Vegan Biryani Salad – a vibrant and colorful rice salad that will impress everyone at the next cookout. A stunning side or main dish, you’ll be making this all summer long! Give this vegan and gluten-free recipe a try!
This rice pilaf salad is bursting with addictive curry flavor, beautiful colors and super fluffy rice. It is one of those dishes you will make whenever you’re craving Indian food and want to make a flavorful dish at home.
This is one of those recipes I marked to save the page in the dozens of food magazines I have saved. It was created by Chef Biju Thomas for Food and Wine. Denver Chef Biju is from Kerala, India. He explains, “In Kerala, the food isn’t subtle; you don’t “gently cook” any thing…” I am not familiar with the flavors of Kerala so was fascinated to try one of his dishes.
I saw the recipes from 2018 that I dreamed of making, but was missing curry. Now with curry in my spice cabinet, fresh summer yellow squash and dried apricots, yesterday was the right moment to make it. And my daughter and friend in Italy insisted I have to post the recipe. I followed Chef Biju’s recipe as the template and made it my way with what I had in the pantry. Also, this is not a typical biryani. Chef Biju calls it a biryani salad.
What is biryani?
The word “biryani” derives from the Persian word “birian” and it means “fried before cooking.” There are those that believe biryani originated in Persia (which today, is Iran). There are many types of biryani and every region has their variation.
Even though there are many kinds of biryani, the theme is always the same. A biryani is a layered and rich in flavor Indian dish. It does take time to put together and is worth the effort it takes to make all the steps.
It’s usually made with a long grain rice (like basmati)and flavored with exotic spices (saffron or curry). Traditionally cooked in a leather pot, usually layered with lamb, chicken, fish or vegetables. There is usually a thick sauce. It all gets covered with dough and a lid and gets cooked away.
A biryani is not a simple recipe. It usually includes a very long list of ingredients and different components. It’s not difficult to make, but as I mentioned, it takes some time. This biryani salad is totally vegan and the next time I make it, I will make a vegan raita (a spicy yogurt sauce)to go with it. It is a total meal in itself, but we did end up enjoying it as a side dish.
What are in the layers of biryani?
The vegetable biryani is traditionally made with vegetables, chickpeas, and basmati rice.
Typically white rice is used (basmati, but I subbed with jasmine, I was out of basmati), and you could sub in brown rice (cook according the rice directions).
Next layer is a the curry layer, so you have a marinated protein (and this could include vegetables with the protein). The protein and vegetables get marinated in a curry yogurt (I did use curry).
Next layer would be fried potato and fried onion. This particular vegetarian biryani salad was not made with friend potatoes, but it would be great to add in! Another component is cilantro and mint (I used only cilantro) and also roasted cashews (I used raw peanuts).
Another layer is thinly sliced lemons, but I used just fresh lemon juice.
The final layer would be a saffron infused milk (keep it plant based if you’re making it vegan). But following Chef Biju’s recipe, this was made without the saffron drizzle.
Not only is the dish just so lovely to look at, it is delicious! My daughter already let me know it’s time to make it again!
Other rice dishes:
- Risi e Bisi-Rice and Peas
- Very Easy One Pot Chicken and Rice
- Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Recipe adapted from Food and Wine
Vegan Biryani Salad
- 1 cup uncooked lentils I used brown (use green, if you have)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1 medium summer squash cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
- 1 red onion cut into 1/2-inch rounds
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 cup raw peanuts unsalted
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots chopped (use dried peaches if you have instead of apricots)
- 1/4 cup chopped dried papaya
- 3 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro chopped
- 1 bunch scallions chopped
- 1 cup crispy fried onions or fried shallots for garnish
- Combine lentils, 3 cups water, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon salt in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, cook until lentils are tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Drain and cool.
- While the lentils are simmering, heat up a grill pan. I use a medium size one that I use on top of my stove. In a small bowl, add the squash, red onion, curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss it all together.
- Place squash and onion pieces on the heated up grill pan.
- Grill the pieces until they are tender and slightly charred on both side (you don’t want them burned).
- When the squash and onion are ready, remove from grill pan. Cut them into bite size pieces; set aside.
- In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-low. Add peanuts and dried fruit and cook, stirring around so pieces don’t burn, for about 5 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Place rice in a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps (if there are any) with a spoon (or your fingers, if you're wearing gloves).
- Drizzle with remaining olive oil (1-2 tablespoons)and season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Gently fold in cooked lentils, squash, red onion, cashews, fruit, and fresh lemon juice; check seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Fold in cilantro and scallions. Garnish with fried onions or shallots, if using.