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How to make leftover biryani (Turn any leftover curry / salan into biryani)

A bowl of leftover chicken biryani with potatoes in a greenish-white bowl with a bowl of yoghurt raita in the background.

Too many leftovers in your fridge? Turn your leftover curries / salan into delicious leftover biryani with the use of a few pantry staples. The recipe I have shared is for leftover chicken biryani, but it can be used for any meat or vegetables. Not only is this a delicious dinner recipe, but is also a great way to use up random leftovers in the fridge.

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One of the most favorite dishes in her home growing up was biryani. Knowing our love for biryani my mother had a habit of re-purposing the leftovers in the fridge to make leftover biryani. So Tuesday’s chicken ka salan (chicken curry), Wednesday’s matar keema (mince meat curry with peas), and Thursday’s aloo gosht (goat meat curry with potatoes) would all be turned into Friday leftover biryani. Due to the combination of flavors, the leftover biryani would at times be better than regular biryani. Today I am going to share a guide with you on how to use up leftover curry / salan and turn it into a delicious leftover biryani. My recipe is for leftover chicken biryani, but it can be used for any meat and vegetables.

What is salan?

Salan is an Urdu word. It’s difficult to find an exact translation but the best way to describe this word in English is that it’s a gravy like curry. The western world uses the word curry to refer to pretty much all dishes from the Indian sub-continent. In actuality, there is a lot of variation in how different ‘curries’ are made.

For example, a salan can be described as a Pakistani or Indian curry with gravy. The base of a Pakistani salan is usually onions, but tomatoes or yoghurt are also used depending on the recipe. This could be meat based, or vegetarian. For instance, chicken ka salan is chicken curry with gravy. If there was no gravy, the chicken curry would be referred to as bhuna chicken (dry style chicken curry) and if the gravy was soup like, it would be referred to as chicken shorba (broth style chicken curry).

How to make leftover biryani from leftover salan / curry?

A wok filled with leftover chicken biryani masala.
The leftover chicken biryani masala with the addition of potatoes

There are two main components to making biryani. The first is the biryani masala (also known as biryani korma or biryani salan) and the second is the rice. Both are layered together and put on simmer till the aromatic biryani is ready. Instead of making the biryani masala from scratch, this recipe uses all those leftover curries in the fridge to make the biryani masala.

  • Collect all your leftovers: Take out all the leftover curries (be it a dry style curry or a gravy style salan) in your fridge. This could be a chicken curry (chicken salan), goat meat / mutton curry, beef curry, mincemeat / keema or vegetables. It can be a mix of different types of curries as well. As long as the curry base is made of either onions, tomatoes or yoghurt it can be used to make leftover biryani masala. 
  • Decide on the amount of rice to use for making the biryani: This will depend on how much leftover curry / salan there is. I find that 1 cup curry / salan for 1 cup of rice is a good estimate. The same applies for meat. My usual ratio for meat to rice in biryani is 1 kg of meat to 5 cups of rice, but in the case of leftover biryani, 3 – 4 pieces of meat (be it chicken, beef, or lamb) are good for 1.5 cups of rice.  In case there isn’t enough meat, just add potatoes.
  • Prepare the rice: Wash and soak the Basmati rice for 15 minutes. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook till the rice is about 60% cooked through. Drain, and set aside.
  • Make a quick biryani masala using your leftover curries / leftover salan: Heat oil in a pan, and then add a sliced onion. Saute the onions till golden brown. Reserve half the onions for layering. If you feel you don’t have enough leftover curry / salan you can add a chopped tomato, followed by yoghurt. However, if your leftover curry / salan already has a lot of tomatoes or yoghurt (such as in the case of chicken karahi or chicken qorma) then this step can be skipped. At this point, add biryani masala along with potatoes (if using). I usually use store-bought for convenience. After all, this is a leftover biryani. Shan Bombay Biryani masala or National Masaleydar Biryani are options that I use at home. If you don’t want to use store bought then add whole spices along with powdered spices. Saute for 2 – 3 minutes, and then add all your leftover curries along with the meat. Cook this mixture on medium flame for a few minutes till the biryani masala comes together, and oil is released from the sides.
  • Layer the leftover biryani: Start with layering the biryani first, followed by the rice, and then the garnishes. This can be 1 layer or 2 layers depending on how much leftover curry / salan you have, and the amount of rice you made. Put the biryani on dum. Serve hot with raita and salad on the side.

Tips for making leftover biryani recipe:

A top down image of a plate of leftover chicken biryani with potatoes. On the top right is a small plate with sliced tomatoes, and on the top left is a bowl of yoghurt raita that is half cut off from the top.
  • Use the right leftover curry / salan to make the leftover biryani masala: This recipe is super versatile, and pretty much any curry / salan can be used to make leftover biryani, even shredded chicken or roast chicken. A good rule of thumb is any curry / salan with a base of either onions, tomatoes or yoghurt can be used. Certain curries need to be avoided though, such as palak paneer or palak chicken. They can cause the biryani masala to take on a green-ish hue. If you do want to use them, wash the paneer and chicken, and then add them to the biryani masala.
  • Mix and match leftovers:  What I love about leftover biryani is its versatility. It’s possible to mix different types of meat for this biryani, and even vegetables. Think beef, chicken and qeema (mincemeat) biryani with a side of potatoes.
  • Add potatoes, if you don’t have enough meat: If you just have leftover curry / salan, and no meat you can still make leftover biryani. Just add potatoes (or other hearty vegetables such as cauliflower or carrots) to bulk up the biryani.
  • Taste and adjust spices at the end: Since the leftover curries that you are using already have salt and spice in them, be careful of adding too much. I add salt to the rice, and I also add salt when adding potatoes. Otherwise, I have realized the leftover biryani masala doesn’t need additional salt. Same with spices – I use about 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons of biryani masala for 500 grams of rice, which I feel is enough for giving the signature biryani flavor and aroma.
  • Stay away from ginger garlic paste: The one thing that I avoid when making biryani masala from leftovers is ginger and garlic paste. The ginger garlic flavor is already a part of the leftover curries, and adding extra can be too overpowering.

