Deepavali spirit gets a touch of Halloween through this spice-filled briyani

Pumpkin gives this classic dish a vegetarian twist.

BRIYANI, this one-pot rice dish, the origins of which are open to debate, always evokes a wonderful feeling in my heart.

Just the thought of briyani conjures up beautiful memories of savouring it at home with family and friends.

If you look up the origin of the word, briyani is derived from Farsi — birian — which means fried before cooking. The word birinj in Farsi means rice, derived from the Sanskrit word vrihi.

While some historians say briyani comes from Persia, others are adamant that it originates from the Deccan region of south India, way before the Moghuls arrived.

With Halloween being celebrated in most Western countries today, it seemed apt to feature a Deepavali treat with a twist. I thought of ways to use pumpkin, the star ingredient for Halloween.

I originally wanted to puree the pumpkin and add it to the spice masala base, but the briyani boss — my mother — said it was best to cube it to enjoy the morsels of sweet pumpkin.

Shortcuts are sacrilegious when making briyani, so allocating sufficient time for the prep and cooking process results in this flavourful vegetarian version. This recipe can feed about eight people.

Pumpkin Briyani


2 cups basmati rice, washed and drained

2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp ghee

1 pandan leaf, knotted

1 cinnamon stick

3 bay leaves

3 star anise

10 cardamom

6 cloves

10 shallots, sliced

6 cloves garlic, sliced

2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

(Note: Puree 2-inch ginger with a few cloves of garlic and a splash of water. This can be kept in the freezer)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tbsp briyani powder

1 tsp salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup water

400g pumpkin, skinned and cubed

To temper/fry rice

1 tbsp oil

1 tbsp ghee

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1 pandan leaf

1 tsp briyani powder

4 cups water

For garnish

1 sprig fresh coriander

½ cup toasted almond flakes

1 tsp lemon zestMethodWash rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Leave to soak in clean water for about 30 minutes.

In a pot or frying pan, heat the oil and ghee on medium flame. Add cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, cardamom, cloves and pandan leaf, and saute until you hear crackling sounds.

Then saute the shallots and garlic until fragrant and translucent.

Next, add chillies, followed by tomatoes. Fry until tomatoes are caramelised.Add ginger-garlic paste and saute for about seven minutes until oil forms.

Pour in all the spice powders, including salt and pepper. Add water and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Add pumpkin cubes into the masala. Mix everything together and leave to cook for 10 minutes under a closed lid.

Test with a fork if the pumpkin is cooked. It should be soft but not mushy. Set aside in a bowl.

In a big pot, heat the oil and ghee. Add the pandan leaf, followed by all the aromatics. Add the briyani powder and saute until fragrant.

Drain the soaked rice and pour it into the pot. Coat the rice evenly and fry for a few minutes with the aromatics.

Pour four cups of water and stir. Cover the pot tightly and leave to cook for 10 minutes on medium low heat.

There should be a little water left with the rice three quarters cooked through. Drain out the excess spiced water in a bowl through a colander. Reserve the water.

In the same pot, assemble the rice and pumpkin masala layer by layer starting with the rice. You can add more of the spiced water for moisture.

Leave to steam under the lid for about 10 minutes.

Gently fluff the rice using a wooden spatula or fork to ensure grains are evenly coated with the masala. Garnish with coriander, almond flakes and lemon zest.

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Pumpkin biryani , Deepavali , Halloween , rice , biryani


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