Deepavali spirit gets a touch of Halloween through this spice-filled briyani

THE STAR – Briyani, this one-pot rice dish, the origins of which are open to debate, always evokes a wonderful feeling in my heart.

Just the thought of briyani conjures up beautiful memories of savouring it at home with family and friends.

If you look up the origin of the word, briyani is derived from Farsi — birian — which means fried before cooking. The word birinj in Farsi means rice, derived from the Sanskrit word vrihi.

While some historians said briyani comes from Persia, others are adamant that it originates from the Deccan region of south India, way before the Moghuls arrived.

With Halloween being celebrated in most Western countries recently, it seemed apt to feature a Deepavali treat with a twist. I thought of ways to use pumpkin, the star ingredient for Halloween.

I originally wanted to puree the pumpkin and add it to the spice masala base, but the briyani boss — my mother — said it was best to cube it to enjoy the morsels of sweet pumpkin.

Shortcuts are disrespectful when making briyani, so allocating sufficient time for the prep and cooking process results in this flavourful vegetarian version. This recipe can feed about eight people.

Pumpkin briyani is a wonderful vegetarian option and a twist to the classic dish. PHOTO: THE STAR



Two cups basmati rice, washed and drained

Two tbsp oil

Two tbsp ghee

One pandan leaf, knotted

One cinnamon stick

Three bay leaves

Three star anise

10 cardamom

Six cloves

10 shallots, sliced

Six cloves garlic, sliced

Two green chillies, deseeded and chopped

Two tomatoes, chopped

Two tbsp ginger-garlic paste

(Note: Puree two-inch ginger with a few cloves of garlic and a splash of water. This can be kept in the freezer)

One tsp turmeric powder

One tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

One tsp garam masala

One tbsp briyani powder

One tsp salt

Half teaspoon ground black pepper

Quarter cup water

400g pumpkin, skinned and cubed


One tbsp oil

One tbsp ghee

One tsp cumin seeds

One cinnamon stick

Two bay leaves

One pandan leaf

One tsp briyani powder

Four cups water


One sprig fresh coriander

Half cup toasted almond flakes

One tsp lemon zest


Wash rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Leave to soak in clean water for about 30 minutes.

In a pot or frying pan, heat the oil and ghee on medium flame. Add cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, cardamom, cloves and pandan leaf, and saute until you hear crackling sounds.

Then saute the shallots and garlic until fragrant and translucent.

Next, add chillies, followed by tomatoes. Fry until tomatoes are caramelised. Add ginger-garlic paste and saute for about seven minutes until oil forms.

Pour in the spice powders, including salt and pepper. Add water and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Add pumpkin cubes into the masala. Mix everything together and leave to cook for 10 minutes under a closed lid.

Test with a fork if the pumpkin is cooked. It should be soft but not mushy. Set aside in a bowl. In a big pot, heat the oil and ghee. Add the pandan leaf, followed by all the aromatics. Add the briyani powder and saute until fragrant.

Drain the soaked rice and pour it into the pot. Coat the rice evenly and fry for a few minutes with the aromatics.

Pour four cups of water and stir. Cover the pot tightly and leave to cook for 10 minutes on medium low heat.

There should be a little water left with the rice three quarters cooked through. Drain out the excess spiced water in a bowl through a colander. Reserve the water.

In the same pot, assemble the rice and pumpkin masala layer by layer starting with the rice. You can add more of the spiced water for moisture.

Leave to steam under the lid for about 10 minutes.

Gently fluff the rice using a wooden spatula or fork to ensure grains are evenly coated with the masala. Garnish with coriander, almond flakes and lemon zest.