Dilshad + Rozina’s Beef Biryani

Beef Biryani 1

If I had to choose a favourite place to be, most days I’d pick in the kitchen with people. My own kitchen, when friends are packed into the nook rather than spreading out into the rest of the house – or my parents’ when everyone is over and attempting to tag team on dinner or brunch and collectively get the cousins fed. But I really love being invited into someone else’s kitchen, especially a person or family with a history of dishes outside my usual repertoire (not that I really have a usual), who have been making certain dishes for years to feed their families, who cook for people so often they have drawers full of portable Corningware to fill and send out the door, like Dilshad and Rozina. (I try to adopt a lot of my friends’ moms, aunts and grandmas.)

Dishad & Rosina

Dilshad and Rozina – the mom and aunt of a friend and also sisters who live together with their husbands, who are brothers (how cool is that?) – invited me into their kitchen last year and let me watch them make beef biryani. I’d made chicken biryani before, but not beef – they marinated and braised the meat for hours before I arrived, and then let me poke around and ask questions and watch their process as they warmed the spices in oil, simmered the sauce and made two kinds of rice (Rooster and basmati, if I remember correctly, finished with a drizzle of ghee in the oven) in enormous thin metal pots they brought from Tanzania. They used spice blends they ground themselves in a grinder they bought at a garage sale soon after they arrived in 1988.

The kitchen island was about the size of my kitchen – built to accommodate as many friends and family members as possible at stools around it – but they did the actual cooking in a small spice kitchen, a closet-sized room with an oven, counters and cupboards just off the main kitchen, like a glorified walk-in pantry. That way the mess (and any aromas of oil and spices) would be contained – they could just shut the door and serve their meal in an impeccable kitchen. (I never seem to think of these things. Everyone seems to have a second fridge, but a second kitchen – that would be something.)

Before serving up our biryani – have I mentioned yet that it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten? – Dilshad loaded a plate to bring to the mosque that afternoon for nandi – an Ismaili custom of making a little extra food to auction off to the congregation for charity, which is one of the loveliest ideas I’ve ever heard. What a great way to contribute to your community and ensure everyone eats well.

Like so many great cooks, they don’t measure – they just go by feel, a skill children of good cooks find frustrating when they can never quite recreate a dish no matter how intricately the recipe has been written down. This is why I like to go watch – this recipe comes from my mental notes.

Dilshad + Rozina’s Beef Biryani


February 1, 2017


Braised beef:

2-3 lb. beef eye of round, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cinnamon stick (or a few pieces of cinnamon bark)

about 5 green cardamom pods

about 5 cloves

a few drops of yellow food colouring (optional)

Roasted potatoes:

russet potatoes, peeled and quartered (or cut into large chunks)

canola oil, for cooking


2 cups crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup tomato paste

2-3 Tbsp crushed garlic

2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cinnamon stick (or a few pieces of cinnamon bark)

about 5 green cardamom pods

about 5 cloves

about 5 whole black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. salt

1 tsp. hot chili powder or cayenne

2 cups fried onions (they come packaged in east Indian groceries and stores


1To prepare the beef, marinate it in plain yogurt with a cinnamon stick, some cardamom, cloves and a few drops of food colouring. Refrigerate overnight, and then cook in the pressure cooker or bake at 300F for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until very tender. Set aside until you’re ready for it.

2To roast the potatoes, toss them in oil and roast on a baking sheet at 425F for 20 minutes, or until golden. Set aside.

3In a large pot, heat a generous amount of oil and cook the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, ginger, cilantro, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, salt and chili powder for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens, darkens and looks separated. Add the fried onions, the beef and any juices that have collected in the bowl, the roasted potatoes and about 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the mixture cooks down and thickens, the onions turn soft and the sauce looks more uniform. Spoon out any whole spices and serve with rice. Serves 6.


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10 comments on “Dilshad + Rozina’s Beef Biryani

  1. sandy
    February 2, 2017 at 11:20 am

    what happens to all of the whole spices in the tomato sauce – biryani? I wouldn’t want to crunch into a whole cardamom or clove.

    • Julie
      February 3, 2017 at 11:10 am

      I asked Dilshad again and they just toss them in whole – I imagine you can scoop them out or avoid them, but to be honest I never noticed!

  2. Jolene
    February 3, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    My cousin has a recipe that has you run a thread through the cardamom and then tie the two ends together so it is easy to pull out at the end.

    • Julie
      February 7, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Ooh what a good idea! A square of cheesecloth would work well too.

  3. Lori
    February 12, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Julie, do you, or anyone from your army for that matter, know of a good substitute for the fried onions? I do use them on occasion but am apprehensive about all the ingredients in there that I can’t pronounce.

    • Julie
      February 12, 2017 at 9:48 am

      You know, I’d just leave them out – or add your own caramelized onions, which have a different texture, but will still add an onion flavour (and be delicious!) – I’ve made chicken biryani in the past with and without fried onions. When you take something out, you don’t necessarily have to replace it with something else.

  4. Beverly LOVEGROVE
    April 2, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Just wondering the quantity of potatoes used in this recipe, as it doesn’t specify an exact amount.

  5. Julie E
    August 31, 2018 at 9:18 am

    This seems more like pulao–a rice side dish–than biryani where the rice is cooked with all the spices and in stock, then the meat added to it and cooked further all together so you end up with a flavorful dish where the rice is the star.

  6. Naz
    October 16, 2018 at 9:37 am

    This is a different way to have biriyani. It’s where you mix the spiced aromatic basmati rice with the beef curry. It’s pure heaven!

  7. Liz
    September 15, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Hullo Julie. Pse advise. I don’t possess a pressure cooker, but I do have a slow cooker. Could I marinade beef, then fry quickly and then do the layering beef, rice, onions method in slow cooker?? How many hours in slow cooker??
    Awaiting your reply with huge anticipation.
    Liz from Johannesburg.

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