Vegetable Biryani from 'River Cottage Veg'

Photograph: Simon Wheeler

Biryani is a celebratory dish of rice and curry, often featuring meat. Luckily, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's vegetarian version in River Cottage Veg doesn't suffer from its absence. His base is a richly spiced stew of potatoes, peas, and carrots, fragrant with cardamom, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander. A fluffy layer of saffron basmati rice tops the curry and manages to retain its own character, even after a second round of cooking. The final touches of caramelized onions, toasted almonds, and chopped cilantro add enough vibrancy to the dish that it's easy to forget that it's meatless.

Why I picked this recipe: Frankly, most biryani recipes I've tried haven't worked very well, so I wanted to see if Fearnley-Whittingstall's version was up to snuff.

What worked: This one went off without a major hitch. The rice stayed fluffy, the curry was distinctly fragrant, and the meal came together with relative ease.

What didn't: Next time I'll start caramelizing the onions earlier (perhaps before starting any other elements) to give them a chance to really cook down. These quickly browned onions were okay, but would've been better with more time on the stove.

Suggested tweaks: You could play with the vegetables in the curry if you'd like. Cauliflower would be a nice addition, as would sweet potatoes.

Reprinted with permission from River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, copyright 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

Recipe Facts

Active: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs
Serves: 6 servings

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  • 5 tablespoons sunflower oil

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 3 cardamom pods, bashed

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 5 large onions, halved and thinly sliced

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated ginger

  • 1 large fresh red chile, finely chopped (seeded for a milder curry)

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • About 9 ounces (250g) carrots, peeled and sliced into thin discs

  • About 10 ounces (300g) waxy potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch (1cm) cubes

  • 7 ounces (200g) peas (fresh or frozen and defrosted)

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • A generous squeeze of lemon juice

  • 1/3 cup (50ggolden raisins

  • 1 3/4 cups (350gbasmati rice

  • A large pinch of saffron strands

To serve:

  • 2 ounces (60g) slivered almonds, lightly toasted

  • Chopped cilantro or mint


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf, cardamom pods, and cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes. Add 1 sliced onion and fry over medium heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, until golden and soft. Lower the heat and add the garlic, ginger, chile, and ground spices. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

  2. Add the carrots, potatoes, and peas and enough water to almost cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring from time to time, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the golden raisins on top. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C.

  3. Meanwhile, rinse the rice thoroughly in several changes of water. Put into a saucepan with the saffron and a large pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover the rice by 1 inch / 2.5cm. Bring to a boil, stir once, then simmer very gently until the water is nearly all absorbed (indicated by deep steam holes on the surface).

  4. Cover the rice pan with a damp kitchen towel and a tight-fitting lid and turn the heat as low as possible. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and use a fork to separate the rice grains.

  5. Spoon the rice in a thick layer over the curry in the casserole. Cover the pot with the damp kitchen towel and put on the lid tightly. Place over high heat for a few minutes to get the curry bubbling again, then transfer to the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

  6. While the biryani is cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining sliced onions. Cook briskly, stirring often, for about 20 minutes, until well browned and reduced down. Season with salt.

  7. Uncover the biryani and scatter over the browned onions, almonds, and cilantro or mint. Serve with a cooling, yogurty raita, and/or a spicy chutney.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
409 Calories
18g Fat
57g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 409
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 2g 9%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 547mg 24%
Total Carbohydrate 57g 21%
Dietary Fiber 8g 27%
Total Sugars 15g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 28mg 138%
Calcium 106mg 8%
Iron 3mg 19%
Potassium 796mg 17%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)