Ultra delicious, Loaded with veggies and packed with flavor, this Vegan Biryani is sure to become a new favorite meal. Surprisingly easy to make, this delicious Indian-inspired dish is healthy and nutrient dense without compromising on taste.
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Hey Internet, Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines and yet I don’t have much of it on the blog yet.
But this vegan biryani is special, in that it’s not a curry, it’s a rice dish. It actually makes rice the star instead of the side dish. And I LOVE rice.
This dish is also LOADED with veggies, spice, and flavor. It’s so incredibly good, versatile, and it makes so much food.
And, those leftovers? The flavor gets better in the days that follow.
Plus, I've made this great Raita to go with it too!
If you can’t finish it, biryani freezes very well, and if you freeze it in individual portions, you’ll have a bunch of “frozen dinners” ready for months afterward.
Or, you can feed a small army--I know some of you have told me you have enough family members living with you to be considered a small troop!
But Liz, that’s a lot of ingredients…
I know, I know. BUT it’s also a lot of flavor.
For one thing, you can go to a local Indian market or an online spice store like The Spice House and buy the whole spices, then freeze or otherwise store those, and then it doesn’t seem like as many ingredients.
You can also use fewer veggies or only the ones you have on hand.
Finally, you’re welcome to omit what you’d like--many of the ingredients like saffron and raisins are just flavor enhancers, not necessarily things that will make or break the recipe.
That being said, I highly recommend you use everything because oh my gosh, it’s like a flavor explosion, or better yet a flavor symposium. Indeed, every component works together to create this amazing dish that’s full of … deliciousness, for lack of a better word.
Ok, I digress. Let’s jump into the recipe.
What You’ll Need
In the order we’ll use everything in…
- Grapeseed or soybean oil: Or another high heat oil. There’s really no way around this if you want to use the whole spices that are so recommended and traditional to biryani. This infuses so much flavor into the rice. IF you really can’t eat oil, here’s what I recommend: in a small pot, simmer the spices in vegetable broth for 30-40 minutes, strain the broth, then add it in place of some of the water when we add the rice. It’s not exactly the same, but it could definitely help for those who really can’t have any oil.
- Whole spices: Like I said above, the whole spices are a hallmark of biryani tradition and they really add so much warmth and flavor to this dish. I used bay leaves (giant ones you’re likely to find in Indian markets), a cinnamon stick, star anise, green cardamom pods, black cardamom pods (optional--they have different flavors but I like them both), cumin seeds, and cloves. Now a word about cloves. I HATE cloves. I have a strong aversion to them--can’t even smell them up close. Seriously, I hold my breath when using them. But my research on biryani told me not to omit them. And for real--I can’t taste them in my vegan biryani, just a well-spiced delicious dish. So even if you hate them too, give it a try this time.
- Onion: White, yellow, or sweet onion are fine here.
- Chilies: While not necessary if you dislike spicy food, incorporate a few green or red chilies for good flavor and spice here. Remove seeds if you like less spice.
- Garlic and ginger: Fresh grated garlic and ginger are best here, but use a paste if you prefer.
- Chopped vegetables: Any will work, but I used cauliflower, bell pepper, potato, and carrot.
- Fresh tomato: While canned tomatoes are fine, you don’t need much here (a small vine tomato or 2 roma tomatoes).
- Ground spices: Garam Masala, turmeric, and chili powder (cayenne pepper also fine).
- Sea salt: You’ll need it in two places here, so divide up the amount of salt you’re using and check the instructions. Add more if you think it needs it.
- Plain vegan yogurt: This is traditional and adds quite a bit of delicious creaminess to the recipe. Kite Hill Plain Vegan Yogurt is my favorite, but we also like Forager Project and So Delicious yogurts. In place of this, you could use store-bought vegan sour cream or my homemade tofu sour cream (internal link).
- Fresh cilantro and mint: If you don’t like cilantro, don’t use it. You could use parsley instead if you’d like, or omit. But some types of fresh herbs are really nice in this dish. A quick note: my husband can’t stand cilantro (he has the “it tastes like soap” gene), but couldn’t detect it in this dish and still really enjoyed eating his portions. But if you’re nervous, leave it out and just serve cilantro on the side for anyone who might enjoy it.
- Basmati rice: Other short grain rice is fine too. Keep in mind, brown rice will take longer to cook.
- Canned coconut milk: This also adds a lot of creaminess and flavor to the rice--but it also adds a bit of richness that helps take this side dish to a meal level. If watching calories, canned “lite” coconut milk will also work.
- Optional - Saffron: Pinch of saffron threads soaked in a quarter cup of water -- it’s entirely optional because saffron is quite expensive. But my local Indian market had tiny tins of it for only a few bucks so I got it just to try it and it is delicious. So feel free to avoid it if you’re on a budget.
