1 cup basmati rice (soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained)
200g paneer (cubed) & salt to taste
1 large onion (sliced) & 1 large tomato (chopped)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whisked)
1/4 cup mint leaves, coriander leaves & fried onions
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
Whole spices (1-inch cinnamon stick, 2-3 green cardamom pods, 2-3 cloves, 1 bay leaf)
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, red chili powder & biryani masala powder
Saffron strands soaked in 2 tablespoons of warm milk (for color and aroma)
Heat ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot over medium heat. Add the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and bay leaf) and sauté for a minute until they release their aroma.
Add the sliced onions and sauté until they turn golden brown.
Stir in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for a couple of minutes until the raw smell disappears.
Add the chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. Cook until the tomatoes become soft and the oil starts to separate from the masala.
Now, add the cubed paneer and gently mix it with the masala. Let it cook for a few minutes, allowing the flavors to blend together.
In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and add the soaked and drained basmati rice along with a pinch of salt. Cook the rice until it is about 70-80% cooked (the grains should still have a slight bite to them). Drain the water and set the partially cooked rice aside.
Layer the paneer masala and rice in the same pot. Start with a layer of rice, followed by some chopped mint and coriander leaves, then a layer of paneer masala. Repeat this process until all the rice and paneer masala are used up. Make sure the top layer is rice.
Pour the whisked yogurt over the top layer of rice. Drizzle the saffron milk over the yogurt. You can also sprinkle a pinch of biryani masala or garam masala for extra flavor.
Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it on a low flame. You can also place a tava (griddle) underneath the pot to prevent direct heat and avoid burning the bottom.
Allow the biryani to cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked and fluffy.
Once done, gently fluff the biryani with a fork, garnish with fried onions (if using) and some more chopped mint and coriander leaves.
Serve hot with raita (yogurt-based side dish) or a simple cucumber-tomato-onion salad.