Savory spiced mushroom biryani is a wonderful option for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Layers of marinated and fried mushrooms, ghee-coated basmati rice, and fresh herbs make this an extra-special vegetarian biryani.
Biryani, or a steaming pot of rice layered with meat or vegetables and spices, is one of my favorite dishes. Growing up, it was the kind of meal I'd look forward to for a special occasion. Every so often, my mom would get up early to prepare chicken biryani on a Saturday. She'd marinate and cook the chicken, fry the onions, prepare the rice, and then layer everything to steam together.
Biryani is a labor of love; there's no two ways about it. I'm not going to tell you that I've discovered a "hack" for cooking it in an hour, that it's swift and easy, or that I've invented a 5 ingredient version. That said, it's incredibly delicious, comforting, and full of flavor. It's an impressive meal meant to share with family and friends and a lovely expression of gratitude.
And while we don't quite know the exact origins, it was likely first developed and presented in the royal kitchens. So it's no surprise that this rice, a favored selection at wedding celebrations, is robust in scope, flavor, and scale.
What makes this recipe different?
There are many traditional meat biryani recipes on the internet, so I challenged myself to develop a vegetarian version. The typical vegetable biryani often underwhelms me at restaurants; to me, they feel like a bit of an afterthought compared to the meat versions. I've really been loving the umami flavor of mushrooms in various vegetarian applications, including my mushroom bourguignon and creamy mushroom ragu. So naturally, I wondered if mushrooms could take the place of meat in biryani. Well, I'm happy to report that after several tests, I've developed a delicious mushroom biryani for you! Here, the mushrooms are front and center; they stand up to the bold flavors of a typical biryani.
- Meatier mushroom varieties pair well with heavier spices and provide a firm yet chewy texture.
- Layers of fried mushrooms, marinated mushrooms, herbs, and rice = layers of flavor. This is nothing like a boring vegetable pulao.
- Par-boiling the rice eliminates technical difficulties in undercooking or overcooking grains in the final presentation.
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Ingredients in this mushroom biryani
I love using a mix of meatier mushrooms to stand up to the bold flavors of the biryani. Maitake (or hen of the woods) is earthy, woodsy, and meaty. King trumpet and shiitake mushrooms offer a strong umami bite and remain relatively firm after cooking. Oyster mushrooms crisp up nicely, making them an excellent option for frying. Use whatever varieties you like, though I don't recommend white button mushrooms, as they don't offer enough flavor.Note: I call for 8 ounces of mushrooms in total. Half the mushrooms are fried in oil until brown and crispy, while the other half are marinated in yogurt and simmered in gravy.
Extra-long aged basmati rice
Biryani requires a specific type of rice. You may be wondering why! Because we're steaming layers of mushrooms and rice together, we need rice that yields fluffy, separated grains. So the best rice for the job is extra-long aged basmati rice.
What is basmati rice?
Basmati rice is a fragrant (the word basmati literally translates to fragrant) long-grain rice produced mainly in South Asia. It has an aromatic, floral, pandan-like aroma; when cooked, basmati generates a nutty, almost popcorn-like scent. Look for aged rice with an off-white tinge. Aged rice is more aromatic than non-aged varieties (meaning more flavor) and generally yields fluffier grains.
Recommendation: Pride of India is my brand of choice because of its aroma and flavor. I also love Tilda!
👩🏽🍳🌶️ Important FYI 🌶️👩🏽🍳
I cycle through my spices quite quickly because of my extensive recipe development work. I also source my spices from specialty spice shops that tend to offer fresher spices.
What does this mean for you?
Make sure to check your spices before following this recipe. If your spices emit a strong fragrance, they're likely fresh. If they seem older or more stale, you may need to purchase new spices or add more spices to achieve the same flavor. Otherwise, this recipe might not taste as flavorful.
There are a lot of spices in biryani, and the exact spices can vary from recipe to recipe. Biryani uses both whole and ground spices. Whole spices often add to the aroma of a dish but are generally less potent in flavor than ground spices. For example, a stick of cinnamon cooked with rice will add a subtle sweetness - but you may not be able to guess the rice has cinnamon in it. On the other hand, a bit of ground cinnamon stirred into rice will make the rice taste like, well, cinnamon rice.
In biryani, there are several warming spices used to develop a nice aroma, including cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, and bay leaves. If you'd like an in-depth introduction on Indian spices, check out my guide here.