- Optional - Rose Water: A teaspoon of rose water adds a very nice flavor here, but it’s optional. If you like to make Indian food, definitely get some rose water and keep it around (it lasts a long time), but if not, don’t stress.
- Frozen peas: I just like them. They add a nice subtle sweetness.
- Optional - Dried fruit: It’s traditional to add a little dried fruit--I believe dried cranberries and chopped figs are common. I used golden raisins and they were delicious. They get softened during the cooking process and add a little pop of sweetness to the dish. And this is coming from a person who doesn’t like raisins! But if you prefer, the figs or cranberries will work, as will chopped dried apricots or mango.
- Garnish: A little bit of fresh lemon juice when serving takes this over the top. I’ve noticed that some folks garnish this with fried cashews, and extra fresh herbs. I opted for a bit more cilantro for mine, and my husband snatched his bowl away from me and said NO to more “soap herbs.”
How to Make Vegan Biryani
- To make this oil-free: In a small pot, simmer the spices in vegetable broth for 30-40 minutes, strain the broth, then add it in place of some of the water when we add the rice.
- Start by rinsing your rice in a fine mesh strainer and then soak it in a large bowl of water for about 30 minutes It’s important to soak or parboil your rice ahead of time, otherwise the vegetables will overcook while you’re waiting for the rice to soften. f Halfway through the soaking, you can start the other things cooking so that when the rice is thoroughly soaked, you can drain off the excess liquid and just add it straight to the pot.
- Prep work: While not necessary, I highly recommend chopping your vegetables, measuring out your spices, and pulling out the rest of the ingredients while the rice soaks but before you start cooking. Even if you feel pretty confident in the kitchen (like I do), it’ll take much more of the stress off the cooking especially when there are many ingredients like this recipe. I wish I’d done that the first time I cooked this, but I did it for every subsequent test and it made it so much easier.
- If using, soak the saffron by just adding it to the quarter cup of water in a small bowl and mix it around with a fork for a few seconds. It will infuse into the water and you can dump the contents in coconut milk later.
- When the rice has about 15 minutes left of soaking, start the cooking process. Add the oil to the pot and heat it over medium high heat until it’s hot. Carefully add in the whole spices: bay leaves, cinnamon stick, star anise, green cardamom pods, black cardamom pods, cumin seeds, and cloves. Stand back--they may pop and oil might spray a little. Cook the spices in the oil for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently to keep them from burning.
- Add the onions and chilies and cook 2-3 minutes until somewhat translucent, stirring frequently. Then add the garlic and ginger and saute for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Now add the chopped cauliflower, bell peppers, potatoes, and carrots, and saute for 2-3 minutes, again stirring frequently.
- Next, add the tomatoes, vegan yogurt, chopped cilantro and mint, the turmeric, Garam Masala chili powder, and half of the salt. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes.
- Drain all the water off the rice and spread it in an even layer over the vegetable mixture in the pot.
- Mix together the coconut milk, the other half of the salt, the rosewater (if using), and the saffron water mixture (if using). Pour the mixture evenly to the pot, starting around the inside edge of the pot. Then add the water on top so everything is covered. Reduce the heat to medium, cover with a lid, and cook for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid, add the raisins and peas and mix well--according to some recipes I saw, some people do not mix the whole thing but I’ve found it helpful to do so. If the rice has absorbed all the liquid you can add a bit more at this point, but every time I made this mine still had plenty at this point. Put the lid back on and cook 10 more minutes or until the rice is fully cooked.
- Allow the biryani to rest a few minutes, then add fresh lemon juice if you like. You’re done! Serve immediately. If you’d like, garnish with more cilantro, mint, and/or fried cashews. I skipped the cashews but definitely added more cilantro to my portion and left it off my husband’s.
- Refrigerate leftovers up to 5 days in an airtight container. The flavors get better for a few days afterward! Especially the saffron if you used it. You can also freeze the biryani for up to 3 months in a freezer safe container. Just let it cool for a half hour before freezing.
More Super Flavorful Vegan Dishes
Love flavor? Me too. Here’s some of my favorites.
- Vegan Scallops with Garlic Butter Sauce and Pasta
- Vegan Carbonara
- Tofu Adobe
- Vegan General Tso’s Chicken
- Vegan Paella
- Cajun Pasta
- Vegan Drunken Noodles
As always, I hope you love this recipe--I know I do, and Mr. Zardyplants does, too.
This Vegan Biryani is:
- Super flavorful
- Savory with little pops of sweet
- A little creamy
- Spicy if you want it to be
- And perfect for an impressive dinner, meal prep, or anytime you just want something REALLY good.
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!