A Succulent Lamb Biryani With All The Layers

By Ashia Ismail-Singer
Lamb and fragrant layers of saffron rice, fried onions and curry combine in this biryani.

According to cookbook author Ashia Ismail-Singer, this recipe is one of the very best.

This is my mum’s recipe (her version is chicken) and it is hands down one of the best biryanis!

We all say that, right, about our mother’s cooking? But seriously, nothing takes me back home more than eating this delicious dish with its fragrant layers of saffron rice, fried onions and flavourful curry.

It’s a beautiful dish to serve at an occasion or celebration.

Traditionally, biryani is cooked in a pot and then sealed with dough to create steam, which is referred to as dum. Mum always just covered the pot with a tight-fitting lid. To really wow your guests, though, use filo roses to create a sort of seal and make the dish look spectacular.

I have used this filo inspiration from a dessert I made. It has a very special place in my heart.


Serves 8–10
For the curry

1½ cups oil

5-6 small potatoes, peeled, halved

2 onions, sliced

5cm cinnamon stick

2-3 green cardamom pods

2-3 whole cloves

4-6 whole black peppercorns

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1-2 tsp chilli powder

2 tsp ground paprika

1½ tsp salt

Ground black pepper

2¼ cups tomato passata or puréed tomato

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1kg lamb (or chicken), cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp white vinegar
For the saffron rice

4 cups basmati rice

1 tbsp oil

1 tbsp butter or ghee

8 cups just-boiled water

4 tsp salt

Red and yellow food colouring

¼ tsp saffron

4 boiled eggs, cut in half lengthways

Handful of chopped fresh coriander
For the filo rosettes

10-12 sheets store-bought filo pastry

150g melted butter

Oil or ghee, to drizzle

Persian tea rose petals to decorate (optional)


For the curry

  1. Heat ¾ cup oil in a small frying pan and fry the potatoes until golden, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat ½ cup oil and fry the onions until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Add the whole spices to the same oil and fry for 1 minute, then add powdered spices, salt and pepper, passata, and garlic, and cook over a low heat for 6-8 minutes. Add the lamb pieces and cook, covered, for a further 10 minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste, vinegar, and fried potatoes and simmer until sauce clings to the meat, about 10 minutes. If it starts catching on the bottom, add a splash of water. The sauce should be a thick consistency and not too runny. Turn off the heat.

For the rice

  1. Soak the rice in water for 20-30 minutes. Drain then wash the rice until the water runs clear.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter, add the rice, and stir until it just starts to become translucent, then add just-boiled water and salt. Allow to boil for 1-2 minutes, then turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes until the water has evaporated. The rice should be cooked, fluffy and separated.
  3. Mix 1 cup of the cooked rice with a drop of red and yellow food colouring mixed with a little water. Soak the saffron in 1 tablespoon just-boiled water for a few minutes then stir into the coloured rice and set aside.
  4. Place a layer of curry into a large 2-litre capacity ovenproof pan. Add a layer of cooked white rice to the pan, then a layer of the curry, and carry on until you have 3-4 layers, ending with rice.
  5. Place the boiled eggs on top and then add your saffron rice, fried onions and chopped coriander.

For the filo rosettes

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C bake.
  2. Unroll the filo pastry and cover with a damp cloth. On a clean work surface, one at a time, place a pastry sheet with the long side towards you and brush with butter. Fold roughly concertina-style lengthways and then roll up to form a rosette. Repeat with remaining filo. Place each rosette on top of the biryani until it is fully covered.
  3. Drizzle with a little oil or ghee around the edges so it drips down the sides of the biryani.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the filo roses are golden.
  5. Decorate with Persian tea rose petals, if desired. Serve hot with a cucumber raita and tomato and onion kachumber.


This beautiful dish can also be made vegetarian by replacing the meat with 1kg of mixed mushrooms — portobello, shiitake, white or brown button — or other vegetables of your choice.

You can skip the filo pastry. Instead, layer your biryani in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Put on the stove, drizzle ghee or oil down the sides of the pan and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes, lid on.

Recipe from The Laden Table: Recipes to share, infused with spice by Ashia Ismail-Singer. Published by Bateman Books, $60, out now.

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