Paneer biryani is a tasty dish with soft cubes of Indian cottage cheese layered with aromatic Basmati rice. It has the same great taste of a true biryani minus the meat. A healthy, vegetarian option for all the biryani lovers out there!
Serve biryani with raita for a truly satisfying meal. Here's a pyaz ka raita (onion raita) that goes very well with pulao and biryani.
Love the taste and color of biryani but want to steer clear of meat? Make this paneer biryani. It looks and tastes exactly like regular biryani but without the meat. Paneer or Indian cottage cheese tastes terrific with rice and you will not miss the meat. And it's easier to make because it is paneer after all. All you do with it is add it to the masala once it's made and layer the masala + paneer with cooked rice. And your beautiful biryani is ready!
I like to use my instant pot to make the masala for this biryani. It speeds things up and I don't have to stand over the stove with spoon in hand sautéing the masala. Just put the masala ingredients in the pot, lock the lid in place, and pressure cook the masala. When you open the pot, the masala is ready and you can add the cheese to it. Of course, if you don't have one and prefer the stovetop method, it is given below as well.
If you like the idea of a vegetarian biryani, do check out this Hyderabadi egg biryani as well. It is in one word, scrumptious!
Readymade or homemade paneer?
This depends on your preference. Store-bought paneer works fine, but if you have a little extra time or if paneer is hard to come by, you can make paneer in your kitchen so easily. It tastes fresh and milky and is softer than readymade paneer. Here's a step by step post on how to make paneer in your instant pot if fresh paneer is what you want. It's really easy and uses just two ingredients!
However, if you choose the store variety, here's a helpful tip: soak the block of paneer in hot water for around ten minutes, then cut to the desired shapes. Soaking in hot water softens it, gets rid of the extra fat, and makes it look whiter. A simple hack, but it works.
Note: exact amounts are mentioned in the recipe card further down.
- Cooking oil - a neutral oil like canola or sunflower works best in this recipe.
- Fried onions - I like to use pre-fried onions from a bag to cut down on the prep. These are available in any Indian or Pakistani grocery or in the international aisle of any supermarket. Of course, you can slice a big onion and fry that to a reddish-brown color if you have time.
- Ginger and garlic pastes - Again, these are readily available as separate pasts in jars in most supermarkets, but you can make your own if you are so inclined. I usually make one single paste and keep it tucked away in the refrigerator. Just peel equal quantities of ginger and garlic and make a thick puree in the blender, adding water as required. Store in the fridge in a sealed glass jar.
- Tomatoes - Red, ripe ones please.
- Shan Sindhi Biryani Masala (affiliate link) - a pre-made masala for biryani that gives it that authentic taste. Biryani masala comes in different brands. You can use the one that you like.
- Fresh paneer or Indian cottage cheese, cubed.
- White Basmati rice - Tilda (affiliate link) is a good long grain rice, but you can use any brand of Basmati rice.
- Whole spices - black and green cardamom, bay leaf, cloves, and black peppercorns.
- Green chillies and fresh cilantro - gives the biryani a fresh flavor and bite.
- Orange food color - a pinch or two.
How to make paneer biryani
Making the biryani masala (Instant pot method)
- Start your instant pot on sauté and add the cooking oil. When it heats up, add the fried onions, ginger and garlic pastes, chopped tomatoes, and biryani masala powder.
- Cook for five minutes on sauté, stirring it with a wooden spoon, then add ¼ cups water and secure the lid. Pressure cook for 10 minutes on high. Release the steam and open the pot.
- If you still see some liquid, switch to sauté again and dry the liquid until you are left with a thick shiny masala. Most times, you will not have to do this as the masala will cook down quite well in the long pressure cooking time.
- While the masala is cooking, shallow fry the cubed paneer in a fry pan. This is optional however; you can add the paneer directly to the masala also.
- Once the masala is ready, add the paneer to the masala.
Making the biryani masala (Stovetop method)
You don't have to use the instant pot for this step. If you don't have one, you can make this masala on the stovetop too in a saucepan.
- Add the ingredients - oil, fried onions, ginger and garlic pastes, chopped tomatoes, and biryani masala powder in a saucepan and cook on low to medium heat until the masala is cooked through. Keep an eye on the contents and stir the masala from time to time, adding water as necessary. You will know the masala is done when the raw smell goes and the oil leaves the side of the pan.
- Now, you can go ahead and add the paneer.
Making the rice
- Pour eight cups water in a large, wide pot or pan with a lid or dutch oven and add one tablespoon oil, two tablespoons salt, and whole spices to the water.
- When it comes to a roiling boil, add the rice and let it cook for four to five minutes. Take out a few rice grains in the palm of your hand and check the doneness. The rice should be ¾ cooked with a slightly hard center. Don't worry, it will get steamed to perfection in the next step.
Layering the biryani masala and rice
- Drain the rice in a colander or sieve with handles and return half of it to the pan. Make sure the heat is on very low. You can keep a griddle or tawa under the vessel to avoid direct heat.