Saffron: Saffron, which comes from the flower of Crocus sativus, is a special spice that is almost always present in biryani. It adds a beautiful floral aroma and its red threads stain the rice a vivid yellow. Saffron is expensive, so you'll only need a few threads to bring color to the dish. The best saffron I've ever used is from Diaspora Co. It's incredibly fresh, soft in texture, and fragrant.
You can also purchase it at a local spice shop. Your local supermarket will likely have it, as well; it may not have the freshest fragrance, but it will still work for this recipe. Because saffron is quite expensive, I recommend keeping it in a cool, dark place away from moisture so that it lasts as long as possible.
Looking for other ways to use your saffron? It's delicious in many rice dishes, including biryani and paella; desserts, like kulfi or cakes; and pasta doughs and sauces, such as these Sardinian-style gnocchi called malloreddus or saffron-based cream sauces.
Biryani masala: Biryani masala is a mix of many different spices, mostly earthy warming spices, that gives the dish its quintessential biryani flavor. Biryani masala is pretty similar to garam masala, so you can definitely substitute garam masala if you can't find it. You can purchase the masala at any specialty Indian store or online. I like both the Bombay and Hyderabadi varieties.
💡Did you know?💡
Some biryani masalas have a coarse texture. A coarser texture will lead to a gritty, less enjoyable experience. Make sure to finely ground any coarser powders to a fine texture; you can also sift out the coarse particles with a sieve.
Make sure to purchase whole-milk, full-fat yogurt here to reduce the risk of the yogurt marinade curdling when exposed to heat. Use your favorite full-fat yogurt. Desi-style dahi or homemade yogurt is great, too!
Ginger and garlic
Ginger and garlic are classic ingredients in many Indian dishes including biryani. You will want your ginger and garlic to be finely grated to a paste. Feel free to use a microplane to grate the ginger and garlic, or blend them into a paste using a small blender or food processor. If you already have ginger-garlic paste at home, you can use that as well.
Fresh cilantro and/or mint add a bright finish to this dish. Don't skimp on this, it really balances the savory flavors of the biryani!
How to ensure perfectly cooked rice
When I first started making biryanis and pulaos, I was extremely intimidated by cooking the rice. Some recipes call for a one-pot method of layering raw rice with the other components and adding enough water to cook the rice. When I tried this, I'd often end up with mushy rice, hard undercooked rice, or a combination of the two. It was definitely frustrating, but I was determined to find an easier method.
After a lot of research, I finally landed upon Andy Baraghani's Herb Rice; this rice dish uses a common technique of par-boiling the rice in water until it's just barely al dente (similar to making pasta!). Because the rice is almost fully cooked through, when you layer it with your meat and/or vegetables, you lightly steam the biryani just enough for the flavors to converge and finish cooking the rice all the way. This prevents any undercooked rice or mushy, overcooked rice. I also use this technique in my Springy Peas and Fried Onion Pulao.
The only downside here is that you need to use another pot to cook the rice. But, honestly, for me, it's totally worth it!
How to make mushroom biryani
Okay, enough background info! Let's get to it. Ready to make some mushroom biryani? Here are the steps:
Marinate mushrooms: Marinate half of the mushrooms in a mixture of yogurt, spices, ginger, and garlic. You'll want to marinate these mushrooms for about 30 minutes at room temperature (keeping these at room temp prevents the yogurt from curdling) or up to 4 hours in the fridge (then let them sit at room temp about 30 minutes before cooking to prevent curdling).
Rinse and soak the rice: For optimal texture, the rice needs to rinse and soak ahead of time. To rinse the rice, place it in a fine mesh sieve and rinse, frequently running your hands through the grains, until the water almost runs clear - about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. The key word here is almost. The water will never run clear, so don't stress out too much about this!
How do I know when basmati rice has been rinsed enough?
To show you what I mean, I captured two bowls of rice, one with unrinsed rice and one with rinsed rice. On the left, the unrinsed rice is quite cloudy. On the right, the rinsed rice is much clearer (but not perfectly clear).
After rinsing, soak the rice for at least 30 minutes up to 4 hours. Drain the rice before cooking.
Prepare the saffron milk: Crush the saffron with a small mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, or a knife to intensify the color and aroma. Mix the crushed saffron with milk until it turns yellow; set aside.
