Vegetable Biryani and Raita

Vegetable biryani and raita

Vegetable biryani and raita

I like Indian and Pakistani vegetarian dishes and have been preparing more of them lately so that I can share them with vegetarian (and gluten-free) friends; I’d not made biryani before, so here’s my first go at it.

This is like my Vegetable Pulao recipe, but with slightly different spices and vegetables.
I made a large amount, perhaps 8 servings.

Ingredients for the rice:

  • basmati rice (2 cups, rinsed and soaked for about 30 minutes, and drained)
  • ghee (~2 T., alternatively substitute canola oil)
  • turmeric (~1 T.)
  • bay leaves (a few)
  • coriander seed (~1 t.)
  • cumin seed (~1 t.)
  • cardamom (~6 pods)
  • cinnamon (1 stick, broken in half)
  • water (4 cups; I mistakenly used 8, having not carefully read the recipe below that par-boiled the rice in 10 cups, then drained and discarded the water, so I needed to bake the biryani to remove excess moisture)

Preparation: In a large pot, melt the ghee, add the spices, cook for a couple mins over medium heat; add the rice to brown slightly, and then add the water, stir and cook rice as usual, covered over low heat.

Ingredients for the vegetable and masala:

  • canola oil (~2 T.)
  • sweet onion (1/2 medum, sliced thinly lengthwise)
  • fresh green beans (1/2-2/3 pound, ends trimmed and cut to 1 inch lengths)
  • carrot (2 large, diced)
  • whole cashews (~1/2 cup)
  • slivered almonds (~1/3 cup)
  • coriander seed (~1 T.)
  • cumin seed (~1.5 t.)
  • garlic paste (~1 T.)
  • fresh ginger (~2 thumbs, finely minced)
  • fresh habanero pepper (1 pepper, seeded, deveined, and finely minced)
  • water (1/2 cup)
  • fresh roma tomatoes (4, puréed with the aforementioned 1/2 cup water)

Preparation: While the rice is cooking, prepare the following in oil (in an oven-safe pan if possible) over medium heat, in this order, progressively: carrot, onion, nuts, spices, garlic, ginger, habanero, green beans, stirring regularly.  When those vegetables are mostly tender, add tomato/water purée and reduce until carrot is tender.
When rice is done, stir tenderly into the vegetable mixture, e.g., with a bowl scraper.

Once I did this, the dish was still too moist, so I baked it at 350° F for 20-30 mins to reduce moisture and create a slightly dry consistency on the exterior.

Ingredients for the raita:

  • greek yogurt (16 oz.)
  • garam masala (~1 1/2 t.)
  • cucumber (1, peeled and cut to small pieces)
  • tomato (~1/3 cup finley diced)
  • carrot (1 small, julienned)
  • water (~1/2 cup, to desired consistency)
  • salt (to taste)

Preparation: before or during the preparation of rice and vegetables, mix thoroughly and let sit.

Serve the biryani with the raita on the side.

Vegetable biryani

Vegetable biryani

My desi housemate visiting from Bangalore approved of it; that’s a pretty good measure.
I asked him not to say anything if he didn’t care for it. :)

This was my first attempt, so if you have suggestions, please let me know.
The baking may be unnecessary if the water amount was corrected (e.g.., 2 cups water per cup of basmati rice), but I like the slightly crispy texture and browning it adds to the biryani.
Also, the habanero spiciness was nearly undetectable; if you like spicy foods, I’d use 2 or 3 habaneros for this amount of rice.

Here are the recipes I consulted for ideas:

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote.

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote

To keep New Year’s Eve hot, I prepared spicy poppers: some with the “traditional” jalapeno and some with the more adventurous habanero.

These may seem pretty straightforward to prepare (just take a bit of time), but I’ll give a few suggestions and tips, after having made them a few times.


Popper ingredients


  • fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • fresh habanero peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • cream cheese, softened to near room temperature
  • bacon, strips cut to half length
  • epazote, dried & crushed
Halve, seed, and devein t

Halve, seed, and devein the peppers.

When preparing these on a broiler pan under the broiler, wrap the top of the pan in aluminum foil and cut slits in the foil (where the slits in the pan are) so that bacon grease will drain. Also, pour a half cup of water into the bottom of the pan to keep the drained fat from burning and be careful to not tip the pan.


Add water to broiler pan to keep drained fat from burning.

Carefully fill the pepper halves with cream cheese, optionally wrap with bacon (tucking one end underneath, perhaps with the help of a knife tip, so they stay wrapped), and place them cheese-side down (at first) on the broiler pan.

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Place them under the broiler and cook the bottom side of the poppers before the cheese melts.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn't melt out.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn’t melt out.

Once the bottoms are done, flip them upright with tongs and complete the cooking. I sprinkled the vegetarian poppers (without bacon) with epazote for a extra dash of flavor before it gives way to the heat.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Now you have a spicy appetizer for your parties, and one that intially tastes of cheese and bacon or spice, then after 20-30 seconds the heat kicks in nicely. :)

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Even though some people that eat these poppers might think you’re trying to kill them, you’ll know you really love them.

Love people.Cook them tasty food.

Love people.
Cook them tasty food.

Happy new year to you all! Love people and cook them tasty food.

Cheese Steak Pizza with Habanero Pesto Sauce

Cheese Steak Pizza

Cheese Steak Pizza

Yes, this is simply a pizza, but with a couple new ideas:

  • Mix minced habanero pepper into the sauce for an exciting bite!
  • Cook the pizza atop baking parchment, so you don’t need oil or cornmeal.

