Paneer Biryani


A fusion of food, culture, and love


Abinaya & Gbolahan

Gbolahan is from Lokoja in Nigeria. Abinaya is from Chennai in India. They met … in Russia. Love truly will find you in the most unlikely of places.

“We met in Russia to study medicine,” Abinaya explained. Her first impression of her future husband was that he seemed to be looking down on her. “Somebody opens the door, I don’t see any head or something, I see chest. Like, I’m looking up.”

The two got closer during their time as students, eventually getting married. Abinaya moved to Nigeria where the two now share a home. They quickly discovered that they had to work to blend two unique lifestyles.

“There are a lot of differences between us, like different cultures, different faiths,” Abinaya explained. The couple also share different eating habits — Abinaya is a vegetarian while Gbolahan eats meat.

To Abinaya, those differences were a welcome challenge to find something they could enjoy together. She turned to paneer biryani — a rice dish with vegetables and marinated fresh cheese. It was a success. Gbolahan loved the meal, even imploring Abinaya to cook it for his entire family to taste.

“Yesterday I had a dream and I saw that meal,” Gbolahan said. A meal so good you dream about it? There can’t be a better review than that.

Beyond sharing a meal together, the couple said the paneer biryani is an opportunity for them to spend quality time together in the kitchen.

“It’s a different love language and it brings us together as a couple,” Abinaya said. “It’s out of love, it can be nothing else.”

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Paneer Biryani


  • instant pot


For paneer marinade

  • 3 Tbsp thick, whole milk yogurt
  • 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp biryani masala or garam masala
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro chopped, plus more for garnish
  • cups paneer cut into cubes

For rice

  • 1 cup basmati rice soaked 30 minutes
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • pinch saffron threads
  • 2 Tbsp ghee divided
  • 1 medium red onion thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • ¾ tsp shahi jeera or cumin seeds
  • tsp fresh ginger chopped
  • tsp garlic chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cashews very roughly chopped
  • cups water divided
  • ½ tsp biryani masala or garam masala
  • salt to taste


  • To a large bowl add yogurt and whisk it until smooth. Then add ginger-garlic paste, coriander powder, biryani masala, paprika, red chili powder, salt, chopped cilantro. Mix it well.
  • Then add the paneer cubes. Mix until all paneer cubes are coated with the marinade. Cover and chill the bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile rinse the rice until water turns clear and then soak it in 2 cups (16 oz) water for 30 minutes. Drain the water after 30 minutes using a colander and set the rice aside.
  • Add pinch of saffron strands to 1 tablespoon of warm milk and set aside.
  • Start with the process of making the biryani after the paneer has been marinated for 30 minutes and rice has been soaked for 30 minutes. You can start sautéing the onions before the 30 minute mark.
  • Press the sauté button on the Instant Pot. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon ghee. Add sliced onion to it. Sauté for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring often until onions are browned. Once the onions are browned, remove them from the pot.
  • Then add the remaining tablespoon of ghee in the pot. Add the whole spices (bay leaf, cloves, green cardamom, peppercorns & shahi jeera) and let them sizzle.
  • Then add the chopped ginger, garlic and cashews. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until garlic, ginger and cashews start changing color.
  • Stir in the marinated paneer and toss. Add 1/4 cup (2 oz) water and deglaze the pot by scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula. Make sure there's nothing stuck at the bottom of the pot.
  • Then add remaining 1 cup (8 oz) water and rice. Add the biryani masala, salt, 1/2 of the fried onion and the prepared saffron milk on top.
  • Close the pot with the lid. Press the manual or pressure cook button. Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes with the pressure valve in the sealing position. Let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes and then do a quick pressure release.
  • Open the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Place paneer biryani on a serving plate, top with cilantro and remaining half of the fried onion.


Recipe inspired by Cook with Manali
Course: Dinner
Region: Asia
Diet: Vegetarian


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