weeknights. When I saw Kapoor’s recipe I was thrilled because it appeared really easy to put together. You just mix everything in a pot, no separate sauteing for each ingredient required, and there’s definitely no grinding and blending involved. It doesn’t get any better for my time-strapped kitchen.

I made a few changes, besides the fish which I substituted with the mushrooms. I also subbed the yogurt– an ingredient that adds a little extra something to any biryani– with coconut milk. And for good measure, I threw in a few handfuls of green salad leafies that had been sitting around in my fridge and weren’t looking too, ahem, lively. You can add other vegetables to this recipe as well, like bell peppers or carrots– anything that doesn’t take ages to cook. If it does, precook it before adding it to the biryani.

One of the best things about this recipe is, it has no added fat (there is some fat in coconut milk and in the fried onions, if you choose to use those, but no added oil). So in addition to being delicious and easy to make, this biryani is also good for you. And how can you argue with that?

So here’s the recipe for an easy, low-fat Mushroom Biryani, a flavorful, delicious, and vegan treat for any weeknight or weekend meal. It is good enough to mark one of life’s milestones.

Enjoy, all!

low-fat biryani
Mushroom Biryani, Low-Fat
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This easy and healthy mushroom biryani takes just minutes to put together and is a great alternative when you want something fancy but nutritious for weeknights.
Recipe type: Rice, Main
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 cup Basmati rice. Soak the rice for 30 minutes and then wash thoroughly to remove as much of the starch as you can.
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 pods of green cardamom
  • 2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • For the sauce:
  • 4 cups chopped mushrooms. Quarter the really large ones and halve the smaller ones.
  • 2 cups of quick-cooking leafy greens (don’t use kale or collard which take a long time to cook. Spinach, lettuce, chard are all good).
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaping tbsp garam masala or biryani masala. If using biryani masala, you may want to cut back on the cayenne because these masalas can sometimes be really spicy.
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp cayenne or paprika
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ cup coriander leaves, minced
  • ¼ cup dill or mint, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup fried onions (optional, but these are always a key ingredient in biryanis because they give great flavor. You can use French’s or the ones you can buy in a packet at the Indian grocery store)Method:
  1. In a saucepan, place 1 cup of water, the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. Add salt to taste.
  2. Pour in the drained rice and place over a medium fire. When the water starts to boil, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and then turn down the heat to the lowest setting.
  3. Let the rice steam for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  4. Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. Turn on the heat and saute until the mushrooms are almost cooked.
  5. Pour the cooked rice over the mushroom mixture and spread into an even layer.
  6. Sprinkle the top with a little coconut milk, if you desire
  7. Cover and let the biryani cook on a low flame for about 15 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat and let the biryani sit for another 15-20 minutes for the flavors to merge.
Serve the biryani hot by itself or with a light curry, like my Tomato Curry.**If you haven’t entered the giveaway for the Rotito rolling board set that I announced last week on this blog, you are not too late. I plan to announce the winner later this week, no later than Friday, so until I do you are welcome to enter. See the post for details on how to enter. Good luck!(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Thayir Sadam or Curd Rice

Vegan curd riceSome of you might wonder why curd-rice should merit a post of its own, but to understand that, to misquote Atticus Finch, you’d have to wear a South Indian’s shoes and walk around in them.
Curd, or yogurt, and more specifically curd-rice, is mighty important stuff to a South Indian. When my in-laws visit, they are happy enough to drink their coffee with soymilk and they love the vegan sweets I make, including dairy-free Indian sweets. But when it comes to curd-rice, they just have to have the real thing — at every meal. I remember a Tamil friend’s father who, no matter which part of the country he was traveling in and how hungry he was, would refuse to eat at a restaurant unless he could order curd-rice.

Not surprisingly then curd-rice is often the last barrier that stands between a South Indian vegetarian and a vegan life — just like cheese is what keeps many people here in the United States from taking the plunge. One of the most frequent queries in my mailbox, perhaps THE most frequent, is for a vegan substitute for curd-rice.When the reader is in the United States, it’s usually an easy answer: soy yogurt, which is quite easily found in grocery stores here and which I use when I want to make curd-rice.

But soy yogurt is not available in India and, honestly, not everyone has it on hand at all times.I’d been wanting to test a curd-rice recipe with tofu — which is more readily found almost anywhere in the world now– but I was only really motivated last week when I got a query from a mom who said her daughter can’t eat yogurt because of food allergies. “Recently she has started noticing that mommy and daddy eat rice with curd, so why cant  I? It’s hard to explain to a 2 yr old!” she wrote. I typed off an email to her suggesting tofu, but then I realized I had taken the easy way out: after all, I couldn’t really vouch for a recipe with tofu as a substitute for yogurt unless I had actually tried it, could I?


