Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vegetable biryani, with lentils

One of life's minor mysteries is that I don't like Indian food. I like rice, I like lentils, I like vegetables and I like spice...but somehow when those things are combined Indian style, I'm not very fond of the result. I think the challenge lies in the nature of Indian spices, with my tastes being more aligned with Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese flavourings.

My lacklustre approach to Indian is frustrating because it is very easy to find. On holiday, it is often one of the easiest cuisines to locate, and one of the most reliable options for vegetarian choices. For this reason (and the fact that other people are fond of it, and sometimes one must go with the majority) I do eat Indian on occasion, but I am generally left feeling a bit, well, blah. 

When we were in Hobart, Tasmania, last year, we were keen to eat out for each of the four nights we were there. After self-catering for nearly a week, and having a few more self-catering days ahead (in smaller towns with few restaurant options), it seemed foolish not to take advantage of a city full of dinner options.

We had Italian, we had Thai, we had pizza, and then we got a bit stuck. The renowned vegetarian and vegan restaurant Siren's had closed. We had eaten fish earlier in the trip and didn't want it again. We also didn't want a meat-heavy restaurant. Indian kept re-entering our list of options, especially as Mr Bite is a fan.

So, Indian it was. Annapurna Indian in Salamanca Place to be specific.

Whilst pondering the menu, Mr Bite mentioned that his mother routinely ordered biryani at Indian restaurants. I'd never even heard of it prior to then, but the menu description sounded appealing. I thought I would give it a try. Thus, I ordered vegetarian biryani and a side of tandoori mushrooms.

It was the best Indian meal I have had.

It turns out I do like some Indian food - so long as it is biryani.

When pondering possible dinner options recently, I recalled this experience and thought I would try recreating biryani at home. There are plenty of recipes out there; my version ended up being an adaptation from To round things out, I also made a tomato-y lentil dish that is a variation of a dish I've made in a number of ways over the year.

Together, they worked rather well. And as Mr Bite and I both enjoyed the meal, I can see this featuring on our dinner rotation again.

Vegetable biryani
Adapted from this recipe at
Serves 6 when paired with tomato lentils, or 4 as a main meal
(in other words, I made too much and half is now in the freezer!)

1 cup basmati rice
3 cups water, divided
1 vegetable stock cube
1 tsp olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 large or 1 small eggplant, chopped
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1/4 zucchini, chopped (optional; I added this because I was using zucchini with the lentils)
1 stick celery, finely sliced
1/4 cup currants
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped, plus extra to serve

Heat 1 1/2 cups of the water and the stock cube in a medium saucepan. Add the basmati rice, bring to the boil, and then reduce to simmer, covered, for ~12 minutes.

Whilst the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and saute the onion and garlic over medium to high heat until golden. Reduce the heat and add the eggplant, garam masala and tumeric. Stir; cook for ~2 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, zucchini and celery and 1/2 cup of the remaining water to the non-stick pan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.

When the rice is just cooked, add it to the non-stick pan, along with the remaining 1 cup of water.

Add the currants and coriander and stir to combine. Leave over low heat for a further 5 minutes. 

Turn off the heat and cover with a tea towel (or a lid, if your pan has one) for a further 5 - 10 minutes. Re-heat before serving and serve with extra coriander.

Tomato lentils
Serves 4 as a side dish 
Easily modified to taste and to suit what you have on hand

1 tin lentils (you could, of course, use dried lentils, soaked and cooked in advance)
1 tin crushed tomato
~2 cups vegetables of choice, diced (on this occasion, I used 3/4 zucchini and 1/2 large eggplant)
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp tumeric
~1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Heat the lentils and tomato in a medium saucepan over medium to high heat until starting to bubble.

Reduce the heat to low and add the vegetables and spices. Cover. Allow to cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, but preferably longer (to allow the flavours to develop).

All in all? I really, really enjoyed this meal. So much so that I could have eaten twice as much as it took to fill me up - the flavours were very more-ish. And that's not a bad thing, really, given the vegetable content.

I may be reconsidering my stance on Indian.

What are your thoughts on Indian food? Have there been any foods you once disliked but now enjoy?


  1. I am fussy with Indian food - when I find the right one I love it. Though I have made very few curries lately. One of my favourites is sausage curry because my mum used to make it. I find that Indian restaurants are often too spicy for me or you have to order too many dishes to get the mix of veg and proteins that I am after. My discovery in blogging is that mixing your own spice mix is far superior to using a bog standard curry powder. I also find garam masala powders can be quite sweet but some are lovely.

    The last biryani that I had was terrible - wrong spices for me but I have had biryanis that I have loved before and I think I have even blogged at least one

    1. I completely agree - I don't want a whole dish of dhal or potato or whatever it might be. It's a hard to get the right balance of flavours and components! Perhaps I should be trying more things at home given your spice mixing garam masala was store bought but seemed ok to me (but then I quite like sweet things!).

  2. I used to cook Indian food at least once a week although these days I'm more likely to have it on a fortnightly basis. The thing I love about Indian food is the variety of dishes you can make, dals, veg curries, koftas, flatbreads, samosas, pakoras etc. We often have an Indian theme for family gatherings as it's easy for one person to cook a meat curry and for the others to make some veg curries. I have only made biryani once as it wasn't very popular at home.

    1. Interesting! Your family must have opposite Indian tastes to mine :) Or perhaps I just need to try making more dishes at home and see if I can make them to my are right in that there are a lot of choices, which is one of the frustrating things about struggling to find one I like.

  3. This looks like great Indian food. What a wonderful meal. I think probably you have been exposed to very ordinary Indian food like the type that's available in shopping centre lunch spots. When you cook it yourself it can be an experience in another dimension!

    1. Definitely! I have never gone for shopping centre Indian but I am getting the sense that home-made may not be the same as restaurant prepared.

  4. This looks like a good meal to add to a rotation. Both dishes sound great though I've never had a biryani. I like Indian, but mostly we only cook dhal at home. And lately that's been superseded by Ethiopian lentils.

    1. Ethiopian is something I still need to try. I sense (hope!) that I may like that much more than Indian so I should really get on to it.

  5. This looks GREAT! I'm sad though, that you don't like indian food- it's my favorite!

  6. I love Indian food. We have a couple of great restaurants here in Canberra and in winter S and I would eat curry at least once a week. I really love eating it with one of the breads (roti and parathas are my favourite) so that you have the curry and rice all rolled up. Yummy! I'm so glad we had already decided to have curry for dinner, this post has me craving it!

    1. Actually, I do quite like naan. But it seems I just don't get the whole Indian thing! Your enthusiasm makes me realise I still have a ways to go :p I'm glad to have whetted your appetite for your curry though!

  7. I have never had this type of Indian food. I tend to like it as long as it is not too spicy! I had a friend in middle school from India and her dad would make the most fantastic vegan foods. I always had 4 cups of water per bowl of food while my friend thought I was crazy. :)


I genuinely appreciate all comments and the time taken to post them. Occasionally, I may need to restrict commenting to registered users in order to halt large volumes of spam. If that happens, I will lift the restriction within a week.

Want other ways to interact? Bite-sized thoughts is on Facebook ( and Twitter (