Our first meal in Hyderabad was a late lunch of Vegetable Biryani overlooking Hussain Sagar Lake. We were dining with our guide Srinu at The Waterfront Restaurant. We ordered a side of Grilled Paneer Kebabs. The tables had bright blue linens reflecting the serenity of the lake view. The restaurant was quiet at that mid-afternoon time but given the size of the restaurant we were in awe when we thought of how busy it would usually be.

That pace explained our server’s ability as he deftly spooned the order of Vegetable Biryani onto our plates without a strands of rice landing on those freshly pressed linens. We sat politely waiting for a sign from our host to dig in. The long, fluffy grains of basmati, crispy fried onions, and evenly spiced vegetables were a welcome sight. The fragrance drifted to meet our olfactory senses as a pleasing harbinger of what our taste buds would enjoy. And, we did indeed, enjoy every bite.

Our Vegetable Biryani recipe might not be typical of Hyderabadi biryanis but it is light and well-spiced like the one we enjoyed there. This recipe comes from our great mentor Noorbanu Nimji. Her Moghali cuisine would have fit right in at Hyderabad.

Vegetable Biryani Recipe

6 to 8


2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 chopped fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 chillies – jalapeños or Serranos – slit along the sides lengthwise
¾ cup peas
¾ cup cauliflower florets
¾ cup chopped eggplant
1 cup chopped potato
1 cup chopped tomatoes (1 medium)
2 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt – or to taste
1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon Garlic Paste
1 teaspoon Ginger Paste
1 teaspoon Green Chilli Paste – or to taste
1 teaspoon coarsely ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup green bell peppers, cut in 1-inch cubes
½ cup red bell peppers, cut in 1-inch cubes
½ teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon finely cut coriander leaves
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 Tablespoons Crispy Fried Onions


  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan on medium heat, add the curry leaves, cumin seeds and chillies and cook until the seeds pop and splutter – about 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in the peas, cauliflower, eggplant and potato and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, yogurt, garlic, ginger and chilli pastes and fennel seeds, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are almost cooked – about 15 minutes. Tip: Add water a little at a time as necessary to keep the mixture from sticking.
  4. Stir in the green and red bell peppers, Garam Masala, sugar and coriander leaves and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork – about 5 minutes more.
  5. Add the lemon juice. There should be about a cup of gravy – if not add hot water to make about 1 cup.
  6. Add the crispy fried onions last.
  7. Enjoy hot over basmati rice.

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