Basic Biryani Rice

Biryani rice (also called kuska rice) is a fragrant and flavorful dish made with warm Indian spices and aromatic vegetables. It’s a wonderful side dish that can be customized to suit your family’s tastes or what you have on hand.

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Wooden bowl with Basic Biryani Rice. Side view close up

This basic Biryani rice recipe hails from southern India. Purists may say it isn’t a Biryani because it isn’t layered with meat and dum cooked, which is a low and slow process, preferably in a round, heavy-bottomed pot. However, there are as many biryani recipes as there are cooks.

What Is Biryani?

Biryani is a much-loved, extravagant dish often reserved for special occasions like weddings and holidays. It is a cooking method of layering meat, rice, and vegetables with spices, gravy, or sauce.

The word ‘biryani’’ comes from the Persian word ‘birian,’ which means ‘fried before cooking.’ It originated in Persia (modern-day Iran) and was brought to India by the Mughals.

The theory is that Shah Jahan’s queen, who inspired him to build the Taj Mahal, visited army barracks where she found the soldiers undernourished. She asked the cook to prepare a dish that was balanced and would replenish their bodies. He made Biryani.

What Type Of Rice Do I Use In Biryani?

Raw biryani rice in a gray bowl on a burlap background.

The type of rice in Biryani is important to the dish. The rice used most often is a long grain, aged Basmati rice. The basmati flavor has spicy, nutty, and floral notes. It’s known for its popcorn-like aroma.

As basmati rice ages, it loses some of its moisture content. This helps prevent rice that is mushy or sticky. Basmati also doesn’t get puffy when it absorbs liquid. It lengthens, which gives Biryani it’s signature fluffy appearance.

What To Look For When Buying Basmati Rice

Your Biryani’s success relies on the ingredients’ quality, so obtaining the best rice is crucial. Here are a few tips on what to look for:

  • The grains of basmati should be long or extra long. The ends should be tapered without broken or jagged grains.
  • It should be light tan, beige, or pale yellow. It should never be bright or pearly white or gray. The darker colors are achieved by aging the basmati. 
  • Smell it. Basmati rice will have a pleasant aroma even before cooking. It has no smell, don’t buy it.
  • Check the purity percentage on the bag or container. It should be as close to 100 as possible. Try to find rice that is greater than 94%, this means that there are almost no impurities, dirt, or foreign matter.

What Ingredients Are Needed?

Do I Have To Wash My Rice?

The short answer is yes. By running water over the rice in a strainer until the water runs clear, you are rinsing away any dirt or debris on the rice. It also removes the surface starch so the rice remains fluffy with separate grains and doesn’t get sticky.

Tips For Making Biryani

  • Use the best ingredients you can find/afford. The end product is dependent on quality, fresh ingredients. For example, using fresh garlic and ginger instead of powdered or paste will taste more flavorful and fresh.
  • Take the time to rinse and soak the rice. By soaking the rice, you remove the surface starch and softens the hard shell making it easier and faster to cook.
  • Don’t skimp on the fat. Whatever kind of fat you use, fat adds flavor. It also keeps the mixture moist.
  • Blooming (toasting) the spices in the hot butter brings out and intensifies their flavors and aromas.
  • Toasting the rice helps to keep the rice kernels separated and brings out a nutty flavor.
  • Chop the onions and garlic as fine as possible. You want them to ‘melt’ into the butter and rice.
  • Once the rice is cooked, allowing it to steam is important. Steaming the rice ensures that the kernels are soft all the way through.
Wooden bowl with Basic Biryani Rice. Side view close up

What To Serve With Basic Biryani Rice

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Wooden bowl with Basic Biryani Rice. Side view close up

Basic Biryani Rice


A quick and easy Indian side dish that is flavorful and easily customizable.



1 cup basmati rice

4 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 medium yellow onion, diced into small pieces

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

¼ cup golden raisins

¼ cup slivered almonds

1 ½ cups chicken stock

½ cup dry white wine (I use chardonnay)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ lemon


Make the rice.  

Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water. Use your hands to turn and move the rice, allowing the water to run through the grains. 

Pour the rice into a large bowl, cover it with clean water, and allow it to soak for 20-30 minutes. Don’t soak for more than 30 minutes or your rice will be mushy when you cook it.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, stir in the turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne. 

Add the onions, garlic, and ginger when the spices are fragrant.

Saute, stirring constantly, until the onions are translucent – about 7 minutes.

Stir in the raisins and almonds.  

Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with the spice and vegetable mixture.

When the rice is uniform in color, continue to cook, stirring, to toast the rice grains for another 2 or 3 minutes.  Keep the mixture moving to avoid burning.

Pour in the stock, wine, kosher salt, and pepper. Stir well and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to low and allow the rice to steam until it is tender – about 20 minutes.  

Remove from the heat.  Do not remove the lid!  

Allow the rice to rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

After resting, fluff the rice with a fork.  Spoon the biryani onto a serving dish.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the rice.  

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Simmer
  • Cuisine: Indian


  • Serving Size: 1

Keywords: basic biryani rice, side dish recipes, Indian recipes, rice, vegetarian recipes

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