Note that I didn’t say this “Philly” Cheese Steak because I’m not getting into the whole Cheeze Whiz debate, nor am I putting that stuff on my pizza. I’m also aware that an Italian may want me crucified for adulterating basil pesto with habanero pepper. :)

This pizza was prepared with a crust from Trader Joe’s fresh white pizza dough topped with the following:

  • basil pesto (I used store-bought Trader Joe’s)
  • one fresh habanero pepper, seeded, deveined, and finely minced and mixed into pesto
  • swiss cheese
  • round steak, cooked in advance (with salt and pepper), cut into small, thin pieces
  • sharp cheddar cheese
  • white button mushroom, sliced
  • sweet onion, cut into strips
  • green pepper, coarsely diced
  • pecorino romano cheese
  • dried oregano

This was baked in a 375-400° F oven for about 25 minutes.

Cheese Steak Pizza

Cheese Steak Pizza

I was pleased that I managed to make the crust rounder than my usual efforts. :)

My Favorite Salsa Recipe: Salsa Romesco

Four canned salsas based on Salsa Romesco with (left to right) pasilla, chipotle, habanero, and cayenne

Here’s a spectacular salsa that I’ve been making for 15 years – Salsa Romesco, with a surprising ingredient: almonds!

If you’re a friend to whom I’ve given salsa, it almost certainly was this one.
It’s a spanish recipe from chef Mark Miller’s excellent guide, “The Great Salsa Book.”

The particularly nice qualities of this salsa are its sweetness from red pepper, its relatively smooth, thick consistency (e.g., for dipping chips or as an enchilada sauce), and its easily adjustable heat simply based on the amount of powdered cayenne pepper. I’ve included the original recipe below.

In a moment of farmers’ market enthusiasm, I bought a 25 pound box of tomatoes for $10. It turns out that’s a lot of tomatoes! I oven-roasted about half of these large, wonderfully red tomatoes to make 4 slightly different salsas.

To oven-roast tomatoes, simply cut them and lay them out on a sheet in a 250° F oven for 2-3 hours.  I put a bit of salt on on them beforehand. Large tomatoes can be quartered and roma tomatoes, as the original recipe called for, halved.

Quartered, and salted, tomatoes ready for oven-roasting.

The roasting removes some of the moisture, setting up for a nice blended salsa of a thick consistency and water doesn’t separate so much as with raw tomato-based salsas. (Of course, those salsas have their place; who could live without pico de gallo?)

I’ve made this Salsa Romesco many, many times (recipe below), spiced just with cayenne. This time I also rehydrated some pasilla and chipotle (meco type) peppers while the tomatoes were roasting, and finely minced one seeded, deveined fresh habanero. This was to make salsa variations with differing hotness and flavors. My pasilla peppers happened to be considerably hotter than the chipotle… many pepper varieties’ hotness is somewhat unpredictable.

Soaking dried pasilla and chipotle peppers

Once the tomoatoes are roasted, you can simply blend them in a food processor or blender for sauces and salsas.

Oven-roasted tomatoes, after about 3 hours at 250° F

After the passive hours of roasting tomatoes and rehydrating peppers, you’re ready to make this salsa; everything is blended, so there’s not much chopping.

Ingredients, in addition to tomatoes, needed for Salsa Romesco.

There is a bit of work; you will need to remove the skins from red peppers. I suppose removing the skin is optional, but it does two things: (a) it makes the salsa sweeter since the skin imparts a little bitterness, and (b) it keeps the skins (mostly) out of the resulting salsa, so it doesn’t get stuck between your teeth.

Red bell peppers, roasted for peeling

For me, the easiest way to roast and peel bell peppers has been to place them on a foil-lined sheet very near the heat in the broiler, watching them carefully and rotating them until all sides are blackened as shown.  Place the roasted peppers in a plastic bag or covered bowl for a while to steam them (helping the skin to separate), and then peel them (as best you can), remove core and seeds, and rinse the pepper.

Here’s Mark Miller’s recipe (my comments in parentheses… I approximately tripled this in quantity):

  • 10 Roma tomatoes, oven-roasted
  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne powder (careful! … to taste, make separate salsas for different palates)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and purée.
Variation: Add 1 anchovy filet to the food processor.
Note: This is a classic Spanish salsa.
Serving suggestions: A versatile salsa, good with tortilla chips or as a dip for vegetables; with grilled meats fish or eggs; or as a soup garnish.
Yield: About 1 3/4 cups
Heat: 5-6 (of 10, it solely depends on how much cayenne powder you add, it’s even nice and sweet with almost no cayenne… but I usually make it spicy.)

I made 4 variations, canning some of each for wintertime and keeping some fresh in the refrigerator (for days, at least), shown left to right in the top photo:

  • Hot pasilla and red pepper
  • Medium chipotle and red pepper
  • Hot habanero-garlic and red pepper
  • Mild sweet red pepper

I shared them with friends and all were popular but my favorites were the hot pasilla and the hot (fresh) habanero and garlic.

Fresh prepared salsas based on Salsa Romesco recipe

As I said, this salsa is my favorite to make myself and is a great foundation for creativity.
It takes a few hours, but most of that is not active time; it’s just waiting.  Maybe make a nice meal in the mean time, while the kitchen has the pleasant smell of roasted tomato. :)