Biryani – Just Like My Grandmother’s

Apr 5, 2011 by

Every family has a grandma, nonna, nani, dadi, abuela, generally a cute and plump ball of love with a collapsed smile when the dentures are out. Even though they appear to smile vacantly most of the time whilst providing nods at conversations around them, they ‘get it’ far more than we give them credit for. They are the family powerhouse who quietly yet effectively ensures that values and traditions are moving forward, particularly when they come from the kitchen.

Have you noticed that there are several ways to make a particular dish, be it a variation in technique, ingredient or sequence? Have you ever wondered why? Don’t look too far. You picked this up from your grandmother and she picked it up from hers. My Nani has always had magic in her hands when it comes to food and ‘Biryani’ was a dish she was renowned for.

Biryani originated in Iran and has been adopted and adapted from Africa to South East Asia. It is a roasted rice dish cooked with aromatics, meats and vegetables. Varying in flavor from region to region, the one similarity is the manner in which it is served ‘with a puffed out chest’. My nanny has handed this dish down with the respect of a family heirloom and without doubt, my cousins and I will do the same.

Comprising of layers of rice, marinated lamb cooked in a rich and spiced gravy, fried potatoes and caramelized onions, this dish is finished in the oven where flavors mingle in the steam. The contrasting flavors and textures of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy is what make the dish mysterious and unpredictable in every bite.


2 cups of Basmati rice, washed, soaked
2lbs stew size lamb pieces (with and without bone)
6 medium sized potatoes
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1 bunch of cilantro
½ bunch of fresh destemmed mint leaves

Lamb Marinade

Juice from 1 lemon
1/8 cup vinegar
1 tblsp grated ginger
1 tblsp grated garlic
Salt, pepper, 2 tsp garam masala

Lamb Curry

3 Large onions finely diced onions
½ cup of oil
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
¾ tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tsp red cayenne pepper
1 can of crushed tomatoes
5 cloves (optional)
1 heaped teaspoon of coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 cup yoghurt



1) Marinate lamb with all marinating ingredients for at least 2 hours (overnight if possible)
Lamb Curry
1) Heat oil, add cumin and cloves. As they sizzle and deepen in color, add onions and after 7 minutes add ginger and garlic. Cook until they caramelize (light brown)
2) Add tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook until oil begins to separate from the mixture.
3) Add the marinated lamb and cook on high heat for 7 minutes. Beat and add the yoghurt and coriander powder and reduce to simmer. Cook covered for approximately 1 ½ hours, stirring intermittently.
4) Once the meat is tender, add the garam masala, 1 handful of cilantro and remove from heat.

Deep Fried Potatoes

1) Peel and slice in 3mm rounds
2) Heat oil and fry until golden, drain and set aside

Caramelized Onions

1) Slice and cook on medium heat until brown, drain and set aside


1) Boil in plentiful water (at least 6 cups, drain and set aside) cook ¾ through

Dish Assembly

1) Butter a large and deep dish and spread 1/3 of the rice, layer 1/3 of the meat, sprinkle a handful of potatoes and some of the onions, sprinkle some cilantro and mint leaves and then repeat once more. The final layer will be of rice garnished with the potatoes and onions
2) Cover and cook in the oven for 40 minutes
3) Serve with fresh cilantro and mint leaves

Serving Suggestions

Serve with mint yoghurt and a simple salad of onions in lemon juice seasoned with salt and ¼ tsp chili powder

Pearls of Wisdom

Do not overcook the rice when you boil it. It should be par cooked as it will cook further in the steam when it is in the oven

Related Posts


Share This


  1. urban cowgirl

    i have ALWAYS wanted to learn how to make biryani!
    i will def give this recipe a try, and it must be authentic if it comes straight from your nanima..

  2. rohit

    Loved this biryani. Lamb is so well prepared with just the right blend of spices that when added to the rice the flavors all come together amazingly. The tender pieces of lamb were so suculent they melted in my mouth. I don't try cooking these but you can always count on me to eat them and comment.

  3. Anonymous

    Made this lamb biryani today. So easy and SOOOOOOO tasty. Kids loved it too.

  4. Anonymous

    Can you substitute the lamb for chicken? Any changes needed if so?

    Also if i were to make this dish vegetarian.. what veggies would you suggest!

    This looks so tasty… and finally you've posted it!

  5. Saira

    You can substitute with chicken and it tastes great too. I would suggest using boneless and on the bone chicken combined (the bones provide body to the sauce and a more intense flavor). The chicken will cook within 40 minutes. Vegetable Biryani is a great alternative. You will cook the potatoes the same way I suggested in the recipe for lamb. You would prepare the gravy the same way too. I would add the following vegetables: cauliflower, paneer, french beans and carrots or mushrooms (restrict to 4 vegetables)

  6. Anonymous

    What would you serve with the Biryani?


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>