Vegetable Dum Biryani – exploring “Dum Pukht” cooking

Vegetable Dum Biryani

By the time I heard of “Dum Pukht” cooking, I was already a vegetarian. So I went and banged my head against the wall a few times in frustration. “Dum Pukht” – which is Farsi for “Choked Breath” is a technique used to slow cook mostly meat dishes, literally in their own steam (hence the name). The vessel in which the cooking is happening is sealed and as the meat slow cooks, it releases its juices and aroma and infuses everything else in the container with it. Dum dishes are typically not heavily spiced but rely on fresh herbs for their fragrance. Part of the “Wow” factor with these dishes happens when the dish is served. The vessel is brought out and the seal broken just before serving. The aromas that waft out have to be experienced to be believed.

This technique, characteristic of Lucknow (or Avadh) in North India, was made popular about 200 years ago. It is said that when the Burra Imambara (Big Mosque) was being built, cooks would prepare large quantities of meat and rice for the workers. They would typically seal these containers and bury them in heaps of charcoal so that when the workers took a break, their hot lunch was slow-cooked and ready. While it started out in Avadh, this technique has shown up in other Indian cuisines including Punjabi and Hyderabadi as well.

Sealed vessel ready for the oven

Anyway, back to my story – for a while I thought I would not have a chance to experience Dum cooking but then I chanced upon the excellent cookbook put together by J Inder Singh Kalra – “Prashad”. In it there was a recipe for a vegetarian Dum Biryani (Rice dish) that was apparently very popular with the Nawabs (rulers) of Hyderabad when they wanted something light. It is an excellent recipe. Over the years I have played with it and modified it to make it more healthy (i.e. use less fat). While it may look intimidating, it really is not a difficult dish to make – just one that has complex flavors.

The easiest way to make this dish is to break it down into four components, prepare each one and then assemble the dish. Before you begin, you may want to preheat the oven to 375F.



1 Cup Basmati Rice – picked and washed

2 Green Cardamom

1 Black Cardamom (great if you have it, or add an additional green one if you don’t)

2 Cloves

1 inch stick of Cinnamon

1 Bay Leaf

3 Cups water


1. Add the rice and the whole Garam Masala to about 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.

2. Cook rice till it is almost cooked (but still a little raw) and drain the water.

3. Set aside.


1 1/2 Tbsp Cooking Oil

2 Green Cardamom

1 Black Cardamom (great if you have it, or add an additional green one if you don’t)

2 cloves

1 inch stick of Cinnamon

1 Bay Leaf

1/4 Onion – diced

1 Medium Potato – peeled, diced

1 Large Carrot – peeled and diced

1 Green Chili – deseeded and thinly sliced

1 /2 inch piece of Ginger – peeled and julienned

1 tsp minced Garlic

1/2 tsp Turmeric powder

1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder

1/4 cup Yogurt – whisked

8-10 Almonds – sliced

2 Tbsp Raisins



NOTE: Ideally you would want to cook the vegetables in the same vessel that you will assemble in. A “Handi” (round metallic vessel) is ideal. However, you can cook the veggies in a saucepan and transfer to an ovenproof dish for assembly.

1. Heat the oil and add the Whole Garam Masala (Green Cardamom, Black Cardamom, Cloves, Cinnamon and Bay Leaf).

2. Add onion when the masala starts to sputter.

3. Cook till the onions are just starting to brown and add turmeric and chili powder.

4. Add the vegetables, yogurt and a little bit of water (about 1/3 cup).

5. Bring to a boil and then simmer till the veggies are cooked. There should not be much liquid left over.

6. Add dry fruits and salt to taste.


1/2 tsp Saffron strands

1 Tbsp Milk

1/4 cup yogurt – whisked


1. Dissolve the saffron in warm milk.

2. Add the yogurt and mix well.


1/2 cup flour (any kind will do)



1. Add water and knead the flour to make a fine, smooth, soft dough.

2. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside.


1/3 cup of fresh mint and cilantro (equal proportions) – washed and chopped


1. In the vessel you will be putting in the oven – handi or Corningware, start by putting the cooked vegetables at the bottom.

2. Sprinkle half the yogurt-saffron mix and mint coriander on top.

3. Cover with half the rice.

4. Sprinkle the other half of the yogurt-saffron mix and mint coriander on top.

5. Cover with the rest of the rice.

6. Cut a piece of foil (or a piece of cotton cloth, soaked with water and wrung) to cover the dish.

7. Put a lid on top and seal the vessel with the dough.

8. Stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes.


Break the dough and open the lid. Using a spatula move the vegetables from the bottom to mix with the rice. Serve with plain yogurt, daal or a curry of your choice.

Mixing up the rice with the veggies

1 Comment

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One response to “Vegetable Dum Biryani – exploring “Dum Pukht” cooking

  1. Pingback: A generalized veggie stir-fried noodle recipe aka what to eat when you have random stuff in the fridge | foodydoody

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