Spiced basmati rice is studded with crunchy cashews, rich coconut flakes, and sweet raisins, and tossed with hearty roasted veggies and spicy baked tofu to make this flavor-packed vegan vegetable biryani. This dish is as pretty as it is delicious, and perfect for special occasions!
For the longest time I was super intimidated by Indian food. It seems so complicated with all those whole spices and tempering and other ingredients and methods I'm not used to. But I got over it, and now I love cooking Indian food.
Except biryani continued to scare me. It seems like there are a million ways to go about making the stuff! And most of them come from different regions that use their own unfamiliar-to-me ingredients and cooking methods.
But here's the thing: most of the time, when I'm cooking up regional cuisines, I don't really go for authenticity. I just go for what works in my kitchen and tastes good to me. And so I played around with a few super shortcut versions of biryani in my kitchen — ones where I used dry spices instead of whole, used pre-mixed spice blends, that kind of thing — and they all just felt wrong.
This is my compromise. It's definitely not authentic. I mean, it has tofu in it. I did take some shortcuts that made sense to me (like roasting the veggies, since the tofu is going in the oven anyway). But I kept the whole spices, the long cooking time to caramelize the onions, and you know, just the stuff that seemed indispensable.
So while this recipe might be a bit simplified compared to traditional biryani, it's not exactly a quick and easy dinner. If you're looking for one of those, try one of these recipes. If you came here specifically just for some pretty rice and spicy baked tofu, try this. It's way easier and really delicious, and to be honest, I pretty much stole the tofu portion of the dish for this biryani.
Now that I've gotten my disclaimer out of the way, let's talk about how to make this biryani!
Like I said, the veggies are roasted instead of steamed/boiled like those in other biryani recipes usually are. I love roasting veggies because it's so easy — just drizzle them with some oil and pop 'em in the oven. And while you're at it, pop some tofu in the oven too! The tofu is covered in a spicy garam masala based sauce before baking. If you've got time, let it marinate in the sauce for a while. It not, no biggie!
And while the tofu and veggies bake, start caramelizing some onions. The key to this is low heat and patience! You'll need a good 45 minutes to get onions properly caramelized.
One the onions have caramelized, add your spices and toast them for a minute. Finally, add some water and your rice. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add the roasted veggies and baked tofu to the rice when it's done cooking. Or if you're like me and ran out of room in the pot (oops!) transfer the rice to another vessel. I just went and added the rice to the big skillet I used to roast my veggies.
Add some cashews, coconut, and fresh cilantro, then serve.
FAQ & Tips for Making Delicious Vegetable Biryani
- Make sure your spices are relatively fresh. Old spices will have less flavor. Use this handy cheat sheet to see if yours are out of date.
- Can I substitute ground spices for the whole spices? If so, how much should I use? You can, but the flavor will be much better if you use whole spices. As for the amounts, I'm afraid I'm not sure! What you can do is try starting out with small amounts of everything (¼ to ½ teaspoon each), and then taste test the cooking liquid after you've added water.
- Can I use a different variety of rice? Basmati works best and really lets the flavors of this dish shine. You may substitute a different variety of long grain white rice, although the cooking time and rice to water ratio may vary.
- Can I use different veggies? Yes you can! The cook time may vary though. In general, harder veggies take longer to cook, while softer ones cook up quicker. Keep an eye on them while they're in the oven.
- Is this recipe gluten-free? It can be! Just sub gluten-free tamari for the soy sauce.
Roasted Vegetable Biryani with Baked Tofu
For the Rice
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 medium onions (about ¾ pound total), sliced into thin strips
- 2 cups basmati rice
- ½ cup raisins
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 5 whole green cardamom pods
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 3 ½ cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
For the Spicy Baked Tofu
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon canola oil, or neutral oil of choice
- 1 (14 ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into ½-inch cubes
For the Roasted Vegetables
- 1 medium russet potato, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 cups small cauliflower florets (about ½ of a medium crown)
- 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon canola oil or neutral oil of choice
- 1 cup roasted cashews
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
Begin by caramelizing the onions for the rice. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium low heat.
Add the onions and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized.
While the onions cook, place the basmati rice into a medium pot or bowl and cover it with water. Allow the rice to soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse it.
While the onions cook and the rice soaks, being preparing the tofu. In a shallow dish, stir together the soy sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice, garlic, garam masala and oil.
Add the tofu and toss to coat. If you have time, let the tofu marinate for about 20 minutes. Otherwise, preheat the oven to 400° and arrange the tofu on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake the tofu for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. The tofu should have shrunk a bit and darkened by the time it is finished baking.
While the tofu bakes, make the roasted vegetables place the potato, cauliflower and green beans into a roasting pan or skillet and drizzle with oil. Toss everything to coat.
Place the veggies into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until tender.
While the tofu and veggies cook, continue preparing the rice. When the onions have finished caramelizing, remove them from the pot and transfer them to a plate.
Add the raisins, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper to the pot.
Raise the heat to medium and toast the spices for about 1 minute, just until the garlic becomes very fragrant and the cumin seeds begin to darken. Avoid cooking the spices too long, as they can become bitter.
Return the onions to the pot and stir the water, salt and soaked rice. Raise the heat and bring the liquid to a boil.
Lower the heat until the liquid is at a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat and let it sit with the lid on for 5 minutes after cooking.
Remove the lid from the pot, fluff the rice, then stir in the baked tofu, roasted veggies, cashews, cilantro, and coconut.
Remove the cinnamon sticks, star anise, and bay leaves (or leave them in for garnish - just don't eat them!) Divide onto plates and serve.