Qabooli Biryani (Lentil Biryani)


I grew up in Hyderabad, a city famous world over for its delectable Biryanis. In my opinion mutton (goats meat) Biryani is the best, but since I am married to a vegetarian, I have made a few vegetarian versions of it as well. This is one of them. The nutty flavor of channa dal adds a special touch to the dish. Don’t be misguided by its simplicity, it looks unassuming but, in one bite the blend of spices, ghee and caramelized onions will definately take you to the land of nawabs.

My secret to this classic recipe:

  1. I don’t deep fry the onions, instead I patiently caramelize them in low heat. The end result is both delicious (you can really taste the sweetness of the onions) and heart healthy (Which I am becoming increasingly conscious of as I get older).
  2. Since I use very little oil, I choose good old fashioned Ghee.
  3. I use fresh whole spices and make Biryani Masala as part of my preperations (Will post my recipe shortly)

This is not a dish for the weeknight when you want a quick fix, this is more for those weekend lunches when you want to indulge but not too much. I prefer this with just a side of raita.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 1 hour      Yield: 4 Servings     Level: Medium


  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
  • 3-4 green chili pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala or biryani masala
  • 2 tbsp milk, warmed
  • 1/4 tsp (a generous pinch) saffron
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts
  • 2 tbsp raisins

For Rice Layer:

  • 1.5 cups basmati rice
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp ghee or oil
  • 1 tsp salt

For Channa Dal Layer:

  • 1/2 cup channa dal (split yellow peas)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1/2 inch ginger, grated
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp garam masala or biryani masala
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • salt to taste


  1. Cooking the Rice:
    1. Soak rice in cold water for 30 mins, drain
    2. In a pan bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the caraway seeds, bay leaf, rice and oil.
    3. Cook the rice till its about 1/2 way cooked (the grains become opaque but not mushy)
    4. Drain, rinse with cold water (so that they don’t continue cooking in remnant heat) and set aside.
  2. Caramelizing Onions:
    1. In a heavy bottom pan heat 1 tbsp oil, add the sliced onions and caramelize till they are brown. Add a pinch of sugar to get a rich brown color.
    2. Remove from heat, add a pinch of salt and set aside.
  3. In the same pan add the cashew nuts and raisins and sauté for 1-2 mins, remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Cooking the Channa Dal:
    1. Soak the dal in water for 1 hour, drain
    2. In a pan (you can use the same pan that was used to caramelize the onions) heat 1 tbsp of ghee, add the channa dal and sauté for 1-2 mins.
    3. Add the ginger and garlic, sauté for 2 mins, mix in the turmeric, chill powder and garam masala.
    4. Add in the water and salt.
    5. Cover and cook till the dal is cooked but not soft or mushy.
    6. Remove half of it out and set aside.
    7. To the other half add some of the caramelized onions, yogurt and mix well.
  5. Assembly/Layering:
    1. First layer is the channa dal with the yogurt.
    2. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chopped cilantro, mint leaves, green chili pepper, sautéed cashews and raisins and garam masala.
    3. Put a couple slices of lemon
    4. Add a layer of 1/2 the rice
    5. Add a layer of the second half of the channa dal (without the yogurt)
    6. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chopped cilantro, mint leaves, green chili pepper, sautéed cashews and raisins and garam masala
    7. Put a couple slices of lemon
    8. Add a layer of the rest of the rice
    9. Top this layer with remaining chopped cilantro, mint leaves, green chili pepper, sautéed cashews and raisins and garam masala
    10. Add the saffron in warmed milk and pour it over the top most layer.
    11. Close the lid and cool in low heat for 25-30 mins.


  • For best results for the Dum style cooking, if cooking in a pan seal the lid so that the steam doesn’t escape. This can be done with a basic flour dough.
  • You can bake it in the oven as well. Assemble in a oven proof casserole, cover with foil and cook for 20-25 mins at 350F/180C.
  • If cooking in a pressure cooker, layer and cook for 20 mins without the weight.
  • If cooking in rice cooker, layer and follow manufacture instruction for cooking white rice.

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