Most of the Indian population in Mauritius today are descendants of indentured labourers—Indian labourers shipped around the world by the British, after the abolition of slavery, as cheap, dispensable labour. For this reason, there are descendants of Indians living in all corners of the globe—including Fiji, the Caribbean, Mauritius—who haven’t been to India, but still harbour this long‑generational connection. My family would have originated from Andhra Padesh on the South East Coast of India. This recipe for biryani is one of my absolute favourite things to eat, and easily adaptable as a meat or vegetarian meal. It might seem labour‑intensive, but set aside about 2 hours to assemble and cook everything and you will be fine.
Ideally, marinade the meat in the yoghurt mixture overnight. This makes the perfect one pot meal alongside a few salads. And remember, practice makes perfect!
Ingredients (Serves 6)
3 cups (750g) basmati rice, washed thoroughly and left to soak for at least 30 minutes
1 kg dutch cream potatoes, cut into cubes
3 medium-sized brown onions, sliced finely
4 tbs ghee (clarified butter)
100 ml vegetable oil
1 cup milk
Pinch of saffron threads
6 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
[Meat option] 750g lamb, goat, or chicken on the bone, or supplied chopped for a “curry” by the butcher.
[Vegetarian option] 500g of mixed vegetables—carrots, cauliflower, green beans, or similar vegetables—cut into bite‑sized pieces. Keep everything at a similar size.
1 cucumber, quartered lengthways and sliced
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 small green chilli, finely sliced
1 lemon olive oil
300g natural yoghurt
50g ginger, chopped (fresh is best)
50g garlic, chopped (fresh)
2 medium‑sized onions, chopped
5 small green chillies, halved lengthways
4 tbs curry powder (ideally Keens)
4 x 2.5cm‑length cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods
1 bunch mint leaves picked, washed thoroughly, dried and chopped
1 whole bunch coriander, washed thoroughly, dried and sliced—stalks and all
1. Wash rice under cold running water. Keep refreshing water until it is clear. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring milk to a boil and take off heat. Add saffron. Leave to steep and cool.
3. Finely slice 3 onions. In a saucepan, fry gently in ghee, stirring regularly until evenly coloured and starting to crisp up. Don’t burn. Use a slotted spoon to remove onions from saucepan.
4. To make the marinade: In your largest bowl, combine yoghurt, chillies, curry powder, whole spices and herbs. Place garlic, ginger, onion and 30ml vegetable oil in a blender and make a paste. Add to marinade. Mix thoroughly, folding all ingredients through the yoghurt.
5. Season generously with sea salt. Taste, adjusting for heat and spiciness with curry powder if necessary. Add meat or vegetables, and mix through again, making sure everything is covered. If using meat, allow to marinade overnight if possible (this isn’t necessary for a vegetarian version).
6. Fry potatoes in the same saucepan you used for the onions and cook them halfway through. Make sure that all sides are fried. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add to marinade and mix through gently.
7. In a large heavy bottom pot, heat up remaining oil and the leftover ghee from the potatoes. Add marinated meat and potatoes to the pot and gently fry. Turn off heat.
8. Make an even, flat surface on the marinade. Drain rice, and cover marinade with half of the rice. Sprinkle over half of the peas and half of the fried onions, spreading evenly. Cover with the remaining rice. Sprinkle peas and onions over again. Make sure the surface of your biryani is even and flat.
9. Pour over water, saffron and milk, doing so in a circular motion so it is (again) even. Cover with a lid and turn heat on to medium. Cook at medium heat for 10 minutes. Lower heat and cook for a further 25 minutes. Do not remove the lid at all if you can help it.
10. Make a cucumber salad while you wait. Combine cucumber, sliced shallot and chilli with a simple olive oil/lemon juice/vinegar dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Or make your favourite salad (keep it simple, tomatoes also work well).
11. After 25 minutes, check rice is done. The top of your biryani should be moist but with no visible liquid. It should not be completely dry. If the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and remove lid. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
12. Gently mix the meat at the bottom.
Nagesh Seethiah is an Art History graduate and hospitality professional, based in Melbourne.