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For years the standard lunchtime meal at my place on sundays has been briyani. The famous recipe brought by our indian ancestors has its roots in arabian cuisine. As its fame grew all over India, variations of the dish were developed to accommodate local tastes and availability of ingredients.

The making of this rich rice-based dish involves marinating pieces of meat and/or vegetables in a mixture of spices and curd after which it is cooked between layers of spice flavoured rice over low heat. The spices used in briyani include cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, onions, and garlic. For non-vegetarians, the main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the meat: chicken, goat, lamb, beef, fish or shrimp.

The recipe below describes my take on this popular main dish.  Though it has now become a highly profitable business venture for small snack shops and plush restaurants alike, I’m sure everyone has fond memories of taking their dekti of homemade briyani to the beach. Reminds me of the famous une  journée à la mer stereotyped essays all of us used to write in primary school 🙂




1 kg chicken, cut into large pieces

4-5 large starchy potatoes

3 medium carrots

1 cup french string beans

1/2 cup peas, fresh or canned

5-6 large onions, cut into rings

2 tbs garlic paste

3 tbs briyani spice

2 tbs pure ghee

1/2 cup unsweetened yogurt

Salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

4 cups basmati rice

Cinnamon stick, 1 inch long

5 cardamom pods

5 clove pods

Saffron strands

Fresh mint and coriander

Cashew nuts, optional



  • Marinate the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and lemon juice and set aside for 30-60 minutes.
  • Wash rice and leave to soak for about 30-60 minutes.
  • Meanwhile prepare vegetables and spices.
  • Peel potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters. Boil potatoes until cooked but firm in a pressure cooker.


  • Cut carrots and french beans into thin 2-inch long sticks.
  • Season and stir fry them until they lose their raw texture.
  • Next cut onions into rings. Grind the not-so-perfect ones into a paste and fry the rest into small batches over medium heat until they turn golden.


  • Now place the chicken in a large pan with a little oil. Cover and leave it to cook in its own steam for about 45 minutes.
  • You may need to add some more water after 20-30 minutes if all the moisture has dried up. Place the cooked chicken, potatoes, vegetables and half of the onion rings in a large pot and cover with well fitting lid.


  • Side by side, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom to boiling water.
  • Then add soaked rice and salt. Cook until partially done.
  • You should be able to press rice grains between two fingers but they should still be firm, not mushy. Drain rice and spread it out on a large shallow pan to cool.


  • Heat ghee in a heavy based pan. Throw in the garlic paste, onion paste [from above] and briyani spice. Mix vigorously as it will splutter.
  • I have been using Kashnoor briyani spice for ages with very satisfying results but any good quality spice mix should do.
  • Sauté until the mixture turns brown. Add yogurt and cook over low flame for 1-2 minutes, stirring on and off.


  • Toss spice mixture with chicken and vegetables in the large pot so that they are evenly coated. Set aside for 30 min.
  • To assemble the briyani, arrange alternating layers of chicken and rice in another large cooking pot. Dissolve saffron strands in 1/4 cup luke warm water and drizzle over.


  • Garnish with onion rings, lemon slices, cashew nuts, mint leaves and chopped coriander. Cover with well fitting lid.
  • Cook for 5-10 mins, then lower flame and cook for another 30 minutes. Keep warm till serving time.

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