Saffron-scented rice with fragrant lamb curry


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook: 300 Classic Recipes from the Great Regions of India

The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook

By Mridula Baljekar

Published 2017

  • About

Hailing from Afghanistan, this superb dish, Biryani Khaiberi, features lamb cooked in a fragrant sauce with saffron-scented rice. The meat and rice are part-cooked, then combined in layers and baked in a tightly sealed pan in the oven, creating an irresistible flavour and texture.


  • 675 g/lb boned leg of lamb, cut into 2.5cm/1in cubes
  • 50 g/2 oz/74 cup natural (plain) yogurt, whisked
  • 5 ml/1 tsp salt
  • 75 g/3 oz ghee or unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 10 ml/2 tsp ginger purée
  • 10 ml/2 tsp garlic purée

For the ground spice mix

  • 10 ml/2 tsp coriander seeds, finely ground
  • 5 ml/1 tsp cumin seeds, finely ground
  • 2.5 cm/1 in piece of cinnamon stick, finely ground
  • 4 cardamom pods, finely ground
  • 4 cloves, finely ground
  • 15 ml/1 tbsp white poppy seeds, finely ground
  • 1/4 of a whole nutmeg, crushed and ground

For the rice

  • 2.5 ml/½ tsp saffron threads, pounded
  • 30 ml/2 tbsp hot milk
  • 2.5 cm/1 in piece of cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10 ml/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 350 g/12 oz/ cups basmati rice, washed and drained
  • 15 ml/1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter, melted


  1. Mix the lamb, yogurt and salt in a bowl. Cover and set aside for 20–30 minutes.

  2. Melt the ghee or butter over a medium heat and add the onion. Fry, stirring, until the onion is well browned. Turn off the heat and remove the onion with a slotted spoon. Drain on kitchen paper.

  3. Return the pan to the heat. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for 1 minute. Combine all the ingredients for the ground spice mix.

  4. Add the ground spice mix and stir-fry for 1–2 minutes, then add the lamb. Stir and cook over medium heat for 2–3 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

  5. For the rice, soak the saffron in the hot milk and set aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 325°F/Gas 3.

  6. Boil 1.5 litres/27 pints/67 cups water in a large pan and add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, salt and rice. Boil steadily for 2–3 minutes to partially cook the rice, then drain the rice in a sieve, reserving the whole spices.

  7. Spread the lamb evenly in a heavy, ovenproof pan or casserole. Top with half the fried onion and pile the rice on top, with the whole spices.

  8. Sprinkle the saffron milk and melted ghee or butter over the top.

  9. Soak a large piece of baking parchment and a dish towel in water, then squeeze them out. Place the paper on top of the rice and the towel on top of the paper. Seal the pan with a double thickness of foil and cover this with the pan or casserole lid.

  10. Cook in the centre of the oven for 1 hour. Switch off the oven and leave the pan or casserole inside the oven for 30 minutes.

  11. Remove the pan or casserole from the oven and stir the mixture with a metal spoon to mix the rice and meat together and to fluff up the grains of rice. Transfer the biryani to a serving dish and garnish with the reserved fried onion.

Per portion Energy 769kcal/3208kJ; Protein 43.6g; Carbohydrate 67.6g, of which sugars 14.5g; Fat 36.2g, of which saturates 15g; Cholesterol 142mg; Calcium 134mg; Fibre 2.6g; Sodium 252mg.