Few delicacies spell royalty like a fragrant medley of basmati rice, pine water, spices, vegetables, and yoghurt. Awadhi vegetable biryani has found its way into the culinary repertoire of home cooks across the country. And while it might not feature right at the centre of a spread of kebabs and korma – there’s no denying that it’s just as delicious. Our recommendation? This flavourful rendition by MasterChef India winner Pankaj Bhadouria.
The stuff of most midnight munchies and wedding feasts – biryani is an indispensable part of the Indian culinary fabric. In fact, drop by a restaurant or hole-in-the-wall in any city across India and chances are you’ll discover the delicacy on the menu – with variations in preparation styles, proteins, and a few ingredients. The most popular of these come from Hyderabad, Kashmir, Kolkata, and Lucknow (Awadhi). Originally Persian, history notes that biryani as we understand it today was a common sight across Mughal kitchens – with chefs infusing local flavours to create their own renditions.
That said, Awadhi cuisine – under the reign of nawabs – varies from its Mughlai cousin in terms of cooking techniques and other fine details. For instance, it’s known for subtle, delicate flavours as opposed to spicy and intense notes. Popular features of an Awadhi spread include chicken biryani, chicken korma, galouti kebab, mutton korma, shami kebab, and more. However, if you follow a plant-based lifestyle or are looking to cut out meat, the vegetarian version is just as scrumptious. And who better to guide you through the process of making it than the first-ever winner of Masterchef India – chef Pankaj Bhadouria.
Pankaj Bhadouria’s creations mark an exciting culinary journey
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For successful teacher and passionate home cook Pankaj Bhadouria – creations underlined with innovation, slow cooking techniques, attention, and love could never disappoint. In part, this could be why she was wildly favoured on India’s first televised reality cooking show – MasterChef India. Even better? She went on to win it, today holding the crown for being the first MasterChef of India.
Her typical schedule features a dizzyingly large range of activities – television shows, Instagram reels, YouTube videos, restaurant openings, and more! The payoff? A whooping 1.1 million (10 lakh) followers on Instagram as well as 904K subscribers on YouTube and 5 million (50 lakh) followers on Facebook. A quick scroll and you’ll discover a range of delightfully helpful kitchen hacks and drool-worthy recipes on her social media pages, along with a set of quirky, easy-to-make delicacies crafted in kettles and other unique contraptions.
Chef Bhadouria’s Awadhi vegetable biryani recipe features classic ingredients
That said, classic soul foods – like vegetable upma, momos, and butter chicken – continue to draw comments and likes in scores. Her vegetable biryani is no exception – with the recipe being a product of all the time she spent living in Lucknow. “Although Awadhi cuisine is primarily non-vegetarian, there are several vegetarian dishes which are equally mouth-watering like vegetable tehri, tali bhindi ka salan, or awadhi arbi ka korma,” she notes, adding that the biryani was her all-time favourite.
The most unique factor of this delicacy, she further points out, is that it’s slow-cooked – a technique that allows for the flavours and aroma to stay locked into the dish – elevated by rose and kewra water as well as chilli flakes and black pepper. This often culminates in a heavenly aroma that will permeate through the home once the lid’s seal is lifted. It’s also the best to whip up if you’ve got entertaining friends and family on the itinerary. It takes about 40 minutes to prep and cook and serves up to six.
Guide to making Awadhi vegetable biryani like chef Pankaj Bhadouria
400 g basmati rice, 7 tbsp ghee, 2 large onions (sliced), 1 tsp black cumin seeds, 8 cloves, 2 *1-inch sticks of cinnamon, 1 whole piece of mace, ¼ tsp grated nutmeg, 3 tbsp ginger paste, 3 tbsp garlic paste, 100 g Shelled green peas, 100 g baby potatoes, 100 g small cauliflower, 100 g French beans (cut into 1-inch pieces) , 100 g carrots (sliced diagonally), salt to taste, 1 tsp black pepper powder, ½ cup yoghurt, 4 black cardamoms, 4 green cardamoms, 2 bay leaves, ½ fresh mint leaves (finely chopped), a few drops of rose water, a few drops of pine water, 2 tbsp unsalted butter, wheat flour (to seal the dish)
250 g yoghurt, 5-6 garlic cloves (crushed), ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp chilli flakes
- Wash the rice and soak it in water for half an hour. Meanwhile heat four tablespoons of ghee in a pan.
- Fry the sliced onion in batches until they get a golden-brown hue.
- Remove them using a slotted spoon, drain on absorbent paper.
- Saute half the black cumin seeds until they begin sizzling.
- Add two cloves, one cinnamon stick , half the mace, the nutmeg, and peppercorns to the mix and sauté until fragrant.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes to this and sauté for one minute. Add salt, pepper, and the vegetables to this before sautéing over low heat for two minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, yoghurt to this mix and cook until all the vegetables are almost tender.
- In a large separate pan, bring eight cups of water to boil with two teaspoons of salt.
- Tie the remaining cloves , cinnamon stick , mace, black cumin, two black and green cardamoms in a piece of muslin to make a small bundle, and add to the water. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes to allow it to infuse.
- Drain the rice, add it to the pan, and cook until it’s half done. Remove from the heat and strain.
- Reserve the strained water. Stir the remaining ghee into the rice and set aside.
- Assemble your biryani by spreading half the rice at the base of a heavy-bottomed heat proof casserole. Spread a layer of vegetables and chopped mints over it. Cover with the remaining rice and top with fried onion.
- Sprinkle rosewater and pinewater over this and dot the rice with unsalted butter. Then, pour a cup of the saved strained water, cover with a lid, and seal the dough.
- Then place on a hot griddle and cook on a low flame until steam begins to escape. Remove from the heat, allow it to stand for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, strain the yoghurt and whisk until smooth. Add the other ingredients to the mix.
Don’t forget to fluff up your rice with a fork and place your raita in the refrigerator to chill. Serve your aromatic biryani hot with the chilled garlic-flavoured raita for an unforgettable culinary experience. Bon appetit!
All images: Courtesy Pankaj Bhadouria/Shutterstock