Par-boil the rice: Fill a large pot with 8 cups of water and mushroom bouillon (or 8 cups of mushroom/vegetable stock and a generous amount of salt). Bring to a boil, then add the drained rice. Boil for 4 to 6 minutes4,5, or until the rice grains taste "al dente." The rice should still be fully intact and taste almost cooked through. The center should be less cooked; with a firm texture and opaque color but not completely raw. The ends will taste just about cooked through, with a slight springiness to the bite (and not mushy at all). Less-aged/fresher rice will take closer to 4 minutes, while longer-aged grains will take 5 minutes or longer. Drain the cooked rice (reserving ½ cup of the stock), then gently toss with ghee to keep the grains separated.
Fry the mushrooms and onions: Fry the other half of the mushrooms and half of the onions until they're golden-brown all over. Remove from the pot and set aside.
Cook the marinated mushrooms: Bloom whole spices in oil, then saute the remaining onions until soft and translucent. Add half of the sauteed onions to the marinade. This helps temper the yogurt (and warm it up to the temperature of the pot) and prevents curdling. Add the reserved stock to the pot, followed by the mushroom marinade. Bring the mushrooms to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces to a gravy-like consistency.
Layer the mushroom biryani
Now that you've prepared all of the components, you're ready to layer the biryani. Wipe the pot clean, then place half of the rice at the bottom of the pan. Layer the mushroom gravy on top of the rice. Scatter half of the cilantro, and dollop the remaining tablespoon of ghee all over. Layer the second half of the rice on top. Pour the saffron milk evenly over the rice, followed by the fried mushrooms and onions, and the cilantro.
Steam the mushroom biryani
Cover the pot, then set it over medium heat for 5 minutes to warm up the biryani. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting on your stove, then set a timer for 20 minutes. Finally, turn the heat off, and allow the biryani to sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve!
To serve the biryani, you can either mix all of the layers together, as I've done, or keep the layers separate. If you keep the layers separate, you'll see distinct layers when you spoon and serve it.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
Store leftover mushroom biryani in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 4 days. Reheat leftover biryani in the microwave with a damp paper towel on top; microwave in 1 to 2 minute intervals until warmed through.
In developing this mushroom biryani, I referenced multiple traditional sources, but the resulting recipe is not traditional. It's full of spice and flavor, but at the end of the day, it's my take on a vegetarian biryani! For example, the onions are not deep-fried, though they do turn golden-brown. If you'd like, you can deep-fry the onions in a cup of oil, then drain them on a paper towel.
Yogurt is prone to curdling when heated. If this happens to you, don't worry - the biryani will still be tasty! But to prevent this, ensure the yogurt and marinade are at room temperature. Also, before adding the yogurt-marinated mushrooms to the pot to make the mushroom gravy, stir in some of the warm sauteed onions to warm up the marinade. This helps temper the yogurt so that it doesn't undergo a sudden change in temperature when it's added to the pot. Finally, make sure the pot is on low heat when you add the marinade.
Ha, no! This is a great question, and the answer is not obvious unless you've grown up eating biryani. Don't eat the whole spices -- they taste super intense (and sometimes bitter). You can remove them when serving, or allow guests to pick them out while eating.
Hard-boiled eggs are a common addition to biryani, and it provides a great source of protein. And while I haven't tried this, you could definitely layer in some spiced chickpeas or tofu! You can also serve this dish with a side of lemon wedges, fresh chilies (if you like it spicy!), and a side of yogurt.
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Mushroom Biryani Recipe
- 2.5-quart french oven, or a small dutch oven or medium pot
- Mortar and pestle, or a coffee/spice grinder
For the mushroom marinade
- ¼ cup plain whole milk full-fat yogurt
- 1 ½ teaspoons grated or finely minced ginger, or ginger paste
- 1 ½ teaspoons grated or finely minced garlic, or garlic paste
- ½ teaspoon biryani masala, finely ground; use 1 teaspoon garam masala if you can't find this
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, if using any other salt use ½ teaspoon
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon mild red chili powder, such as Kashmiri chili powder
- 4 ounces assorted mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake or oyster, thinly sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
For the biryani:
- 1 cup aged extra-long basmati rice*, 200g
- 3 tablespoons mushroom bouillon, I recommend Better than Bouillon; you can also use vegetable or mushroom stock
- 2 tablespoons ghee, divided
- ¼ cup canola oil, or other neutral oil; plus more if needed
- 4 ounces assorted mushrooms, such as maitake, cremini, shiitake or oyster, thinly sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced and divided
- Kosher salt, as needed
- 8 to 10 saffron threads
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 2 whole cardamom pods
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 Indian bay leaf, optional
