I made this for Halloween the day before yesterday and my constant nagging fear was, “is this too gimmicky?” Am I just going to stuff a vegetable biryani inside a pumpkin and cook it? The answer was yes, obviously, but I was going to better the recipe somehow. I was adamant.
I didn’t want the pumpkin to be an empty shell, obviously, and that got me thinking about how I could flavour the tender pumpkin flesh apart from the biryani, and the answer was simple- I got a basting brush out and mixed together ghee, cinnamon powder, elaichi (cardamom) powder with some salt and painted the pumpkin’s insides. I baked this shell for a good fifteen to twenty minutes in the oven before stuffing it. Obviously, it would continue to cook even after the biryani was in there, but when someone scooped the cooked pumpkin flesh out with the rice and all those vegetables, there would also be chunks of fragrant pumpkin in there that would introduce something extra to an already heady biryani.
For 4 small-sized pumpkins or one fairly large pumpkin, in which case you would have to increases the cooking time by a bit, instructions for which are in the recipe below.
Pumpkins 4 smallish pumpkins
Onions 6 medium sized onions, four finely chopped and the other two cut thinly and deep-fried until they are dark brown
Mixed vegetables 2 cups, this could include a mix of carrots, cauliflower, french beans, mushrooms, baby corn too if you’d like) cut into small finger-sized pieces
Green Peas 3/4 cup
Tomatoes 3 medium sized
Green chillies 2, slit lengthwise (optional)
Ginger 2-inch piece
Garlic 4 cloves
Red Chilli Powder 1 tsp
Ground Coriander 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder 1/2 tsp, plus another 1/2 tsp for the rice
Garam Masala Powder 1 tsp
Cumin Powder 1/2 tsp cumin powder
Shahi Biryani Masala 3 tsp
Ghee 1/4 cup plus more for greasing the pumpkin
Basmati Rice 2 cups, washed thoroughly till water runs clear
Saffron two pinches, soaked in warm milk
Bay leaf 2
Badi elaichi 2
Cinnamon quill 1
The Spice Brush
Cinnamon powder 1 tsp
Cardamom powder 1 tsp
Ghee 2 tbsp
Salt a generous sprinkle
Coriander or Mint 1/2 a small bunch, chopped
Almonds flaked, to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
Hollow out the pumpkins by carving the top off and pulling out the seeds and hairy bits from the centre. If you feel like the flesh is quite a bit, using a melon baller, you can also scrape out a bit. I like to keep a considerable amount of flesh on so that there’s quite a bit to eat as well.
Make the spice brush by mixing together the ingredients and use a brush to brush the inside of the pumpkin. Brush the outside with some more ghee and on a roasting tin lined with foil, place the pumpkins with their tops kept on the side flesh side up. Let this roast in the oven for fifteen to twenty minutes until the flesh starts to colour and soften.
While the pumpkins are in the oven, start frying the chopped vegetables in pre-heated vegetable oil in a kadai. Alternately, you could par-boil the vegetables, drain them out and flash them under cold water to retain their colour and some crunch.
Get the pumpkins out of the oven and leave them to cool.
Start on the rice. In a heavy bottomed pan, add 3 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Sat the water and add to this the bay leaf, badi elaichi, cloves and cinnamon quill. Next, tip in the rice and let this cook covered on a simmer for 8-9 minutes. Check for doneness. You need to take it off the heat when it’s 3/4th done, but still retains quite a bite to it. Drain it and spread it out on a steel plate to cool.
Next, blitz the finely chopped onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, chillies and some salt together in a food processor. In a big kadai, heat two tablespoons of ghee and add the onion tomato mixture and let it colour on a medium flame slowly until it reaches a nice brown and no raw taste of the onion and tomato is remaining. Add turmeric, garam masala, cumin powder to this mixture, give it a minute more in the pan to cook the spice powders, toss well once, check for salt and take it off the heat. Stir in the pre-prepared vegetables, peas, and toss to coat. The gravy is ready.
In another clean kadai, heat a tablespoon of ghee and add to this 1/2 tsp of reserved turmeric. Toss half of the white rice mixture in this to let it coat evenly till all the rice is yellow. Use good quality turmeric powder otherwise the yellow colour will not be as pronounced.
Once again, preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
Begin layering the biryani in the pumpkin mixture, starting with the white rice at the bottom. This should be a thin layer. Sprinkle over some shahi biryani masala on top and continue with the vegetables. Add a small portion of the fried onions and continue with the yellow rice. Again top with the shahi biryani masala, add the fried onions on top, sprinkle over 1/4 of the saffron and milk mix and finish with some chopped coriander/mint and flaked almonds. Close the lid of the pumpkin and continue with the rest of the pumpkins. Place in the oven for another 45 minutes or until the flesh yields easily when a knife is poked inside. The cooking time might increase by ten minutes if the pumpkin is bigger. Remove the pumpkins and serve with some yoghurt on the side.