- Now, spread the paneer masala on top of this layer of rice and finish with the remaining rice.
- Sprinkle the pinch of orange food color on the rice.
- Top with some extra fried onions, slit green chillies, and chopped cilantro.
- If you want softer rice, sprinkle a quarter cup of hot water or milk on top of the rice.
- Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let the biryani cook on very low heat for around 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, open the pan and fluff the rice with a fork. Paneer biryani is ready. Serve it with some raita (yogurt dip) and fresh salad.
- Use good quality Basmati rice for making Indian dishes like biryani. The rice is what makes or breaks it. Tilda (affiliate link) is a good brand, but Pakistani groceries, if you have access to one in your area, also carry a wide variety of excellent Basmati rice.
- The masala for layering with the rice should be thick, not runny. If there is liquid in the pot after opening it, dry it on sauté until you get a thick, shiny masala.
- Want perfectly done, fluffy, and separate grains of rice? Don't overcook the rice while prepping it for the biryani. It needs to be al-dente or ever so slightly undercooked. It gets fully cooked later when you layer it with the masala and steam it covered on gentle heat. If the rice becomes too soft at this stage, it will turn mushy later.
- Shallow fry the paneer on medium to high heat for to get golden brown specks on the surface, but be careful it doesn't burn. Looks quite pretty!
More paneer recipes
- Paneer Kali Mirch - An easy recipe packed with the flavors of crushed black pepper and whole spices. The sauce is smooth and creamy with the addition of yogurt and pureed cashews.
- Paneer Kabab - A lip smacking vegetarian appetizer. Soft cubes of Indian cottage cheese, peppers and onions are marinated, skewered and grilled to perfection in the oven or on the grill.
- Paneer Butter Masala - Paneer cubes in oodles of a rich nutty, buttery sauce! Tastes heavenly with some crisp naan bread.
- 6-quart Instant Pot Duo OR a saucepan
For the masala
- ¼ cup cooking oil
- ½ cup fried onions
- 1 heaped teaspoon garlic paste
- 1 heaped teaspoon garlic paste
- 2 medium red tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon biryani masala powder
For frying the paneer
- 2 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 cups paneer or Indian cottage cheese cubed
For cooking the rice
- 8 cups water
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 tablespoon salt
- 2 whole black cardamom
- 3 whole green cardamom
- 1 bay leaf
- 4-5 cloves
- ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 cups Basmati rice rinsed
- 1 tablespoon fried onions
- 2-3 green chillies slit lengthwise
- 3-4 sprigs cilantro chopped
- a small pinch orange food color
Instant Pot Method
- Switch on your instant pot to sauté and add the oil to the steel insert. When it is slightly hot, add the fried onions, garlic and ginger pastes, tomatoes, and biryani masala powder. Sauté for 5 minutes, adding a splash of water if required to prevent the masala from burning.
- Cancel sauté and add ¼ cup water. Secure the lid and make sure the steam release vent is sealed. Press the pressure cooking button (high) and set the timer for 10 minutes. Once the timer beeps, open the pot and if there is still some liquid, dry it on sauté again. You will get a shiny, thick masala.
- As the masala is cooking in the instant pot, shallow fry the paneer in 2 tablespoons of oil. Make sure the oil is medium hot, and take out the paneer as soon as it starts turning golden brown. When the masala is ready, add the fried paneer along with the remaining oil to the masala in the instant pot. This is an optional step and you can add unfried paneer cubes to the masala as well.
- In a large dutch oven or saucepan, add 8 cups of water, salt and the whole spices (black and green cardamom, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns). Cover with a lid and bring to a roiling boil.
- Remove the lid, add the rice, and let it cook for 4-5 minutes. Take out a few rice grains in the palm of your hands and check for doneness. The rice should be slightly undercooked with slightly hard centres.
- Drain the rice in a colander and return half of it to the saucepan. Spread the paneer masala on top of the rice and top with the remaining rice. Sprinkle the food color and top with some extra fried onions, the cilantro and green chillies. Also sprinkle ¼ cup hot water on the rice to prevent it from drying out completely.
- Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, return it to the hob, and let the biryani cook on very gentle heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve hot with raita.
- Stovetop Method
- Add all the ingredients for the masala in a wide saucepan and cook on low to medium heat until the masala is cooked through. Add a few splashes of water to prevent it from burning and stir it while it is cooking. The masala is cooked when it becomes thick and shiny and the raw smell of the spices goes away.
- Follow all the steps from 3-8 given under the instant pot method.
- Use good quality Basmati rice for making biryani.
- I generally use Shan Sindhi Biryani powder in this recipe.
- Pre-fried onions are available in most Indian or Pakistani stores.
- The masala you prepare for layering with the rice should be thick and shiny, not runny.
- Don't overcook the rice while prepping it for the biryani. It will get fully cooked when you steam it along with the masala.