Easy Chicken Biryani with Cucumber, Carrot and Mint Raita

I absolutely love Indian biryani.  It’s such a beautiful and comforting dish that is reminiscent of the rice hot-dishes  (or casseroles…for all you non-Minnesotans out there) that I grew up eating as a kid–only a million times better! (sorry, Mom!).

Biryani is simply basmati rice cooked with spices and meats (and/or vegetables).   There are many different styles and types of biryani, each as unique as the people who make (and eat!) them.

A traditional biryani can take hours and hours to make properly.  Maybe someday I’ll have that kind of time to devote towards the absolute perfection of the dish; but until that time comes, I’ve got to take some short-cuts.

And because of the short-cuts I took…my biryani is technically a pulao (it is also close to what most Indian restaurants pass off as biryani in America).

What’s the difference?  In a true biryani, each part of the dish is cooked–and spiced–separately.  Then after each component has been cooked, they are all layered together; forming a dish with mind-blowing, contrasting flavors.  It is simply amazing.

A pulao, on the other hand, is quite easier and faster to cook.  All the ingredients are cooked together and the flavors of the dish come together as one.  You miss out on the different layers of flavor, but the dish is still quite tasty–and way less time consuming!

Chicken Biryani garnished with saffron rice, cucumbers and mint

This version turned out pretty good; but next time I’m going to cook my rice a little differently (see note below), and experiment with making my own masala mix.  I chose to use a pre-made masala because I’m all about the instant gratification.
I wanted biryani.  I wanted it now.  Piyush said we couldn’t go to the restaurant to get some.  So I made it myself.
The last time I made biryani using a homemade spice mix—it didn’t quite turn out how I intended.  It was edible (thankfully), but the flavors weren’t right for a biryani.  I also spent hours and hours attempting to make it; cooking each ingredient separately and dirtying every dish in my kitchen–only to have Piyush tell me it wasn’t even close to being right.
You win some.  You lose some.
I didn’t really want to take that chance this time and wanted to satisfy my biryani craving, so the spice mix was a perfect solution!  Actually, most of my Indian friends use the mixes when making biryanis too…so I don’t feel so bad about it!
Chicken Biryani with Cucumber, Carrot and Mint Raita
Although this recipe requires a lot of spices, I promise it’s easy to make!  …and the flavor is outstanding.  If you can’t find the Shan Biryani Masala package, you could grind your own spices to make your own masala.
(Serves 8–generously)
  • 2 lbs. marinaded chicken breast- diced into 1/2 inch pieces (marinade recipe to follow)
  • 2 tbsp. ghee or oil
  • 2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 4 dried bay leafs
  • 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2 large onions- sliced thinly
  • 10 large cloves garlic- smashed and minced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger- smashed and minced
  • 3 green chilies, or to your taste (I used Thai green chilies–peeled and de-seeded)
  • 1/4 c. yogurt
  • 5 roma tomatoes- chopped
  • 3/4 c. chopped mint leaves, plus more to garnish
  • 1/2 c. chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • 3 1/2 c. basmati rice
  • 1 pkg. Shan Biryani spice mix (or make your own spice mixture)
  • 2 tbsp. golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cashew nuts
  • salt, to taste
  • 4 c. water –to start.  I think I used about 6 cups total.
Chicken Marinade:
  • 2 lbs. chicken breast- diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt- whisked until creamy
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. Shan Biryani spice mix
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • salt, to taste
Mix yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, spice, pepper and salt in a large zip lock bag (or bowl).  Once everything is combined thoroughly, add the chicken.  Toss until chicken is well coated.
Place chicken and marinade in  the refrigerator until you are ready to cook the biryani.  Let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before cooking.
  • At least one hour before making the biryani (and up to 24 hours), make the chicken marinade and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Also soak the basmati rice in water for at least 30 minutes before beginning the recipe.
  • Combine garlic, ginger and green chilies in a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture becomes a paste.
  • In a large pan (I use a 12″ chicken-fryer that is 3″ deep), heat 2 tbsp oil/ghee over medium high-heat.  Once the oil is heated, add the raw spices: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, turmeric and bay leaves.  Cook the spices until they are fragrant and no longer raw.  Add the sliced onions to the cooked spices.
  • Turn the heat to medium and allow the onions to caramelize.  This may take around 30 minutes! —low and slow.  Once the onions become sweet and browned, turn the heat back to medium-high and add the garlic/ginger/chili paste.  Cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until the garlic no longer smells raw.
  • Add the marinaded chicken pieces and cook so they brown slightly–about 2 minutes.  You don’t have to cook them completely at this point.
  • Add the spice package, chopped coriander leaves and chopped mint.  Stir everything so the chicken is evenly coated with the herbs and spice.  Cook for two minutes longer.
  • Add the tomatoes and yogurt.  Cook until the tomatoes begin to break down and they begin for create a sauce.  You now have your gravy!
  • Add 4 c. water to the pan and stir everything to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and taste to make sure the spices are right.
  • After you’ve brought the gravy to a boil, drain the basmati rice and add it to the pan.  Stir the rice until nearly all the water is absorbed.  Cover the pan and cook the rice about 15 minutes longer–until it’s al dente (add more water, if needed).
  • Once the rice is cooked through add a little extra cilantro and mint leaves.  Garnish with chopped cashews and golden raisins that have been cooked in a saute pan for a minute in a little ghee.  Add sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, or hard boiled eggs if you desire.  Biryani is also nice if it’s topped with a few caramelized (or fried) onions.

13 thoughts on “Easy Chicken Biryani with Cucumber, Carrot and Mint Raita

  1. Anthony

    What a great post, I too love a good biryani and it looks like you have found the right balance between end result and simplicity. I see how the partial cooking or pre-soaking of the rice makes it much less like a pilau. Not sure if I can get the spice mix you used in the UK, but for this, I’d be well happy to grind up my own. Love the cucumber and mint too.Thanks! A.

    1. Greg

      Hi Anthony
      You can get Shan spices in most Indian/Pakistani style grocers or halal butchers. Some superstores will stock if they are in proximity to a predominantly South Asian area.


  2. Pingback: Microwave Chicken Biryani « yummyfoodmadeeasy

  3. balvinder

    Shari, I don’t worry about the look as long as it tastes like Biryani. I love it. I see that you love rose water and black salt. Then you must check my rose scented sweet potato kheer. Keep in contact and you will soon see where I use black salt as an important ingredient.

    1. Shari Post author

      OOO Rose water sweet potato kheer sounds amazing!

      I’ll be sure to check it out! I’m also excited to see how you use black salt. It’s one of my husbands most favorite ingredients!


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