Hyderabad-style chickpea biryani

Hyderabad-style chickpea biryani

I Love India
Martin Poole

Biryani is one of India’s most elegant and elaborate party dishes, and Hyderabad is well known for her meaty version. The original biryani was made with lamb, but this soon extended to chicken when it gained popularity (much later), or seafood in coastal regions. Vegetarian biryanis were created for impoverished royalty in some states, but also to cater for India’s millions of vegetarians. This version is as delicate as any other biryani, where the rice is as important as the protein. Serve with a raita and, if you want, a vegetable side dish. I like to serve this with pan-fried aubergines with seasoned Greek yogurt and topped with pomegranate seeds, coriander and mint leaves.


Quantity Ingredient

For the rice

Quantity Ingredient
400g basmati rice
vegetable oil, as needed
2 tablespoons ghee
5 cloves
5 green cardamom pods
2.5cm cinnamon stick
1 dried bay leaf
2 small onions, thinly sliced
750ml water

For the chickpeas

Quantity Ingredient
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 good teaspoon finely grated root ginger
4 large garlic cloves, finely grated
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons see method for ingredients, (fresh if possible)
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
3 tablespoons chopped coriander

To finish

Quantity Ingredient
large pinch saffron threads
4 tablespoons hot milk
20g unsalted butter, cubed
large handful storebought crispy fried onions and chopped coriander, to serve


  1. Put the saffron in a small cup with the milk and soak while you get on with the dish. Make the rice. Wash it really well in several changes of water, or until the water runs clear. Leave to soak.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil and the ghee in a large, heavy-based, lidded pan. Add the whole spices and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the onions and ½ tsp salt and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, then increase the heat and cook until golden. Drain the rice and add it to the golden onions. Stir well over a high heat to dry off any water and coat the rice in the oil for 2–3 minutes. Pour in the measured water, taste and season well. The water should taste a little salty, or the rice will be a bit flavourless. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat right down. Cook undisturbed for 6 minutes, then taste a grain; it should be nearly or just done. Take off the heat and set aside, covered, for 5 minutes. Spoon on to a large plate so it doesn’t overcook. Set the pan aside for the final assembly.
  3. For the chickpeas, blend together the tomatoes and yogurt. Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in a large pan. Add the onions with a good pinch of salt and cook until really soft, then increase the heat and cook until properly golden. Add the ginger and garlic and cook gently for 40–50 seconds. Add the ground spices and a splash of water and cook until the water has evaporated. Add the blended tomato mix and cook over a highish flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to the boil and then reduces to a thick paste. Reduce the heat a little and cook until the paste darkens. Add the chickpeas and enough water to come halfway up the chickpeas. Return to the boil, taste and adjust the salt. Simmer for 5–6 minutes. Add the mint and coriander, and season for a final time. There should be some liquid in the pan; if not, add a little boiling water, or reduce if needed, until you have a watery curry.
  4. To finish, place half the butter cubes in the pan. Cover with half the rice, then drizzle with half the saffron milk. Pour over the chickpea masala and top with the remaining rice, saffron and butter. Cover tightly with a lid and cook over a really low heat for 20–25 minutes or until steaming. Scatter with crispy onions and coriander.
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