So I did, and it turned out so good that my Tamil hubby, Desi, who is not a vegan and does love his curd-rice, said he couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, he said it was better than any curd-rice he’d ever tasted. This is the more elaborate version of curd-rice: it takes just a few seconds longer to make because you need to add to it a handful of tempered spices and nuts which make it absolutely ethereal.

My vegan version of curd-rice is also healthier because tofu has none of the cholesterol that curd does, and it is also chock-full of protein.

Here’s the recipe then, for all curd-rice lovers out there who want to be compassionate without depriving themselves. Curd-rice goes particularly well with eggplant. Try this with a dry, roasted eggplant curry or with an eggplant-green-pepper gotsu, like the one I made.


Vegan Curd-Rice (Thayirsaadam)
This delicious and vegan version of dahi rice or curd rice will make you a true convert.
  • 1 cup rice, cooked
  • For the tofu yogurt:
  • 1 12-oz package of silken firm tofu (if you can’t find silken tofu, just use drained, soft tofu)
  • ¾ cup soymilk
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • For the tempering:
  • 1 tsp canola or sesame oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  • 1 tbsp udad dal (black gram dal)
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • A generous pinch of asafetida
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until you have a very smooth paste. Set aside. (If you like your yogurt too sour or too sweet, you will want to adjust the amount of lemon juice. My measurement is for the “just right” version.)
  2. Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the mustard seeds and when they crackle, add the asafetida and the red chillies.
  3. Immediately add the udad dal and the peanuts. Toast on a low flame until the dal and peanuts start to turn lightly golden-brown.
  4. Add the curry leaves and ginger to the skillet, mix, and immediately turn off the heat.
  5. Place the rice and tofu yogurt in a large bowl and pour the tempering over the top. Mix well.
  6. Add more salt, if needed.
  7. Enjoy!
(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.


Adai is a golden rice and lentil dosa
Adai was one of the first foods I tasted in my Tamil mom-in-law’s kitchen. It became an instant favorite. Unlike its simpler but yummy counterpart, the plain old dosa, an Adai is a star, hiding complex flavors beneath its lovely, golden skin.It is also, in my opinion, a little more fun to cook because it lets you play around quite a bit with the ingredients so you can make your own special version suited to your own special tastes. To my Golden Delicious Adai, I added ginger, curry leaves, onions and cabbage, and the results were amazing. Spinach or other leafy greens would also work very well here.Now while a traditional Adai tends to be thicker than a dosa, Desi doesn’t really like it that way. He loves everything thin and crispy. So my Golden Delicious Adai tends to be thinner and crispier than usual- a crepe, rather than a pancake. I ground up the cabbage and onions along with the rice and dal, instead of just chopping them and mixing them into the batter at the tail end, to make it easier to spread the adai on the griddle in a super-thin layer.So without further ado, here it is in all its mouthwatering glory, my Golden Delicious Adai. Enjoy!
Cook time
Total time
Cuisine: South Indian Tamil
  • 1 cup rice
  • ¼ cup chana dal or bengal gram
  • ¼ cup udad dal or black gram
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage leaves
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • About 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1-2 green chilies
  • A pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
  1. Soak the rice and the dals in water for at least 2 hours. Then grind to a fairly smooth paste in a blender. The consistency should be slightly grainy but not unlike that of a regular pancake batter, thin enough to spread on a hot griddle but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  2. Once the batter has acquired the right consistency, add to the blender the ginger, onion, cabbage, green chillies, curry leaves, chili powder, turmeric, salt. Process for about a minute or so until the cabbage and onion have broken down into small but still discernible bits. Remove the batter to a bowl and add the chopped cilantro.
  3. Heat a griddle (cast-iron or non-stick) until drops of water spashed on it’s face sputter away immediately. Smear evenly with a thin layer of oil.
  4. Take about ½ cup of batter in a rounded ladle. Pour into the center of the hot griddle, then, with a quick, concentric motion, spread the batter into a round as thinly as you can. Don’t worry if it leaves gaps. You can fill them in with drops of batter.
  5. Pour a few drops of oil around the edges which will help crisp up the adai further.
  6. When the underside turns golden-brown, flip the adai and cook the other side for about a minute.

Serve the adais hot with coconut cilantro chutney or just a dollop of vegan spread. Either way, it’s delicious!

I am sending this as my entry to Weekend Breakfast Blogging: Healthy Eats, hosted this month by Suganya of Tasty Palettes. Thanks, Meera, for pointing me to it!

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