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BiryaniIndia’s greatest pilaf, almost always made with basmati rice and butter. Here, tofu is much more convenient than paneer (fresh Indian cheese), but you can use either, or no concentrated protein at all.

  • Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
  • Total Time: 30 Minutes


  • A few saffron threads or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1½ cups vegetable stock (pages 97–100) or water, warmed
  • 2 tablespoons butter (more is better) or good-quality vegetable
  • oil
  • 6 cardamom pods or 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground
  • ginger
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1½ cups long-grain rice (preferably basmati)
  • 1½ cups yogurt
  • 1 pound firm tofu or paneer, cubed (optional)
  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
How to Make It
  1. If you’re using saffron, combine it in a pot with the stock. Put the butter or oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter melts or the oil is hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the turmeric if you’re using it, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, along with a large pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice all at once and stir until the rice is glossy and completely coated with fat, 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat, then add the yogurt and stock and stir. Stir in the tofu. Adjust the heat so the mixture barely bubbles and cover the pan.
  3. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, then check the rice. When the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, it’s done. If not, cook for 2 to 3 minutes more and check again. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick, if you used it; the cardamom pods are good to eat. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.

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