vegan vegetable biryani

prep 45 mins        cook 35 mins        serves 3 - 4

Cashew Milk

60 g (1/2 cup) unroasted cashews

200 ml (1 cup) water

Split cashews and soak in water for 6 hours. Drain cashews and combine with 1 cup water in a blender. Process until very smooth. Set aside until needed.


2 medium onions, sliced into thick rounds and separated into rings

1 tsp cumin seeds, rubbed between finger tips to release aroma

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 light green chillies, sliced (the dark green ones tend to be bitter with indigestible skins)

2 tbsp concentrated tomato paste

150 g green beans, topped and tailed, cut or snapped into short lengths

1 red pepper, peeled (with a vegetable peeler) and cut into stamp sized squares

1/2 a small pumpkin, thickly peeled, cored and cut into stubby batons (like short, very chunky fries)

1 tsp salt

100 ml (1/2 cup) cashew (or coconut) milk

2 large pinches saffron strands, crushed between finger tips

3 tbsp very hot water (or milk)


6 green cardamom pods

2 small sticks cinnamon

4 pandan leaves, knotted

400 ml (2 cups) vegetable stock (or 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in very hot water)

130 ml (2/3 cup) cashew (or coconut) milk

1 tsp salt

300 g (2 cups) basmati rice, washed thoroughly, soaked for 30 minutes, thoroughly drained in a sieve

Coriander leaves (cilantro)

Roasted cashew nuts

Lemon pickle

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until moderately hot. Fry the onion rings until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from pan, draining off all the oil and set onion rings aside. To the same pan, add the cumin seeds. Stir for half a minute, making sure it doesn't burn.

Add the garlic and green chillies and stir for 3 - 4 minutes or until limp. Stir in the tomato paste until it  darkens and separates from oil. Add green beans and stir for 1 minute before adding the red pepper and pumpkin. Stir for just about 1 minute more or just until vegetables are heated through but still crunchy. Do not cook beyond this stage as vegetables will steam over the rice later. Stir in milk and salt and quickly turn off heat. Set vegetables aside.

Sprinkle crushed saffron strands over the hot water or milk and leave to soak until a deep golden yellow.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a separate medium heavy based pot that's wider than it is high. When moderately hot, add the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and pandan leaves and stir for about half a minute or until fragrant, taking care not to burn the cardamom pods. Be careful as the pods may explode if they overheat.

Gently pour in the stock and cashew milk (so it doesn't splutter) and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil then gently tip in the thoroughly drained rice. Shake the pan gently to submerge the rice and cook over moderately high heat until liquid is absorbed by rice and steam holes appear on top.

Lower to minimum heat immediately and sprinkle saffron liquid and strands over the rice in streaks. Put the fried onion rings and vegetables along with every bit of the spice paste over the rice in an even layer and cover pan tightly. Cook for 10 minutes over gentle heat without opening pot.

Turn off heat and leave pot covered and undisturbed for 20 minutes. When ready to serve, gently fluff up rice and mix lightly with vegetables so rice remains streaked with colour rather than turning a uniform orange.

Dish out rice and garnish with coriander and cashews. Serve with lemon pickle or your favourite achar, on the side.