Ever wondered how you might create a homemade vegan biryani to rival the delights from your local takeaway? Featuring chickpeas, veg, and flavourful spices, this one-pot recipe provides a filling and nutritious meal that's dairy-free, meat-free, and gluten-free.
If you'd like to bulk this out further as a meal, try adding extras such as fried tofu cubes or sliced mushrooms. You could also simply increase the amounts of chickpeas and green peas, both of which tend to be affordable and readily available.
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What is biryani and where does it come from?
Biryani – sometimes also spelled biriyani or buryani – is a popular spiced rice dish originating in the Indian subcontinent. Usually made with basmati rice, it traditionally includes meat, fish, or vegetables.
Fun fact: In 2021, food delivery company Swiggy reported that Indians ordered 115 biryanis per minute! 📱
Biryani vs pilau
Whereas biryani tends to be a main dish topped off with sauces or chutney, pilau rice tends to be an accompaniment to main curry dishes. At least this is how the distinction is usually made in UK restaurants and takeaways.
Is vegetable biryani vegan?
As with many vegetable dishes from the Indian subcontinent, biryani is often vegetarian but not vegan due to the ghee (clarified butter) used. It may also be served with other dairy products such as yoghurt or dairy-based sauces.
The good news is it's very easy to make biryani vegan by using cooking oil and serving with plant-based accompaniments such as vegan raita. In this recipe, I use coconut oil to help add a distinctive flavour to the rice grains.
Which spices to use?
In addition to aromatics such as garlic, ginger, and chilli, the spices in your biryani are key to ensuring the final dish has plenty of flavour.
This recipe uses a combination of cumin seeds, garam masala, turmeric, and ground coriander. It also includes fennel seeds and cloves as optional extras, which are well worth adding if you have them.
If you're wanting to add more flavour or simply use different flavours, spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and bay leaves would all work well here.
Which rice is best?
When it comes to biryani, you need look no further than basmati rice. With its long, slender grains and slightly nutty flavour, it's delicious when combined with the other flavours in this recipe.
By rinsing the rice before cooking, you'll help to remove some of the starch and prevent the cooked grains from sticking together.
For another top-drawer recipe with basmati rice, check out this Cajun-spiced vegan jambalaya.
Is chickpea biryani healthy?
This vegan biryani comes in at 466 kcal per serving, delivering plenty of nutrients including vitamins, fibre, and protein (see section below).
While the coconut oil is admittedly quite high in saturated fat, it helps to keep the rice grains separate while adding a distinctive flavour. Besides, the amount of oil used in this homemade dish is likely to be far less than what you'd find in a takeaway version.
Is there protein in vegan biryani?
There sure is. Protein is a nutrient that everyone seems to obsess over – especially in terms of not getting enough – but did you know that protein is found in all plants?
In this meat-free biryani recipe, the chickpeas and green peas are particularly high in protein. Just one serving will provide you with 11 g (22% of your recommended daily amount), which you can easily increase by adding more legumes or ingredients such as tofu (see recipe notes).
What you'll need
To make this flavour-packed vegan biryani recipe, you'll need:
- Basmati rice as the star ingredient
- Aromatics in the form of onion, green pepper, garlic, ginger, and chilli
- Spices (jump to the section above to learn more)
- Chickpeas to provide texture and nutrients along with the green peas
How to make vegan chickpea biryani
Top tip before you start: Since you'll be rinsing the rice and chickpeas (and defrosting the green peas), you can do all this together in the same colander. The running water will help to defrost the peas, then these ingredients can go in the pan at the same time later.
Okay, now on with the cooking steps...
Using a large pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat one tablespoon of oil on a low-medium heat.
Add the chopped onion and green pepper, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for 6-7 minutes or until starting to soften.
Once soft, add the garlic, ginger, and chilli. Cook for another couple of minutes to soften.
Add another tablespoon of oil then add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, garam masala, ground turmeric, and ground coriander.
Mix well and cook for a minute or so until aromatic.
Add the final tablespoon of oil then stir in the rinsed rice, chickpeas, and green peas.
Mix well and fry for a minute, making sure all the rice grains are coated in the oil and spices.
Next, add the boiling water or vegan stock. Sprinkle with a little salt, give everything a gentle stir, bring back to a simmer, then cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Reduce the heat to very low and cook for 12 minutes (don't remove the lid).
After around 12 minutes, remove the lid to check that the water has been absorbed and the rice grains are tender with a little bit of bite.
Once the rice grains are tender, remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for another few minutes with the lid on.
Fluff up the grains gently using a fork and serve.
Serve the biryani with sliced spring onions, chopped coriander, red chilli, and lashings of homemade vegan cucumber raita (a minty yoghurt-based dip). Other suggestions include toasted flaked almonds, chutney, onion salad, and sauces.
To prevent the biryani from turning mushy, it helps to rinse the rice beforehand and use oil during cooking to keep the grains separate. Don't overcook the rice on the heat, and then give it a few minutes off the heat after cooking to steam with the lid on.
To ensure this recipe is 100% gluten-free, use a vegan stock that is labelled as such (or just use water). You may also want to check any sides or toppings that you include.
Once it has cooled down, store the biryani in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days or freezer for a couple of months.
Once the cooked biryani has been stored in the fridge or freezer, reheat thoroughly and don't reheat more than once.
Variations and tips for vegan biryani
- Dried chickpeas: If using dried chickpeas, these will need to be cooked in advance before using in this recipe. Check out my post on how to cook dried chickpeas, then you can also use them in recipes such as homemade hummus, vegan Waldorf salad, or Moroccan couscous.
- Pan lid: To create an even tighter seal, cut a piece of aluminium cooking foil to sit in between the pan and the lid. Once the lid is on, use a cloth or oven glove to fold the foil that's sticking out down onto the sides of the pan.
- More veg: To add more veg (while keeping things easy), try some mixed frozen veg in with the rice and chickpeas.
- Whole spices: If you don't have these, simply substitute with a couple of teaspoons of ground cumin.
- Larger batches: If scaling up the quantities, note that the cooking time may need to increase slightly.
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Vegan Biryani with Chickpeas and Veg
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1½ inch piece of ginger, chopped
- 1 red chilli, sliced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
- 3 whole cloves (optional)
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1½ teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1½ cups (270 g) basmati rice, rinsed/washed (see notes for ratio)
- 1x 14 oz (400 g) tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup (140 g) frozen peas, defrosted (see notes)
- 2¾ cups (650 ml) boiled water or vegan stock (see notes)
- Salt to taste
- Using a large pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat one tablespoon of oil on a low-medium heat. Add the chopped onion and green pepper, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for 6-7 minutes or until starting to soften.
- Once soft, add the garlic, ginger, and chilli. Cook for another couple of minutes to soften.
- Add another tablespoon of oil then add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, garam masala, ground turmeric, and ground coriander. Mix well and cook for a minute or so until aromatic.
- Add the final tablespoon of oil then stir in the rinsed rice, chickpeas, and green peas. Mix well and fry for a minute, making sure all the rice grains are coated in the oil and spices.
- Next, add the boiling water or vegan stock. Sprinkle with a little salt, give everything a gentle stir, bring back to a simmer, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce the heat to very low and cook for 12 minutes (don't remove the lid).
- After around 12 minutes, remove the lid to check that the water has been absorbed and the rice grains are tender with a little bit of bite. If not, you can add a splash more water and continue cooking for a few minutes on low heat.
- Once the rice grains are tender, remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for another few minutes with the lid on.
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- How to Cook Dried Chickpeas
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