Vegetable Biryani with Chick Peas

Biryani is what my hubby might to refer to as rice-with-bits. Whenever I ask him “what shall we make for lunch?” he invariably says “rice with bits!” He loves rice-with-bits. The best Biryani I’ve tasted was at Benares  restaurant in Madrid. It’s delicate flavours inspired me to come up with a vegan version for the Zen River kitchen.
The vegetables are interchangeable so feel free to use carrots instead of sweet potatoes; broccoli instead of cauliflower; red bell pepper instead, or with, red onions etc. The secret after all is merely in the sauce that binds them.
The ingredient list looks a bit long-winded but once you get the hang of it the world of rice-and-bits might just be your oyster. If you’re in hurry, try substituting all the spices for a few tablespoons of hot curry paste. Garnish with fresh coriander, however be careful not to mince it too fine or it’s signature flavour will be lost.

Tip: It will be quicker and easier to make if you measure all the ingredients and spices first (a bit like how they always do on cooking shows and you tube tutorials).


200 g (1 cup) white basmati rice
2 bay leaves


200 g (1 large) sweet potato
250 g (about ⅓ of a head) cauliflower
1 medium red onion
3 cloves garlic
25 g ginger
250 g (1½ cups) cooked and drained chickpeas (about one can)
75 g (½ cup) green garden peas, fresh or frozen
A few sprigs coriander (cilantro)
4 tablespoons toasted coconut

Curry Sauce

135 ml (½ cup +1 tablespoon) coconut milk 
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons jaggery or brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
Oil, ghee or butter for frying

Whole Spices for the Curry Sauce

3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon anise seeds
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
12 cardamom pods, crushed with peel removed

1 cinnamon stick

Ground spices for the Curry Sauce

½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon garam masala


  • Measure the rice, put it in a colander and rinse well. Transfer the rice to a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak for thirty minutes.

  • Peel and mince the ginger and garlic.
  • Peel and medium-dice the onion.
  • Peel and medium-dice the sweet potato.
  • Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. 
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C if baking in the oven.

Curry Sauce

  • In a small frying pan heat a tablespoon of oil or ghee on a low-medium flame. Add the whole spices for the sauce and stir to coat them with the oil. Cover with a lid, shake the pan now and then and fry until the mustard seeds stop spitting and the cinnamon sticks unfurl, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
  • In a stew pot, add another tablespoon of oil or ghee, put in the onions and fry until they brown. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until they both release their fragrance. Next, put in the coconut milk, tomato paste, palm sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and chick peas. Simmer for a minute to marry the flavours. Turn off and stir in the reserved roasted spices and ground spices. Salt to taste. Cover to keep warm.


  • Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the sweet potatoes and return to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes or until tender. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and combine them with the curry sauce.
  • In the same pot, drop in the cauliflower and return to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute. Drain well. Combine with the curry sauce.
  • Add the green peas.


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1½ liters (1½ quarts) of salted water.
  • Drain the soaked rice and put it into the boiling water. Stir and return to a boil. Turn the flame low and simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until the grains are cooked aldente; they should be tender on the outside with a thin core on the inside.
  • Drain the cooked rice through a colander and let it rest for a minute so that the water can drain.

Combine and Steam

  • STOVE TOP: Alternatively, put the sauce and vegetables in the bottom of a stew pot, scatter the rice on top in an even layer and with cover with a heavy lid to trap the steam. Set on a low flame for about ten minutes being careful not to let it burn.
  • IN THE OVEN: Spread the curry sauce and vegetables on the bottom of an oiled oven dish.
  • Scatter the rice over the curry sauce in an even layer. Seal the top with a sheet of aluminium foil by gently pressing it down over the rice so that no steam can escape.
  • Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
  • To serve, fold the rice so that some of the vegetables and sauce come to the surface. Be careful not to break the rice grains.
  • Roughly chop the coriander leaves and sprinkle on top with toasted coconut.
  • Serve with mint yogurt and chutney.

Tip: If you like the taste of fresh coriander, you can also add some through the sauce before baking.

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