I have said this before but it bears repeating: contrary to what you might have been led to believe, a biryani is one of the easiest Indian dishes you can make. Weeknight easy.
You don't have to slog hours over a slow fire to make a delicious biryani. As I showed you in my vegetable biryani recipe, a quick and tasty biryani is very possible using some clever, but not strenuous, multitasking.
And, of course, as you already know if you love Indian food, a biryani is one of the most rewarding dishes you can make: it infuses you, the cook, with a deep sense of satisfaction, and your eaters with awe at this incredible food you just cooked up that they can't get enough of.
For this healthy vegan Dum Aloo Biryani, I combined two of the tastiest Indian dishes: Kashmiri Dum Aloo, a delicious concoction of baby potatoes in a creamy orange fennel and yogurt gravy, and a vegetable biryani.
As disparate as these two dishes sound, they do have a lot in common. Both traditional biryanis and dum aloo are Mughlai dishes, legacies of Muslim invaders who arrived in India hundreds of years ago and helped create a cuisine that was decadently rich and flavorful: a cuisine fit for kings. They are both cooked in the "dum" style, where the ingredients are placed in a sealed pot and allowed to cook over a slow fire so they steam together, absorbing each other's flavors. And a biryani uses many of the same ingredients that a dum aloo does, including yogurt and spices.
There's one more wonderful thing about my dum aloo biryani: I air-fry or bake the potatoes instead of deep-frying them, as is traditionally done. This results in zero loss of taste but it also makes this dish far healthier: rich tasting without the calories. Now that's a win-win.
Why you'll love this Vegan Dum Aloo Biryani
- It's packed with flavor. You have the tasty, spongy potatoes that soak up the deliciously spiced yogurt gravy. These form the base for those delicious, savory grains of rice flavored with saffron and mint.
- It's easy- and quick. The fact that there usually isn't a great deal of chopping and other prep involved in making a biryani is what, to my mind, makes it an easy dish. On a weeknight I usually just have to get my ingredients together and chop a few herbs. In this recipe you do have one extra step--prepping the potatoes--but that's not a difficult nor a long process, as I'll show you.
- It's a one-dish meal. Serve this dum aloo biryani with a vegan raita and you have a complete meal.
- It's kid-friendly. The yogurt sauce is mildly spiced, and kids will love the combination of rice and potatoes. If you're not cooking for kids and you would like to add more cayenne, you can definitely do so.
- Basmati rice. Always use basmati for a biryani. Its long, fragrant grains that stay separate after cooking are integral to the richness and deliciousness of this dish. No substitutions allowed here.
- Baby potatoes or new potatoes. Preferably use the smallest potatoes you can find. Potatoes are usually left whole in dum aloo, but to do that you need potatoes that are pretty small--no more than an inch across. The baby potatoes I found at the market this time were between an inch and a half to two inches wide so I cut them in half, which works perfectly fine. You can use regular yukon or red potatoes as well but cut them in smaller pieces if large. Do not use starchy potatoes like russets in this recipe.
- Vegetable oil. I use mustard oil in this recipe because that's what you'd use in a Kashmiri dum aloo. Mustard oil is not easily found in U.S. supermarkets but you can easily buy it online and in Indian stores. I usually have some on hand since I became smitten with making my own homemade Indian pickles, and it has lots of other uses in north Indian cuisine. If you can't source mustard oil, any vegetable oil (with the exception of olive oil and coconut oil) would work great.
- Whole spices: brown cardamom, green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves.
- Fennel seeds (saunf). A common add to dum aloo, they add distinctive flavor in this biryani. Powder the seeds before using.
- Ground coriander. For lemony freshness.
- Ginger powder. Sonth, or dry ginger powder, is an ingredient that features in nearly any Kashmiri dish, including Dum Aloo.
- Biryani masala (or garam masala). This helps add a lot of flavor, quickly.
- Asafetida (hing). While asafetida is not a typical ingredient in a biryani, it definitely is one used commonly in Kashmiri dum aloo and, like the fennel, helps balance the flavors out in this dish.
- Shah jeera (caraway seeds or royal cumin seeds). This is a key flavor agent in biryanis but if you cannot find it use regular cumin seeds instead.
- Herbs: mint, dill and cilantro. That may sound like a lot of herbs, but when it comes to a flavorful biryani, the more herbs you use the merrier, and tastier, your biryani will be. If you have to leave one of these out, leave out the dill, or use dry versions of dill (and mint). If using dry herbs always scale down considerably in quantity (I'd sub 1 teaspoon of dry herbs for every tablespoon of fresh).
- Vegan yogurt. You can use a storebought yogurt, any unflavored kind is fine, or you can make your own. I have a probiotic vegan cashew yogurt recipe on the blog as well as a recipe for vegan yogurt made in the Instant Pot. I really like the richness of cashew yogurt in this biryani: it creates the silkiest gravy for the potatoes to soak in.
- Kashmiri red chilli powder (or use paprika). Kashmiri red chili powder is very mildly flavored but is supposed to have fiery color that stains the food an appetizing red. The reason I say "supposed" is because the Kashmiri red chili powder I buy at my local Indian grocery store almost never has that great color, so I typically end up using paprika, which also offers great color with mild spice.
- Turmeric. To help create that orange gravy and, of course, for its immense healthfulness.
- Fried onions. I usually buy the Aldi's version of French's fried onions, which is available for a steal at under a dollar a container. You can also buy fried onions at the Indian store, in a plastic packet. This is perhaps the only addition in this recipe that's not a perfectly healthy one, but it's a small compromise and it adds authentic flavor. You just need about a cup altogether and given that this recipe has around 10 servings that's not a lot per serving.
