HomeFoodButternut Squash And Mushroom Biryāni

Butternut Squash And Mushroom Biryāni

Butternut Squash And Mushroom Biryāni


Serves 6 to 8

Biryāni is a fragrant layered rice dish of Persian and Moghul origin that is frequently made with meat. This soul-warming autumnal version (a crown jewel of this cookbook) has seared mushrooms and roasted butternut squash. Caramelized onions play a key role in developing the layers of flavor in a good biryani, and I use a combination of fennel and onion, which further heightens the seasonal flavors. Time is an important ingredient, too, as each component is treated with care and is individually seasoned to deepen its flavor. I recommend making this dish for special occasions when you’re able to dedicate time to enjoy the process of making it. Use the longest grain bāsmati rice you can find—this dish really relies on its delicate flavor and texture.

Prep Time 30 minutes

Cook Time 2 hours



•¼ cup (60 ml) unsweetened nondairy milk (such as oat or soy)

•½ teaspoon saffron

•1 teaspoon rose water or kewrā water, optional


•1½ cups (300 g) white bāsmati rice or biryāni rice

•1 black cardamom pod, optional

•4 green cardamom pods

•1 to 2 small pieces mace, optional

•1 bay leaf

•1 cinnamon stick (3 inches/7.5 cm)

•3 cloves

•2 teaspoons salt


•1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm pieces (about 2 cups/300 g)

•1 teaspoon neutral oil, such as sunflower

•¼ teaspoon salt

•¼ teaspoon fresh garam masālā (see page 232)


•2 teaspoons neutral oil

•8 ounces (230 g) cremini mushrooms or desired variety, sliced ¼-inch/6 mm thick (about 3 cups)

•¼ teaspoon fresh garam masālā (see page 232)

•¼ teaspoon salt


•1 tablespoon neutral oil

•1 teaspoon cumin seed

•½ teaspoon fennel seeds, optional

•1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (about 2 cups/200 g), optional

•2 yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups/600 g)

•½ teaspoon salt

•6 garlic cloves, minced (about 1½ tablespoons)

•1 tablespoon grated ginger

•2 teaspoons ground coriander

•2 teaspoons ground cumin

•1 teaspoon fresh garam masālā (see page 232)

•½ teaspoon ground turmeric

•½ teaspoon ground red chili, plus more to taste

•¾ cup (180 g) unsweetened plain nondairy yogurt (see page 223)

•3 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro

•3 tablespoons roughly chopped mint

Freshly chopped fennel fronds

Freshly chopped cilantro and/or mint

Chopped roasted cashews, optional


1.Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.To make the saffron milk, pour the milk into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the saffron threads, then remove it from the heat. Stir in the rose water (if using) and set aside.

3.To parboil the rice, put the rice in a fine-mesh sieve, running cool tap water over it while simultaneously swishing the grains between your fingers. Rinse until the water begins to run clear, then drain the rice. Place the rice and 9 cups (2 L) water in a large saucepan and add the cardamom, mace (if using), bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until the rice is about three quarters cooked, 5 to 8 minutes. Taste at 6 minutes to check that it’s not overcooked (it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the rice and spices. Set aside.

4.Prepare the butternut squash. Toss the squash with oil and salt and spread the pieces in an even layer on the baking sheet so the pieces are not touching, to ensure that they caramelize. Roast for about 30 minutes, until starting to brown. Remove them from the oven, sprinkle on the garam masālā, and set aside. Adjust salt to taste.

5.While the butternut squash is roasting, prepare the mushrooms. Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Heat the oil until glossy, 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms. Sauté until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masālā and season with salt to taste. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C).

6.To make the masālā, heat the oil in the same pan used to sauté the mushrooms. Add the cumin and fennel seeds (if using), and stir until they start to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add the fennel (if using) and onion, sprinkle with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the coriander, cumin, garam masālā, turmeric, and red chili, and heat until lightly toasted, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, butternut squash, mushrooms, cilantro, and mint. Taste and adjust the salt and red chili. Be sure to season the mixture generously because it will be layered between the rice, which is neutral in flavor.

7.In a 12-inch (30 cm) round baking dish or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, evenly layer the prepared ingredients from bottom to top: one third of the rice and whole cooking spices, 1 tablespoon saffron milk, two thirds of the vegetables, the second third of the rice, the second tablespoon saffron milk, the last third of the vegetables, the last third of the rice, and the last tablespoon of saffron milk.

8.Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes or until fully heated through. If the lid isn’t tight-fitting, wrap some foil between the lid and the dish to prevent any steam from escaping. Remove the lid, top with fennel fronds, cilantro, and cashews (if using), and serve hot.

(Recipe from ‘Plant-Based India: Nourishing Recipes Rooted in Tradition’ © Dr. Sheil Shukla, 2022. Reprinted by permission of The Experiment. Available everywhere books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com)

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