Curry for Change

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Chickpea Biryani


This looks like a really long recipe and a biryani is definitely involved which is what makes it special. Having said that, I had some leftover pilaf rice and whipped up the chickpea filling in just 20 minutes (I did cook only half the quantity). I then layered it within 5 minutes (I didn’t use the crispy onion topping). I then came home in the evening put it on the fire for 20minutes and dinner was ready.

Serves 6

Large pinch of saffron

4 tbs. milk

Handfuls of raisins and roasted cashew nuts, crispy browned onions and fresh chopped coriander for garnish (use as many or as few of these, the more the better)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

20g butter for assembling


1 tbs. vegetable oil and 2 tbs. ghee

400g Basmati rice, washed really well several times until the water runs clear

750ml water

5 cloves

5 green cardamom


1 bay leaf

2 small onions, finely sliced

For the chickpeas

3-4 tbs. vegetable oil

2 x 400g can boiled chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 small-medium onions, finely chopped

4 fat cloves garlic, grated into a fine paste (around 2 good tsp.)

1 good tsp. ginger paste (fresh is best)

¼-1/2 tsp. red chili powder or to taste

2 tsp. coriander powder

2 tsp. cumin powder

1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

2 tsp. garam masala powder

4 tbs. yoghurt

2 medium tomatoes, roughly cut up

3 tbs. each chopped mint and coriander


Make the rice.

  1. Wash the rice really well in several changes of water or until the water runs clear. Leave to soak.
  2. Heat the oil and ghee in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan which has a lid. Add the whole spices and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the onions and ½ tsp. salt and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat up and cook until golden. Meanwhile, drain the rice and add it into the golden onions. Stir well over a high heat to dry off any excess water and coat the rice in the oil for about 2-3 minutes. Add your water to the pan, taste and season well. The water should taste a little salty or the rice will be a bit flavourless. Bring to a boil then cover and turn the heat right down. Cook undisturbed for 7-8 minutes then test a grain, if it is done, take off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes, if not, leave to cook another minute or so. Once steamed, spoon onto some open plates to prevent overcooking. You can use this pot for the final assembly.

For the chickpeas

  1. Blend together the tomatoes and yoghurt or chop the tomatoes and whisk the yoghurt.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium-large sized saucepan. Add the onion with a good pinch of salt and cook until really soft then turn the heat up and cook until properly golden.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic and cook gently for 30-40 seconds or until the garlic is now golden and smells cooked. Add the powdered spices and more seasoning with a splash of water and cook until the water has evaporated.
  4. Add the tomato, yoghurt mix and cook, over a moderate to high flame, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and then reduces to a paste. This stops the yoghurt from splitting. Now turn the heat down a little and cook until this paste darkens. Add the chickpeas and a good splash of water and bring back to the boil, taste, and adjust seasoning. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add the mint and coriander and take off the heat. There should be some liquid in bottom of the pan.

To finish

  1. Heat the milk and add the saffron, soak for 15 minutes.
  2. When you are ready to eat, break up little cubes the butter into cubes and place half on the bottom of your pan. If your pan is quite wide, you can make this in in three layers if it is narrowish then maybe do 5 (i.e. rice, chickpea, rice, chickpea, rice). So, cover with half/third of the rice, drizzle with half/third of the saffron water. Layer whole or half the chickpea masala and top with the rice, saffron etc. and keep going until all the layers are done. Top with the saffron drizzle, raisins and cashews. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place on a low heat for 20 minutes or until it is steaming. You can leave this, off the heat, for 20 minutes now and it will stay hot.
  3. Spoon onto a platter and scatter crispy onions and coriander for garnish and serve with a raita.  

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