- ½ cup fresh cilantro or mint, finely minced
- ½ cup plain whole milk full-fat yogurt
- hard-boiled eggs (for protein), lemon wedges (for acidity), or sliced fresh chilies (for heat), optional
- Prepare the marinade: In a medium bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients (except for the mushrooms). Stir in the the mushrooms, then marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature.You can also marinate the mushrooms in the fridge for up to 4 hours. Make sure to remove them from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before cooking them.¼ cup plain whole milk full-fat yogurt, 1 ½ teaspoons grated or finely minced ginger, 1 ½ teaspoons grated or finely minced garlic, ½ teaspoon biryani masala, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon mild red chili powder, 4 ounces assorted mushrooms
- Prepare the rice: In a fine mesh sieve, rinse the rice while running your fingers through the grains until the water runs mostly clear, about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover with water. Soak rice for at least 30 minutes, up to 4 hours. Once soaked, drain the rice.1 cup aged extra-long basmati rice*
- Par-boil the rice: Bring a large pot with 8 cups of water and mushroom bouillon to a boil. Once boiling, stir the pot to ensure there are no clumps of bouillon. Add the rice and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the rice tastes “al-dente”. Rice should still be intact but taste almost cooked through; the center should be firm, but not hard. Drain the rice and reserve ½ cup of the stock. Gently toss rice with 1 tablespoon of ghee and set aside.If using vegetable stock or mushroom stock, generously salt the stock before boiling the rice.3 tablespoons mushroom bouillon, 2 tablespoons ghee
- Fry the mushrooms and onions: While the rice soaks and the mushrooms marinate, fry the remaining mushrooms and onions. In a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart dutch oven or pot, heat canola oil to medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ the onions. Fry them until they are nicely browned (but not burnt), about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, season with salt, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate and set aside.¼ cup canola oil, 4 ounces assorted mushrooms, 1 large onion, Kosher salt
- Make the saffron milk: Crush the saffron with a mortar and pestle, spice/coffee grinder (you can also chop it with a knife) until it forms a coarse powder. In a small bowl, mix saffron and milk. Set aside.8 to 10 saffron threads, 1 tablespoon whole milk
- Cook the mushroom gravy: Heat the residual oil to medium heat.If you don't have much residual oil, you can add an extra tablespoon or two of canola oil. Add the whole spices until they begin to sizzle, then stir in the remaining slices of onion.Saute onion for 6 to 8 minutes until soft and translucent. Reduce the heat to low and add ½ cup of the reserved stock. Add half of the cooked onions to the marinated mushrooms (this will help temper the yogurt so it doesn’t curdle) and stir to combine. Add the marinated mushroom/onion mixture to the pan, then bring to a simmer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened to a gravy-like consistency and the oil has separated from the gravy; the gravy should cling to the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl. Wipe the pan clean.2 whole cardamom pods, ½ cinnamon stick, 2 whole cloves, 1 Indian bay leaf
- Layer the biryani: Add half of the rice and spread in an even layer in the dutch oven. Top with all of the onion-marinated mushroom gravy and half the cilantro.Dollop the remaining tablespoon of ghee in an even layer. Layer the remaining half of the rice and pour the saffron milk all over.Top with the fried mushrooms and onion and the cilantro. Cover the pot.Note: If your dutch oven tends to stick (or you don't want to take the risk), layer the mushroom gravy first, then all of the rice, then the saffron milk, fried mushrooms, fried onions, and cilantro. When I make this in my dutch oven with the rice on the bottom, I typically get a layer of toasted, but not burnt, rice (or socarrat).½ cup fresh cilantro or mint
- Cook the biryani: Set the pot on the stove on medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, covered at medium heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, then cook for 20 minutes. Finally, turn the heat off, and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and serve.
- Serve the biryani:There are two ways to serve the biryani. You can either mix all of the layers together and serve or keep the layers separate and scooping the biryani onto a serving plate. Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs, lemon wedges and chilies (if desired). Part of the biryani experience is keeping the whole spices in the rice; however, they are not meant to be eaten! You can push them aside while serving or eating.½ cup plain whole milk full-fat yogurt, hard-boiled eggs (for protein), lemon wedges (for acidity), or sliced fresh chilies (for heat)
Aka the resources that helped make this mushroom biryani!
1 Herb Rice from Andy Baraghani (Bon Appetit)
2 Pakistani Chicken Biryani from Tea for Turmeric: I learned a ton of tips from this chicken biryani recipe by Tea for Turmeric by Izzah. I highly recommend this recipe if you ever want a chicken version!
3 Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham
4 Tasting lots of delicious biryanis at home, in restaurants, and in India over the years 😊