Cape Biryani/Breyani

READY IN: 2hrs 15mins
Recipe by Zurie

As a traditional Cape Malay recipe, there are dozens of variations, and even the name can be spelled in various ways: biryani, biriani, breyani, etc. It's a lightly spiced rice-based dish. It is NOT quick to make: compare it to paella. Make this dish in winter when you feel like creating something warm and comforting with accents from another country. This recipe is so traditional. It comes from our monthly food magazine ("Fresh Living", June 2010), published by one of our largest chain stores, Pick 'n Pay. I also wish to save it here on Zaar. The recipe is not easily found in our general cookbooks. Keep in mind that it is really economical and filling. You need only this dish on the table, maybe with a little container of chutney on the side. You might want to start with marinating the chicken overnight, i.e. the day before. I adjusted a few directions which I thought was a bit off. Prep time does not include marinating time.

Top Review by Elmotoo

This is REALLY good!!! The ingredient & steps list seem long but it's not difficult to make at all. I added the chicken marinade to the dish & am very glad I did! YUM! The rice on the bottom gets crispy & wonderful. 1.5lbs of chicken thighs was only 4. Next time I will .use a bigger pan to accommodate more chicken. I used a 4quart Dutch oven. Made in honor of Zurie's dearly departed dh.

Ingredients Nutrition

  • 1 12 lbs chicken thighs, on the bone (750 g, or use drumsticks and thighs, but don't remove the skin)
  • salt and pepper, to taste, for the dish
  • 34 cup buttermilk (180 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, fresh, chopped (30 ml chopped coriander leaves)
  • 12 tablespoon cinnamon, ground (7 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (5 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, ground (15 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground (15 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon masala (15 ml)
  • 1 hot pepper, chopped (1 chilli)
  • 34 cup basmati rice (180 ml)
  • 4 ounces lentils, brown, rinsed (125 g)
  • oil (for frying)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 -3 large potatoes, peeled, chopped into chunks
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (or use 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground (extra to amount mentioned above)
  • 3 cardamom pods, slit and seeds removed to use
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, ground (extra to amount already mentioned)
  • 1 pinch saffron, soaked in a little water (sub with a good pinch turmeric)
  • 3 eggs, hard-boiled
  • chopped cilantro, to garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 325 deg F/160 deg Celsius.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Mix together the buttermilk, cilantro, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander, masala and hot pepper. Pour over chicken pieces and marinate 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Parboil rice in 2 cups water for 20 minutes, and drain well.
  4. Simmer lentils in 2 cups water water for 20 minutes, and drain well.
  5. Heat a fair amount of oil in a saucepan, and fry onion and potatoes until softened. Add the cinnamon, ground coriander, cardamom seeds, cumin and saffron (or sub with a good pinch turmeric) and cook, stirring, for a minute. Set aside.
  6. Layer half the rice, followed by half each of of the lentils, and the spiced potatoes and onion in an ovenproof dish. Top with the chicken.
  7. Repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients, top with saffron/turmeric water, and cover it all with tinfoil and a tight-fitting lid.
  8. Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until chicken and rice are cooked through.
  9. Garnish with quarters of hardboiled eggs and sprinkle with cilantro/coriander leaves.

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