In India, the iconic rice dish biryani—a marriage of meat and rice layered with flavors and textures—is synonymous with lavish dining. Supposedly invented (or at least perfected) in the royal palace kitchens of Hyderabad, it’s a colorful, elaborate meal built from a host of seasonings that can include nutmeg, mace, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, mint, ginger, chilies and garlic.
And there’s the challenge. Its long ingredient list and two-pan approach (the meat and rice are cooked separately) can make it a hassle to prepare. Looking for a way to bring its focus on bold flavors and textures to the weeknight table, we found biryani’s relative—bagara annam.
This enticingly fragrant, cashew-studded rice dish is far easier to make, yet just as delicious. “This is the quote-unquote ‘fancy’ rice that my mom always makes when there’s company over,” says Sri Rao, who includes a family recipe for bagara annam in his “Bollywood Kitchen” cookbook. “When I think about this, it’s almost like having a Pavlovian reaction. My tongue starts salivating, because I know that it means that there’s a special meal coming.”
Even its name hints at the simplicity of the dish: “Bagara” translates to “fried,” referring to the way the spices are bloomed in hot oil, while “annam” simply means “rice.” The hardest part of the recipe? Making sure not to burn the spices or aromatics while sautéing them. After that, it’s just a matter of adding your basmati.
As it cooks, “the rice becomes fully, evenly flavored,” Rao says—something that’s easier to control with bagara annam than with traditional biryani, since fewer ingredients are involved. “My dad is from Hyderabad, which is renowned for its biryani, so we are deeply connected to biryani,” he says. “But I think, from a taste perspective—and just from a practicality perspective—I much prefer this method.”
At Milk Street, we loved how Rao’s bagara annam offered such deep flavors with minimal fuss. And its spice profile, while complex, is subtle enough that the rice can serve as a side to other dishes without overpowering. For extra richness and texture, we increase the amount of cashews. Chilies and a finishing sprinkle of fresh cilantro give our version additional pops of color. The result is a dish fit for a regal banquet, yet simple enough for a weeknight dinner.