This Hyderabadi dish is also called Qabooli or Qubuli. It is of Afghan origin.
Qabuli is the poor man’s version of biryani. The meat is replaced with plant protein in the form of chana dal (split bengal grams), which has a sweet, nutty flavour and holds its shape while cooking. It is coated in yogurt and spices and baked between layers of rice, fried onions and mint for a one-pot meal. The saffron and rose water give it a wonderful aroma.
It is occasionally made with chickpeas, as in this version.
We added two big handfuls of mixed greens from our garden and made it the way we traditionally prepare biryani.
QABULI (Bengal Gram Biryani)
1. Soak 1/2 cup chana dal in 2 cups water for 1 hour.
2. Soak 1.5 cups basmati rice in 4 cups water for 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in 4 tbsps oil/ghee fry 2 cups thinly sliced red onion (about 1 big onion) until reddish brown and crisp. This will take close to 30 minutes on medium heat. Layer a plate with paper towels, and put the onions on them to soak up the oil.
4. Drain the chana dal. Bring 1.5 cups water to a boil, add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, the dal and a little salt, and cook it uncovered until done, but firm.
5. Drain the dal and set aside.
6. Meanwhile, boil 4 cups of water separately. Tie in a cheesecloth with some kitchen twine, 1 small stick cinnnamon, 4 cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 cardamom, and 6 peppercorns. Add this bundle to the boiling water with the rice, a little salt and 1/2 tsp oil. Cook it until the rice is 3/4 done. It should have a tiny bit of bite left to it. Remove the spice bundle, drain the water and keep the rice aside.
7. Crush coarsely, a tiny piece of cinnamon, 4 cloves, 4 peppercorns, 2 green cardamoms and a small piece of mace using a mortar and pestle. In the oil in which the onion was fried, add the crushed spices, 1 bay leaf and 1 tsp shah jeera (black cumin).
8. After a few seconds, add 2 tsp ginger-garlic paste. Fry for 20 seconds, then add 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1/4 tsp turmeric, and 1/2 tsp cayenne (chilli) powder. Add a pinch of salt, and cook the mixture down on medium heat until it recudes to half the quantity, then add the cooked dal. Cook it for a minute, and turn off the flame.
9. Preheat the oven to 250 F.
10. This step is optional. Take 2 big handfuls of spinach or other greens, or any veggie of your choice cooked with some salt. If using greens, wash and chop them, then put them in the microwave on high uncovered for 40 seconds to wilt them a bit.
11. Chop 1/3 cup each mint and coriander leaves, and 4 green chillies very finely.
12. Microwave 3 tbsps milk wih 2 pinches of saffron for 20 seconds.
13. Take a wide oven safe dish. Layer it with half the cooked rice. On top of it, spread the whole dal mixture, half the fried onions, half the mint, coriander leaves and chilies, and all the cooked greens/veggies.
12. Spread the rest of the rice on top, then add the remaining fried onions, mint, coriander leaves and green chillies. Drizzle 2 tbsp ghee on top of the dish, 1 tsp rose water, and the saffron-milk mixture.
13. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
14. Remove the dish from the oven, mix it very gently.
15. Add 1/2 tsp ghee to 3 tbsps. broken cashews and microwave on high for 40-50 seconds until golden. Use as garnish.
Serve with salad, cruncy papad, and/or raita.
Our entry for the “Q” veggie dish at Nupur’s A to Z of Indian Vegetables event at One Hot Stove.