If you are looking for a from scratch biryani recipe, you can check out my recipe for fish biryani. For more creative ways to use up leftovers, do check out my article here.

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Leftover Chicken Biryani

Too many leftovers in your fridge? Turn your leftover curries / salan into delicious leftover biryani with the use of a few pantry staples. The recipe I have shared is for leftover chicken biryani, but it can be used for any meat or vegetables.
Course Dinner
Cuisine Indian, Pakistani
Keyword Leftover Biryani, Leftovers
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 300 kcal

Ingredients

For the rice:

  • 2 1/2 cups / 500g Basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Leftover Biryani Masala

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 cups leftover curry / salan see note 1
  • 150 g / 1 medium onion sliced
  • 125 g / 1 medium tomato chopped (optional) – see note 2
  • 2 tablespoons yoghurt optional – see note 2
  • 2 potatoes cubed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons store bought biryani masala see note 3

For the garnish:

  • ¼ cup cilantro / coriander leaves
  • 2 green chilies cut into half

Instructions

Prepare the rice:

  1. Thoroughly wash the Basmati rice, and soak in water for 15 minutes.
  2. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat and bring 1 1/2 litres of water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, add the rice along with salt. Wait for it to come to a boil, and then cook for around 5 minutes. The rice should be about 65% cooked – test by breaking the rice with your finger. The rice should have a bite to it – it should not be raw, and it shouldn’t be cooked completely. Drain the rice and set aside.

For the leftover biryani masala gravy:

  1. In a medium sized pot or deep frying pan, add oil along with the sliced onions.
  2. Cook the onion, until they become golden brown and crispy. Take about 2 tablespoons of the crispy onions for the topping.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, followed by the yoghurt. This step is optional and depends on the amount of gravy in the leftover curries you are using.

  4. Once the tomatoes are soft, add the biryani masala or use your own spices (see notes for details). Fry for a minute, and then add the potatoes (if using).

  5. Add the leftover curry / salan, and cook for about 3 – 4 minutes till the meat and vegetables heat up and oil can be seen separating from the side. The potatoes should also be 80% done at this stage.

  6. Once the leftover biryani masala mixture is ready, set it aside.

Layering and steaming (dum):

  1. Take a medium sized pot or dutch oven – it should be enough to fit the rice and the biryani masala and still have 2 – 3 inches space from the top.
  2. Layer ½ the biryani masala at the bottom, and then add ½ the rice. Top with the remaining biryani masala, followed by the rice.

  3. On top of the rice, add the coriander and reserved fried onions, along with green chilies.

  4. Cover the pot and seal the lid with aluminium foil, or a kitchen cloth to seal the lid tightly. This is important as it helps in ensuring that the steam doesn’t escape. A heavy weight can be kept on the lid as well to help in this step.
  5. Place the pot on an insulator – this can be a tawa, a flat gridle or a heat diffuser (available at Asian and Indian stores). If you have a cast iron Dutch oven or another heavy bottomed pan, this diffuser can be skipped. Turn the heat to medium for about 3 – 4 minutes. This will help in creating the steam. Once the steam is formed, turn heat to low / simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes on ‘dum’ – this means that the rice will cook in its own steam. Turn off the stove, and let the biryani rest for 10 minutes.

  6. To serve, carefully mix the biryani using a small plate or a rice spoon. Move the rice from the sides, and lightly mix ensuring that the rice doesn’t break. Serve the leftover biryani hot with yoghurt or raita.

Recipe Notes

  1. Leftover Curry: This recipe is super versatile – pretty much any meat and vegetables can be used to make leftover biryani. Be it a dry style curry or a gravy style salan, and even shredded chicken. It can be a mix of different types of curries as well. As long as the curry base is made of either onions, tomatoes or yoghurt it can be used to make leftover biryani masala. 1 cup curry / salan is usually enough for 1 cup of rice. In the case of meat for leftover biryani 3 – 4 pieces of meat (be it chicken, beef, or lamb) are good for 1.5 cups of rice. In case there isn’t enough meat or no meat at all, just add potatoes or other hearty vegetables.
  2. In case there isn’t enough gravy / salan in the leftover curries, tomatoes and yoghurt can be used. I usually add 1 chopped tomato, along with a few tablespoons of yoghurt.
  3. Biryani Masala: Store bought biryani masala is a convenient option for this biryani. I prefer the Shan Bombay Biryani masala or the National Masaleydar Biryani. 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons is good for about 2 1/2 cups of rice.  In case you want to use your own spice mix, add a mix of whole spices and powdered spices. 4 black peppercorn, 1 cardamon pod (elaichi), 2 cloves, ½ inch cinnamon with ½ teaspoon red chili powder and salt to taste.
A bowl of leftover chicken biryani with potatoes in a greenish-white bowl with a bowl of yoghurt raita in the background. Below this image is text that states ' how to make leftover biryani'. Below the text is another image of leftover chicken biryani masala with potatoes in a frying pan.

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