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Vegan Biryani

  • Author: Liz Madsen
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 14 cups 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


Ultra delicious, Loaded with veggies and packed with flavor, this Vegan Biryani is sure to become a new favorite meal.


Units Scale


  • 3-4 tablespoons grapeseed or soybean oil (see note 1 for oil-free option)
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 7 green cardamom pods (see note 2)
  • 3 black cardamom pods, optional (see note 2)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise (whole)
  • 6-8 cloves (whole)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, sliced (white, yellow, or sweet)
  • 1 green or red chili (or more), finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 inches ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 3-4 cups chopped vegetables (I used cauliflower, bell pepper, potato, carrot)
  • 1 small vine tomato or 2 roma tomatoes, diced (canned is fine, about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain vegan yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro and mint
  • 2 cups Basmati rice (or other short grain rice, brown rice will take slightly longer to cook)
  • 1-14.5 oz can coconut milk (full fat or lite)
  • Pinch of saffron threads, optional, soaked in 1/4 cup water (see note 3)
  • 1 teaspoon rose water, optional (see note 4)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, dried cranberries, or chopped figs (see note 5)

Optional Garnish:

  • Fresh cilantro or mint
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Fried cashews
  • Vegan Raita


  1. Soak 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Soak the saffron: 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.
  4. Saute the whole spices: 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.
  5. Cook aromatics: 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.
  6. Add chopped veggies: Now add the chopped cauliflower, bell peppers, potatoes, and carrots, and saute for 2-3 minutes, again stirring frequently.
  7. Add tomatoes, yogurt, herbs, and spices: 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.
  8. Add the rice: Drain all the water off the rice and spread it in an even layer over the vegetable mixture in the pot.
  9. Mix the liquids and cook the rice: 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.
  10. Add dried fruit and peas: 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 for 10 more minutes or until the rice is fully cooked.
  11. Serve: 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.
  12. Store: 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.


  • Note 1: 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.
  • Note 2: Green and black caradmom pods are different sizes and have different flavors but I like them both.
  • Note 3: 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.
  • Note 4: 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.
  • Note 5: 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.
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: Indian

Keywords: Vegan, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Soy-Free, Sugar-Free, Can Be Oil-Free, Vegan Biryani