Lima Beans Paneer and Saffron Basmati Rice (Vegetarian Biryani)

Lima Beans Paneer and Saffron Basmati Rice (Vegetarian Biryani) Recipe

Vegetarian biryani is a vegetable curry with saffron basmati rice. This dish is truly authentic Indian cuisine. I always make Biryani when we have a big crowd at home. Indian food is meant to be eaten by a big group.

Paneer is an Indian cheese that you commonly fry and add to rice or vegetables. It is pretty firm and does not melt when heated. The kids love vegetarian biryani and the saffron color brings a nice ...The same dish, when prepared with meat (usually mutton, goat or chicken), is traditional wedding fare.  One of Lulu's uncles told me that if he goes to a large Indian function and doesn't get biryani he feels cheated.


Yields: 8 servings

3 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 pack paneer, 250 g
1 lime juice with pulp, freshly squeezed
1/2 cup fried onions
5 Tbs canola oil, as needed
1 shallot, finely sliced
3 tsp garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 long red chiles, stemmed
4 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
4 cloves
1/2 stick cinnamon, broken in 2
1 tsp curry powder
1 cup plain yogurt
1 bay leave
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 pack baby lima beans, 16 oz, frozen, thawed
1 Tbs salt, as needed
1/2 tsp saffron threads
4 Tbs ghee


For the paneer:

Cut the cheese into 1/2-in cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a fry pan, then barely fry the cubes of cheese on all sides. Set aside.

For the rice:

Wash the rice throughly, discard any dirt. Place in a bucket, cover with water. Add 1/2 of the juice of a lime with its pulp. Soak for at least 1 1/2 hour. Drain as much water as possible.

Fill about 4 quarts of water in a big pot. Add both kinds of cardamom pods, the cloves and the cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Pour the rice. Cook for about 7 minutes at a bubbly simmer. Add 2 teaspoons of salt then cook for another 2 minutes. The grains of rice should be still a little hard, about 2/3 of the way cooked. Drain the liquid from the rice using a fine mesh colander. Discard the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

For the lima beans:

In a small pan, dry roast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Grind in a pestle and mortar (or in a spice grinder if you make a large quantity) with the black peppercorns. Add the cayenne powder and the turmeric powder.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil and add the shallot and garlic. Cook until it's golden for about 2 minutes. Add the ginger garlic paste and cook for another minute. Add the curry powder, add the rest of the lime juice. Add the yogurt. It will for a thick paste. Add the lima beans. Keep the temperature at a high heat. Stir frequently for about 2-3 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of water and the whole long red chiles. Continue to cook the lima beans for about 5 minutes. Add the paneer at the end. Set aside.

Assembly time:

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Coat the inside of a cast iron pot with oil. Place a thin layer of the lima beans at the bottom. Add 1/3 of the quantity of the rice. Add another generous layer of lima beans. Sprinkle some salt. Repeat the process above and finish with rice.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads. Add about 1/2 cup of water. Using the pestle (the stick), create 3 evenly-spaced holes (forming a triangle) in the pot of rice and drizzle the saffron liquid into the rice. Fill another 1/4 cup of water into the mortar to ensure all the saffron is used. Then drizzle some more liquid into the pot of rice. Place little mounts of ghee all over the pot. Sprinkle with fried onions. Seal the pot with an aluminum sheet and cover the pot. Place on the stove over high heat for about 4-5 minutes. Steam should escape from the pot. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Let it cool for about 15 minutes, then gently stir the rice using long chopsticks without breaking the grains of rice.

Serve the biryani with raita (yogurt based sauce) or a spicy mango chutney if you'd like.

Bon appétit!


garam masala photo

I have always used frozen lima beans. I've never used the canned ones. Frozen vegetables are frozen at the peak of ripeness and are as close to fresh as you can get without growing them yourselves or finding a local supplier.

If you don't have any nut allergies, you can add some roasted cashew nuts, flaked almonds or soaked-in-tea raisins just before serving.

Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter. So if you don't have ghee, you can add some butter to the rice instead.

Indian cuisine always call for ginger garlic paste. You can make your own. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger, carefully removing any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife, then finely chop the root. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.

I usually use plain yogurt from the Indian store or Greek-style yogurt, it has a denser consistency than the regular one.

Saffron is quite pricey. If you don't have any, you can add shredded carrots to the rice. Just julienne the carrots and cut them the same size of the grains of rice. The visual will look like saffron rice with small golden orange grains of rice. It will look good but of course will not taste the same as saffron.  My advice is to go with the saffron threads though.  It's not really Indian otherwise.

Frying onions is easy. Chop the onion. Heat about 1 inch heigh of canola oil in a skillet. Fry the onion in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning until the color is evenly golden brown. Drain the oil on paper towels. I always have to make extra so that I can vacuum-seal and store in the freezer for future use. I place about one cup per bag. You can store them up to 3 months. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I keep them exactly the same way I would do with my extra pesto or the (papaya) meat tenderizer for my poultry.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on March 24, 2009.


[-] Light and perfect! - Guest-lisaiscooking
This looks so deliciously light and full of flavor and texture. Wish I could have this for lunch today!

lisaiscooking Website Link
[ Posted at 9:12 AM on 3/24/09 | Reply ]
[-] Me HUNGRY! - Guest-PhyllisMeHUNGRY
Hi Jackie,

I love biryani - thanks for another great recipe!

Since I really enjoy reading your blog, I've given you a sisterhood award. Here's the link:


Phyllis (Me HUNGRY) Website Link
[ Posted at 11:56 AM on 3/24/09 | Reply ]
This looks delicious! I love all of the spices. Thanks for sharing!

Hayley Website Link
[ Posted at 5:22 PM on 3/24/09 | Reply ]
[-] looks incredible - Guest-OysterCulture
Thanks for sharing the link to this delicious looking recipe. It looks incredible!

OysterCulture Website Link
[ Posted at 12:08 PM on 8/2/09 | Reply ]
[-] cheese - Guest-j
"cut the cheese" ha
[ Posted at 5:46 PM on 2/23/10 | Reply ]
Hey Jackie! Biryani is probably one of my fave Indian foods. Your recipe is awesome, by the way! :) :)
[ Posted at 2:51 PM on 6/9/10 | Reply ]

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