Biriyani – It’s all the rage right now in Indian cuisine. Layers of meat (veggies, paneer for vegetarians), and white rice slathered with all kinds of fat possible is the name of the game. The richer you make it, the more applause you get.
If you look up the history of biryani, most legends go back to it being the food of military warriors. An earthen pot full of rice, spices and whatever meats were available would be buried in a hot pit, before being eventually dug up and served to the warriors. There are warriors nowadays too – more like road warriors, social justice warriors, hackathon warriors, just not the physical fighting kind. These warriors don’t build muscle, just cholesterol laden arteries :).
Let us upgrade this biryani for this generation of warriors, shall we?
Upgrade my Biryani
Use wild rice instead of white rice.
What is wild rice?
This is a grain used by Native Americans and grown in shallow water areas.
Why should I use it?
A 1-cup serving of cooked, long-grain white rice contains 210 calories, 4 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbohydrate, including 1 gram of fiber.
1-cup serving of cooked wild rice provides you with 170 calories, 7 grams of protein and 35 grams of carbohydrate, including 3 grams of fiber.
Wild rice has fewer calories and more fiber and protein than white rice, and it also provides higher quality protein, since it contains more of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
How to cook it? How does it taste?
The grains look black in color like this…
After cooking for 45 minutes, it looks like this…
See how the white part is peeking out. That’s good, that means the grains have cooked.
I have a link below with details on how to cook it, where the lady gives you perfect instructions. But, here’s the thing (I have used it for making pulao before)…it is very hard to overcook this grain!! I mean, even if you super-cook it and the grains will have all opened, but it still retains its chewiness. So, never fear that it will ever turn mushy on you!!
By itself, it has a strong taste. Marketing people use the word – nutty to describe it, I feel it is more grassy/ woodsy. It is certainly very chewy and very filling. The heavy spices of biryani mutes down its original flavor.
What if I don’t have access to it?
It is quite expensive ($5.99/lb in Trader Joes currently), on the other hand biryani making is a luxury, both in terms of time and effort. However, I am unsure of its availability in countries outside US, so if you can’t find it, use brown basmati instead.
There is no reason why you should use white rice which is starchy and then use a butt-load of fat to separate the grains, when brown rice (wild rice) does the same thing for you easily.
Use tofu instead of paneer
I have used tofu instead of paneer for the following reasons:
- 100g of paneer has 265 calories vs 100g of tofu has only 62 calories. Yes, the protein content in paneer is higher than tofu, but the fat content is also more.
- One of my children cannot digest paneer well. She always ends up with stomach pain after eating it.
- Tofu is vegan – always extra points for that in my book.
But, if these problems don’t bother you, go ahead and use paneer. Use the traditional marination method for paneer and not the baking method for tofu listed below.
How to prepare tofu?
First of all, get firm tofu. I have mentioned in a post before that the types of tofu purely depends on the water content.
More water = soft tofu
Less water = firm tofu/ extra firm tofu
Dry the tofu with paper towel.
Crank the oven to 400F and put the tofu in it for 30 min at the very least. Flip the tofu half way in between.
Out it comes looking like this…
Cut into pieces. Add marinade to the baked tofu.
Lower the oven temp to 350F and put it back in the oven for 15 more minutes
Indian style Biryani made from wild rice and tofu
- 1 packet Firm Tofu
- 2 ladle scoops Yogurt (use vegan yogurt to make recipe 100% vegan)
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Black pepper
- 1/4 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
- 1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
- 4 Cloves crushed
- Chopped coriander
- 1 cup Wild rice
- 4-5 cups Water
- Salt (to taste)
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 2-3 tsp Oil
- 1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 3 Cardamom
- 2 Cloves
- 1/4 tsp Black pepper
- 1 Star Anise
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Ginger Garlic Paste
- 1 Onion (finely chopped)
- 1 Tomato
- 1 tsp Chili Powder
- 1 tsp Coriander Powder
- 1/4 tsp Kasoori methi (optional)
- 1/2 tsp Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Pepper
Let 4-5 cups of water come to a boil. Add Bay leaves and salt to the water.
(You could add more masala items, but because of the color of wild rice, it is hard to fish the spices out unlike in white rice, so I would advice you to only use bay leaf).
Add 1 cup of wild rice. Lower the heat to medium. Close the lid and let it cook for 40 minutes.
After 40-45 minutes, the grain should feel 90% cooked and some grains should have split and the white 'flesh' inside should peek out. Take out the bay leaves and close the lid. The rice portion of biryani is now ready to be layered.
Crank oven to 400F. Pat the tofu dry out of the package. Place the firm tofu in a heat proof bowl and put in the oven for 30-45 minutes. Flip tofu upside down at the half way point to ensure uniform cooking.
Meanwhile, mix all items listed under 'Tofu Marinade' in a bowl
Take the tofu out of the oven. Cut into cubes. Add the marinade. Lower the oven temp to 350F. Put it back in the oven for 15 minutes to soak up the marinade. (Alternatively, if you have time, let it marinade at room temperature for an hour).
Once the tofu has 'soaked' up most of the marinade, it is ready to be layered.
In a pan add oil. Add whole masala items, jeera and stir till toasted.
Add in chopped onions, cook until golden. Add ginger garlic paste, saute for a minute, and then add chopped tomato.
Add all the powdered spices including salt and sugar, 1/4 cup of water and let it boil.
Add the masala at the bottom of an oven proof dish. Add 1/2 rice and 1/2 tofu marinade. Add chopped coriander leaves and layer the rest of the rice and tofu.
Close the lid tightly and put the dish into the oven (350F) for an hour. Take it out after it is done, let it sit for 30 minutes or as long as your hungry family will allow :).
Here’s the difference between regular biryani and the upgraded biryani. You will feel full in both cases. But the satiety feeling for the traditional biryani is coming from the fat -fried onions, cashews, ghee and the starch – white rice. In the upgraded version, you are going to feel full from the protein and fiber coming from the wild rice and the tofu.
Taste test – My family loved the marinated tofu. Inspired from the bake method (by minimalist baker, see link below), makes for a tasty tofu.
The wild rice, has a chewiness factor, that some will love (I certainly do). Young kids and older adults, who prefer only white rice may have to work their way up to brown rice to wild rice. Or cook it a little bit further than al-dante level for them. Like I mentioned above, it is very hard to overcook this grain. The biryani also tastes great the next day after soaking up the flavors.
I hope you like this recipe. Even if you cannot do the exact same version, I hope this inspires you to create your own healthy version of biryani. Do share your thoughts and comments down below or on my Facebook page. I love to hear from all of you!!
History of biryani
Info on Wild rice
Detailed instructions on how to cook wild rice
Comparing tofu and paneer nutrition
How to make tofu taste good?
Biryani traditional recipe inspiration