Vegetarian Biryani with Curried Creamy Tomato Sauce

Vegetarian Biryani with Rich Tomato Sauce

I mentioned in my last post that Sammy was a good sport about having a Moroccan inspired bundt cake for her birthday cake when my in laws were visiting. She and Alex are both always good sports about the birthday meals I prepare for them when my in laws are here. Because I love creating interesting Indian meals for my in laws. They are wonderfully not picky, appreciative of my efforts, and, best of all, they love Indian food.

Dutch oven filled with vegetarian biryani

Which is not to say I ignore Sammy and Alex’s preferences. But let’s just say I limit their options.

I went browsing in Laxmi Hiremath’s The Dance of Spices: Classic Indian Cooking for Today’s Home Kitchen for some Indian dishes and chose this vegetarian biryani because my children love rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and because it allowed me to serve a separate protein dish (in this case a shrimp and chicken dish). I was not wowed by the protein dish, but this biryani was fabulous. It is quite mild, as it is meant to be served with Curried Creamy Tomato Sauce, although I am confident you could also serve it with chutneys to jazz it up.

Sweet and Creamy Indian Tomato Sauce on Vegetarian Biryani

Despite what I just said, the Curried Creamy Tomato Sauce is what makes this meal perfect for a celebration. Not because it is a lot of work, but rather because it is absolutely divine and really rich. The biryani is the perfect vehicle for it. And if you have ever wished you could replicate the flavor of the rich north Indian tomato based curries served in most Indian restaurants in America, look no more. This sauce is it–and you can use it as a base to add different proteins or vegetables to. Or you can drizzle it on this biryani. Or you could lick it off a car bumper. Seriously.

Do note that this recipe, while quite simple, is a longer one, requiring various elements to be cooked separately before mixing them all together. Read through the recipe completely before beginning. And I promise it is all worth it in the end!

Curried Tomato Sauce on Lucknow Vegetarian Biryani

Lucknow Mixed Vegetable Biryani
Adapted from Laxmi Hiremath
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Indian
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 2-inch cinnamon sticks, divided
  • 10 whole cloves, divided
  • 8 green cardamom pods, divided
  • 2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 small hot chile peppers, minced (optional--I left out)
  • 6 T vegetable oil, as needed, divided
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced, divided
  • salt to taste
  • 2 medium-large sweet potatoes, washed and cut into bite sized chunks
  • 4-5 small-medium Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1 t garam masala, to taste
  • ½ t paprika or cayenne
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • ¼ t asafetida
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • ¾ cup plain whole fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 T melted ghee
  • 2 T milk
  • pinch of saffron
  1. Rinse and drain the rice 3 times. Then leave it to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Toward the end of the 30 minutes, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the tablespoon of salt, 1 cinnamon stick, and half of the cloves and cardamom pods. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water at the end of the 30 minutes. Let boil for 5 minutes. Then drain the rice and set it aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium-large Dutch oven on medium high heat. Add 2 of the sliced onions with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until they are deep golden and caramelized, 10-15 minutes. Add a splash of water if they start to scorch or stick. Using a slotted spoon, remove the caramelized onions to a separate bowl.
  5. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the potatoes until they are browned and tender but still holding their shape. Remove them to another bowl and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the sweet potatoes and cook them until they are browned and tender but still holding their shape. Sprinkle with salt and remove to the bowl with the potatoes.
  7. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan (if there is oil left in the pan from the potatoes, then add less). Add the other half of the cloves, cinnamon and cardamom whole spices. Cook until fragrant, a minute or two.
  8. Add the remaining 1 onion, sliced, to the pan with a sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is starting to caramelize. Add the minced ginger and garlic (and hot chile pepper if using). Continue to cook, stirring, until the onions are completely caramelized.
  9. Add the garam masala, cayenne or paprika, turmeric and asafetida and stir to incorporate evenly. Add the cauliflowers and toss. Reduce the heat to medium and place a lid on the pan. Let the cauliflower cook for 5 minutes this way--use your common sense and if it seems like it could burn, reduce the heat further.
  10. Mix in ¾ of the reserved potatoes, sweet potatoes and caramelized onions. Add the yogurt and stir in completely. Taste for seasoning--it could need salt. Also, if you used all the optional hot peppers, the mixture will be quite hot, which is fine because it will be mixed with rice. If, however, you skip the hot stuff like I do for small children, you might want to add a little more garam masala.
  11. Remove the pan from the heat. Mix the peas in (if using frozen, do not worry about defrosting). Gradually add the rice to the pan, mixing it in completely. Mix the saffron into the melted ghee and the milk (if the ghee has cooled, you should warm the milk a bit). Drizzle this over the biryani. Garnish the top of the biryani with the reserved potato and onions.
  12. Cover either with a heavy lid or tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. The biryani can rest in the warm oven for an additional 10 minutes if needed (just turn the heat off). Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Vegetarian Biryani with Curried Creamy Tomato Sauce
Recipe very closely adapted from Laxmi Hiremath
Recipe type: sauce
Cuisine: Indian
  • 2 medium-large tomatoes, coarsely chopped (you should have about 2 cups)--use frozen if it is not tomato season as fresh, perfectly ripe tomatoes are crucial to this sauce
  • ¼ cup cashews (I used roasted and salted because they are much easier to find)
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ t ground cardamom
  • ¼ t ground cumin
  • ⅛ t ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • ⅛ t freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½-inch piece ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 small hot chile pepper, stemmed and coarsely chopped, optional (I left out)
  • ½ t garam masala
  • 2 T dried fenugreek leaves
  • ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ T ghee
  • 2 T honey
  1. Place the tomatoes in a medium sized saucepan (if you will be using an immersion blender, choose a narrow saucepan). Add the cashews, salt, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, garam masala, nutmeg, bay leaves, ginger and garlic. Add the hot chile pepper if using.
  2. Bring to a boil. Let boil gently over medium high heat, uncovered, until reduced and thicker, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
  3. Either remove the sauce to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Add the cream, fenugreek leaves and ghee and puree to mix. Add back to the pot and return to a gentle boil to heat through. Stir in the honey and serve.


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  1. says

    I LOVE how not-super-picky your kids are!! I really hope mine have an appreciation for Indian food because I’ll never stop eating it! This biryani sounds amazing. I’ll definitely be making it…and perhaps using it to introduce the boyfriend to the wonders of Indian cuisine!

  2. says

    i am such fan of potatoes biryani…. in fact wanting to make a baby potatoes biryani soon… i also liked the lucknowi biryani you have posted. I have to get laxmi hiremath’s book soon. The tomato curry also looks delicious with the cashews and spices. I will be trying the tomato curry next time when I make a veg pilaf or jeera rice.
    dassana recently style veg dum biryaniMy Profile

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