- Saffron. The brilliantly crimson, fragrant stigma of the purple crocus flower that grows abundantly in Kashmir is a mandatory add to any biryani, and it dovetails nicely with the Kashmiri theme here.
- Nondairy milk. Oat milk or cashew milk or almond milk would all work. You just need a little to soak the saffron strands.
How to make Dum Aloo Biryani
An aloo dum biryani is made with potatoes, but it has more of a traditional style biryani gravy. The reason it's called an aloo dum biryani is because it uses the dum style of cooking the ingredients, sealed, in a single pot.
A dum aloo biryani, on the other hand, uses a dum aloo gravy made in the Kashmiri dum aloo style, so it has very different flavors.
Yes, and you can definitely do so, but I am a big believer in leaving potato skins intact when possible because most of the nutrition in a potato lies right under the skin and when you peel them you discard that nutrition with the skin. Baby potatoes are thin skinned and I find that it makes absolutely no difference to the final dish when you leave the skins on.
The potatoes are pricked all over with a toothpick (or fork) so when they cook in the yogurt gravy they soak in all that goodness and turn marvelously spongy and flavorful. It takes just a few additional minutes so don't skip this step. You can always get the kids to help you out!
Good question! I love garlic and you've probably never seen a biryani recipe from me before that didn't feature this amazing ingredient alongside ginger. But you don't need garlic in a dum aloo gravy, and you don't need it in this biryani. It's just as tasty without.
Make-ahead, refrigeration and storage instructions
- You can make the biryani a day ahead. Reheat it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through.
- You can also make the rice and gravy a day or two ahead and assemble and cook the biryani the day you plan to serve it.
- The biryani will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- For longer storage freeze the biryani in an airtight, freezer-safe container. Thaw and reheat before serving.
Vegan Dum Aloo Biryani Recipe
- Large pot with tight fitting lid
- Air fryer or baking sheet for oven
For the biryani rice
For the dum aloo gravy
- 1 pound baby potatoes (halve if the potatoes are larger than an inch and a half each. If you have baby potatoes that around around an inch, leave them whole)
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil (divided. Use mustard oil if you can source it, or use any other unflavored vegetable oil)
- 2 brown cardamom pods (lightly crushed so they open slightly)
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon shah jeera (caraway seeds)
- ½ teaspoon asafetida (hing)
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon ginger powder (sonth)
- 1 cup vegan yogurt
- 1 tsp (or more) paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- ½ cup fried onions
- ¼ cup mint leaves (sub with 2 teaspoon dry)
- ¼ cup dill (sub with 2 teaspoon dry)
- ¼ cup cilantro
- 2 tablespoon biryani masala (make my linked recipe or use a storebought version. If you can't do either, use garam masala)
- Salt to taste
For topping the biryani
- ½ teaspoon saffron strands
- ¼ cup nondairy milk
- 2 tablespoon mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon biryani masala (or garam masala)
- ½ cup fried onions
- Add the saffron strands to the milk and set aside.
Make the rice
- Add 2 cups vegetable stock to the soaked, drained rice along with the green cardamom pods, cloves and salt to taste (the stock should taste slightly saltier than you want the rice to be, once it's cooked).
- Microwave the rice on high for 10 minutes, at which point it should be nearly 90 percent done, with a slight bite to the center. Individual microwaves can vary, so use your best judgement with yours.To cook the rice on a stovetop, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt, cloves and cardamom and the soaked, drained rice. Cook until rice is about 90 percent done, then strain the water out and reserve the rice.
Make the dum aloo gravy
- While the rice cooks, prep the potatoes by pricking each potato all over with a toothpick or the tines of a fork. Place the potatoes in an air fryer basket. You can toss them first in half a teaspoon of oil, which will give you a nicer color, but you can leave the oil out if you'd rather. Air fry 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Halfway through air-frying toss the potatoes so they cook evenly. The potatoes should have a golden-brown crust when done and should still be just slightly raw inside when you bite into one. They will finish cooking in the gravy.To bake the potatoes instead, coat them with ½ teaspoon oil and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 30 minutes or until almost done.
- Heat the oil and add the brown cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, shah jeera, asafetida, ground fennel, ground coriander and ginger powder. Stir-fry for a minute.
- Add the mint, dill and cilantro to the pot and stir to mix. Saute for a minute.
- Add the vegan yogurt along with the paprika and turmeric and give it all a good stir. Add the vegetable stock along with the garam masala or biryani masala and fried onions and bring to a boil.
- Add the air-fried potatoes and stir them into the gravy. Once the gravy comes to a boil lower the heat, cover, and let it cook for five minutes. Check salt and add more if needed.
Put the biryani together
- Keeping the heat at the lowest point, or with the heat turned off, layer the cooked rice over the dum aloo gravy.
- Top the rice with the nondairy milk with saffron strands, fried onions, mint leaves. Sprinkle on some garam masala or biryani masala.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn the heat up to medium-high, and let the biryani cook for three minutes. Turn the heat down to the lowest point and let it continue to cook another 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the biryani stand, undisturbed and without removing the lid, for another 10 minutes.
- Serve hot.
- Try and keep the potatoes warm until you add them to the gravy, which will make it easier for them to drink up the gravy.
- If you'd rather do this the old-fashioned way and deep-fry the potatoes (I can't imagine why), just deep-fry them in hot oil until golden-brown and nearly all the way cooked.