The Healthy Biryani experiment..

Aneesh Varma Biryani


So many of you have asked for this, that I will try to remember what I did and type it out below. Unfortunately I only have pictures of the end product.. so use your imagination of the steps.

AIM:  Can Biryani be healthier?

REALITY:  Can you somehow knock 30-40% of the calories off while only sacrificing a bit of the taste?

The whole process originated from my love of Biryani and but yet not being able to freely dive into it!  So I started thinking (over several weeks infact) about how to substitute ingredients to make it healthier. Here is the recipe from the first major attempt (suggestions welcome).

(Made for 3-4 people)

1. Rice: Naturally this is one those ingredients that adds tons of carbs into the recipe, but is absolutely essential. So my alternate suggestion was:

  • Use 3 cups of Basmati (Tilda or something)
  • And 1 cup of long-grain brown or wild rice (therefore reducing carbs)
  • Also, soak the rice in cold water and rise repeatedly. Let first round soak for about 30 minutes, and then do it in increments of 5 minutes each. The aim is to really rinse out the surface starch. Keep doing it till the water becomes clear (it took my nearly 8 rounds).
  • Cook it in a lot of water (2.5 times the amount of rice) with some Bay Leaves till about its three-fourths done (ie: still a bit hard. Test if you squeeze a grain, it breaks into 3 pieces rather than crushes into a paste). Drain out all the water then.
  • Put it aside once its drained (maybe even run some cold water through it to stop the cooking process).  Also try to time yourself such that the curry (step 5 gets done just in time for the semi-cooked rice).

2. Turkey (lean mince):  A bit unconventional, but I chose to move away from Chicken (and definitely lamb) to Turkey which is a leaner meat. I also tried to find an extremely lean mince version. In all it worked well — so dont worry. Get about 500 gms.

3. Ingredients for the process:

  • Garlic (4-5 pods) – finely chopped
  • Ginger (2 inches) – finely chopped
  • Onions (Red ideally) — 2 big ones, chopped
  • Shallots (optional) — 1 or 2 — thin long slices (mostly for garnishing). Can mix in with some onions here too.
  • Yogurt (again, chose to go for Low Fat, Greek version is better)
  • Mint leaves (dried, you can do this in the oven too!)
  • Chillies (as you prefer)
  • Raisins (handful, up to taste)
  • A little bit of milk
  • Saffron (3-4 strands)
  • Bay Leaves (optional)
  • Shan Biryani mix (its a bit of a cheat, but otherwise you can get the raw ingredients like Garam Masala and tamarind to mix together). Google around — you will find some pictures of this. Its very widely available in UK and US supermarkets.

(And dont even think about Tomatoes!  I dont know who has been advocating adding tomatoes to biryani)

4. Philosophy:  This is important stuff.

My biryani has always been a layered biryani with Rice + curry + rice + curry and so on.. And then the whole thing cooks slowly for the last 20 minutes to get the rice to cook. This also gives it the characteristic white, yellow, orange and red rice tones.

Some other people like to mix the rice and curry together and make a different type of biryani. I dont particularly like that style — I call that more of a pilaf.

5. The curry:  Its important that this curry stays a bit dry, otherwise the whole biryani experience becomes mushy (the rice should stay separate at the end, therefore curry has to be relatively dry).

  • Start with low fat oil (minimal required) to get the chopped onions, garlic, ginger going (Pro Tip: You can add Star Anise and Cloves at this stage, optional)
  • Once they start browning well, add in the minced turkey (drain out as much water prior to this)
  • When the mix starts getting brownish (golden) — then add in 4 tea spoons of the Shan Biryani Spice Mix (some people suggest using more, up to you). If you are doing it the old-fashioned way, add in the Garam masala now with a bit of the tamarind
  • Keep cooking for another 5-7 minutes as the spices get cooked and mixed in well with the turkey.
  • Slowly start adding a bit of water (less than a cup) and a bit of yogurt (1-2 table spoons) to start forming a dry curry paste. It is very important you manage this process well to ensure it doesnt get too “liquidy”
  • Throw in some raisins at this stage as you start feeling that the mix is hitting the right consistency. The sauce should be thick.

6. The layering:

  • As you get to this stage, turn on the oven to 180C with Fan. Put some of those long cut shallots in there and let them get cooked (its a healthier way to to a saute). Takes 2-3 minutes at most and no oil used!
  • Meanwhile, take a large baking tray (pyrex) or you can split it over 2-3 smaller ones.
  • The first layer has to be the traditional “ghee” layer. However, in this version I took melted reduced fat butter (margarine) and mixed it with olive oil to give it that same effect. Big saving on calories here!
  • After you have greased the bottom of the dish, add a layer of your semi-cooked rice, and then a thin layer of the curry mix. Try to get some of the Bay Leaves in there too.
  • At this stage, I chose to put a very thin layer of yogurt and some of those dried mint leaves (you can add more raisins too).
  • By now your shallots must be ready, so get them out and sprinkle half of it on this layer.
  • Then add the second layer of rice and the remaining curry mix and more shallots. (I typically aim for 2 rice + 2 curry layers, though you can do 3 + 3 as well I am sure)
  • At the very top, just pour in a bit more of the Oil + Butter mix (optional).
  • Finally, take some of the saffron and mix it with 3-4 table spoons of milk. The milk will take on this strong orange-red colour and has a distinct smell. This is your final topping that you can “throw around” over the mix below. Apart from the sporadic colour blots in the biryani, it also adds a gentle sweetness (along with the raisins and shallots). That balance of taste is quite important (and part of my philosophy that good biryani is only made by layering — see point 4).
  • Just make sure that there is not too much liquid accumulating at the bottom of the mix (having a transparent glass pyrex dish helps).

7. The baking:

  • People on the internet talk about all types of complex methods to use flour mix to cover etc —- I think its too much. Just cover with a aluminium foil and stick it in the oven (which you might want to lower to about 160C and no fan).
  • Keep an eye on it, typically I find that 10-15 minutes is enough and then then let it sit there and rest for another 20-30 minutes in the residual heat. Some people have a habit of giving it a bit of a mix at this stage, to get the layers to start mixing.. that is up to you.


You can top it up with some more “saute-oven” shallots if you have.. and also crush over some dried mint leaves.

A good raita here is absolutely essential. If nothing else, just do these 5 steps to get a basic raita:

Yogurt mixed with Salt + Pepper + Paprika + Dried mint leaves crushed + Touch of garam masala!

Hope it works out for you guys.. Biryani is one of those things that gets better the next day after a night in the fridge.. so I tend to make a bit more.

Give me any other suggestions from your own experiments to make it any healthier if you can. My end product looked like this (you can see the different colours of rice in there.. 50 shades of orange!)

By Av

Old stuff here.

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