Bhuna is a well known and popular Indian dish but it is usually made with a principal meat ingredient, such as chicken or lamb. A vegetarian option is not one with which many people will be familiar, or are perhaps likely even to have considered. What constitutes bhuna, however, is simply a dish consisting of a rich, spicy, tomato and onion based sauce, so there is no requirement to include meat of any particular type or indeed any meat at all. This means you are free to experiment both with different types of meat and a wide variety of potential vegetable inclusions. This opens up an endless list of opportunities, just one of which is explored and detailed below.

Vegetarian Indian Bhuna
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Indian vegetable bhuna with spicy rice and naan bread

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ teaspoons tandoori curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon Indian garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili powder (1 teaspoon for the sauce and 1 for the rice)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 small green chili
  • 6 small new potatoes
  • 8 ounce can of tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 4 baby sweetcorn ears
  • 8 snow or snap peas (mangetout)
  •  ¾ cup (6 ounces) basmati or long grain rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro (coriander leaf), plus a little bit extra to garnish
  • 2 medium cilantro and garlic naan breads (or flavor of choice)


Indian meals are normally made in a karahi, or in the absence of which, perhaps a Chinese wok. While there are some Indian meat dishes where it is pretty much necessary to use such a cooking pot to achieve the levels of heat required, this particular recipe can easily and successfully be prepared in a conventional large Western stew pot.

Sauteing Onions and Spices
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Onion and garlic are sauteed with bhuna spices

The vegetable oil should be added to the pot first and brought up to a medium heat. Peel the onion and garlic clove and moderately finely slice. Add the curry powder, garam masala and one teaspoon of the chili powder, along with the onion and the garlic, to the heated oil. Season with salt and pepper and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring everything around with a wooden spoon, until the onion is softened. This procedure also cooks the harshness out of the spices and prevents the finished dish having a slightly bitter taste.

Potatoes and Chili added to Pot
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Potatoes and chili are added to the spiced onions

Peel the potatoes and cut them in half. Slice the small green chili and add both to the pot. Stir them through the spiced onions.

Tomatoes added to Spiced Vegetables
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Canned tomatoes are added to spiced vegetables

Pour the canned tomatoes in to the pot along with half a cup of cold water. Stir well, cover the pot and bring to a simmer for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure the liquid level doesn't get too low. Should you have concerns in this respect, add a little bit of boiling water from your kettle but be wary of watering down your sauce too much and affecting the final flavor of the dish.

Corn and Snow Peas added to Bhuna
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Corn and snow peas are added to part cooked bhuna

Cut the corn ears and snow peas in half and add them to the pot when the initial twenty minutes' cooking time is up. Stir them in to the bhuna and bring the combination back to a simmer for twenty more minutes.

Rice Cooking Waters
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Spiced water pots for cooking rice

Bring two separate pots of water to a rolling boil. Season both pots with a generous pinch of salt, one with a teaspoon of chili powder and one with a teaspoon of turmeric. Wash the rice through a sieve at your sink and divide between the two pots. There's no need to accurately measure the rice out - approximately half in each pot is fine. The rice should be simmered for ten minutes.

Combining Rice and Cilantro
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Spiced rice types and cilantro ready for combining

Drain each pot of rice in turn and return each portion to its respective empty pot. You will see that the turmeric rice is stained bright yellow but the chili rice will largely remain white, even though it will have absorbed the chili flavor. If you combine the rice quantities before you allow them to steam off and dry out, the colors will effectively run in the dampness and heat and you will essentially have all yellow rice. Let them steam off therefore for five minutes.

Spoon the rice from one pot in to the other, along with one tablespoon of the chopped cilantro. Use a fork rather than a spoon to combine the three together so that the rice remains nice and light and fluffy.

Stir the second tablespoon of cilantro in to the bhuna for its last couple of minutes of cooking and reheat the naan breads per the instructions on the pack.

In many Asian cuisines, the food will be brought to the table in little individual serving dishes for subsequent transfer to the eating plate in quantities the diner chooses. These little metal serving dishes are optional but do look almost like mini Indian karahi cooking pots. Preheat four of  them if you have them for a couple of minutes in a low oven and be aware that they will quickly become very hot. 

Plating Vegetable Bhuna and Rice
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Vegetable bhuna and spicy rice are added to serving dishes

Give the bhuna a careful taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if required. Divide the bhuna between two serving dishes and the rice between the other two before laying one of each (wearing oven gloves) on two serving plates. Garnish the bhuna dishes with a little more cilantro. Slice the naan breads and arrange on the serving plates before lifting to the table.