Vegetable Korma and Biriyani

This is a picture of a Korma

The biriyani that we made for our wedding welcome dinner involved two major steps.  First, you make the vegetable korma, which elevates humble vegetables by braising them in an elegant cardamom nut sauce.  Then a day later, you combine the korma with basmati rice and bake it to create festive banquet dish…biriyani.  I have read that lamb biriyani is typical for weddings in India, but we made vegetable biriyani and it was excellent.

The recipe that we used suggested that these dishes both improve with time, and are best made a day ahead and re-heated.  Stews like korma always taste better a day later, but I was skeptical about making rice a day in advance and re-heating it. However,  I tested it out the week before the wedding and it was true!  The rice is even better the next day.   I understand why this is a typical dish for a big party.  When you are cooking food for a lot of people, dishes that can be made in advance are very helpful.  This recipe also succeeds in making an elegant, festive dish out of inexpensive ingredients. I would not say this an easy dish though, as it  requires some cooking techniques that are unusual.

For our wedding welcome dinner, I asked my sister Silvi to make the korma.  Silvi likes the alchemy of cooking (she is currently an apprentice chocolatier) and I knew that she would rock the technical aspect of this dish.   She did a beautiful job cooking many, many batches of the korma.  A couple of weeks after the wedding, she used that same cooking technique to invent her own stew recipe using Greek flavours.  My friend Tony (Of corn fritter frying and cake decorating fame) stepped in to help with making the korma into biriyani.  I had not figured out how to adjust the amount of time needed to bake several batches of biriyani instead of just one and he worked it and made it all happen!

This is just a single recipe.  The korma serves about 8 people as part of a meal, but once it is extended into a biriyani it serves 12-15 people!  It is from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni.


  • 2 medium-sized white potatoes (1/2 lb altogether)
  • 2 medium-sized turnips (we used 1/2 pound of cauliflower instead)
  • 1 six-inch carrot
  • 12 Tablespoons mild oil
  • 1/4 pound Indian Cheese (paneer) cut into uniform 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch x 1 and 1/2 inch pieces.  If you don’t want to use the cheese just add an additional potato.
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger root
  • 2 green chilies, seeded and minced
  • 12 green cardamom pods
  • 1 three-inch stick of cinnamon
  • 24 whole cloves
  • 5 tablespoons blanched, ground almonds
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup shelled green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  1. Peel and chop the vegetables into uniform 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch x 1 and 1/2 inch pieces.  Put the chopped vegetables in cold water to prevent discoloration.
  2. If you are using the paneer, heat 3 Tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan.  When the oil is hot, carefully add the cheese.  Have a lid handy because it will spatter.  Fry the cheese, turning often for about 5 minutes or until they are golden on all sides.  Transfer the cheese to a bowl and set aside for later.
  3. Add the rest of the oil to the pan along with the onions, ginger and chilies. Turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes or until the seasonings turn light brown.
  4. Add the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and cook, stirring for another 5 minutes.
  5. Add the almond powder and cook, stirring rapidly for another 2 minutes.
  6. Add 2 Tablespoons of yogurt to the fry mixture.  When the liquid from that yogurt evaporates, add 2 more Tablespoons.  Continue adding yogurt, 2 Tablespoons at a time until the entire cup is used.  Stir constantly to make sure that the sauce does not stick and burn.
  7. Drain the vegetables from their water and add them to the pan along with the salt and 1 and 1/2 cups of hot water.  If you are using fresh peas add them now.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook the vegetables, covered, until they are firm but tender (about 30 minutes).
  8. Add the fried cheese, heavy cream and frozen pears.  Cook uncovered for over medium heat until the sauce is thick.
  9. Taste and adjust the salt.
  10. Ideally this korma sits in the fridge for a night and is served or made into biriyani the next day.
  • One batch of vegetable korma (recipe above)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 Tablespoons finely chopped mixed nuts (we used pistachios, almonds and cashews)
  • 3 Tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a large, fine sieve wash the basmati rice until the water runs clear.
  3. Place the rice in a bowl and cover in water by an inch.  Allow the rice to soak for half an hour.
  4. Meanwhile bring 3 quarts of water to boil in deep pot.
  5. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Give it a stir to prevent the rice from settling.  Bring the water to a boil again and then time it for 2 minutes.
  6. Pour the entire content of the pot through the sieve in the sink and rinse the rice for 5 seconds to wash away excess starch.
  7. Put the rice in an oven proof casserole.  Add the korma and combine thoroughly.  Cover the casserole with foil and then with tightly fitting lid.
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven off and let the casserole sit undisturbed for another 10 minutes.
  9. Ideally the biriyani is allowed to cool and kept in the fridge overnight.  It will taste even better the next day.  To reheat, place the casserole with a tight lid in a 300 degree oven for 25 minutes.
  10. Garnish with nuts and sultanas before serving.

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