Today I have a somewhat complicated but utterly delicious recipe for you and I promise it’s worth the effort. We will be making kabuli pulao! Yum! Kabuli pulao is a lamb and rice dish that is made in the Northwest of Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It is cooked by using traditional techniques and flavorful spices. Unlike it’s cousin, biryani, Kabuli pulao is not spicy and has a less competing flavors going on while being equally yummy. Growing up, we had Kabuli pulao on the regular. It is the perfect mellow food for kids to eat. This and some cold yogurt takes me back to my childhood.
Kabuli Pulao is not a one-step one and done dish, but requires a few steps – which is why I called it a dance! So clever. I am going to separate the dish into four areas: topping, meat, rice, and broth. When all four of those elements are made correctly and flavorful your end result can’t be anything but delicious.
The beauty of Kabuli Pulao comes with perfectly cooked rice grains that shine like little pearls and with meat so succulent that it melts in your mouth. With the steps that I am going to show you, this can be achieved.
The toppings are my favorite part of Kabuli pulao which is why I am going to show you how to make them first. It’s great writing the recipes for this stuff!
First, we’ll need 1/3 of a cup of slivered almonds. You’ll want to put these into a dry pan and over medium heat, slowly toast them till they get a slight nutty brown color.
Next, you’ll want to make the carrot and raisin topping.
Add in 1 cup of shredded carrots and cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes. I would look for shredded carrots that are slightly thick – don’t get the grated carrots. I was intending to buy whole carrots and cut them into matchstick size shapes myself but I thankfully found them in the grocery store.
As you crush the cardamom, take out the green husks so you’re only left with the cardamom caviar. I don’t know if its called cardamom caviar but thats what it looks like. Also you don’t have to be so accurate with the husks, if you leave a few bits its ok.
For the meat, I chose to use a 3 lb. boneless leg of lamb. It is very readily available and has a good amount of fat distributed throughout the meat so I knew that it would be tender if I cooked it well. The only problem was that I had to cut the lamb myself. Buh.
So since my hands were dirty as I was working, I couldn’t take pictures. But you’ll want to take the netting off the lamb. If you are making a whole roasted leg of lamb you can keep the netting on btw. You’ll want to trim away as much of the fat as possible from the meat. I use a long sharp, serrated, bendable knife for this. I know those are a lot of characteristics for a knife, but its the best way I’ve found to slice away the fat quickly. You’ll want to portion the lamb into very large chunks. The lamb pieces will shrink as you cook them a little bit too so when you start off with 3 inch chunks, you’ll be left with good size pieces in the resulting pulao.
We will be pressure cooking the lamb – I am using my trusty Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker – and to start that process we will want to put in as much flavor as we can into the lamb and the resulting broth that will be used for the pulao.
Oh, did I mention that you will need a lot of pots for this dish? Sigh. Well, mostly because my pressure cooker is small and dark and I can’t see what’s going on in there.
In a sepearate pan, heat up 1/3 cup of vegetable oil and sautee about 3 cups of sliced onions over medium high heat, I used one and a half large white onions.
I put my pressure cooker on the browning setting and when my onions were at the stage they are above I put the onions and the oil with it in the pressure cooker and allowed them to continue to caramelize as I got along with the meat.
I added 1/4 cup of vegetable oil to the same pan that I was frying the onions in and in batches I browned the meat. If you notice, I did not crowd the pan. I added the meat in a single layer with none of the meat overlapping each other. This is verryyyy important. You don’t want steamed grey meat for your pulao. Well I don’t, and this is how you can ensure that that doesn’t happen.
After the other side has finished browning, move this batch of meat into the pressure cooker to continue to brown with the onions and work on the rest of the lamb, batch by batch, until all the meat is perfectly crusty and brown.
To the pressure cooker, add in some whole spices. I added in seven cloves, two large black cardamom pods, seven green cardamom pods, a two-inch piece of cinnamon, and one and a half teaspoons of toasted cumin seeds. I toast the seeds by putting some in a dry pan and roasting them over medium heat until they become fragrant, about 3 minutes.
I put all the spices in a mortar and pestle – did you notice I have one that I use only for green cardamom and one I use for other spices, garlic, and ginger? – and slightly bruise and grind them and then add this to the pressure cooker with the meat.
After 30 minutes, you’ll want to turn the pressure cooker off and either let it naturally release the steam or do what I did and release it manually. Don’t get in front of that steam though!
So far we have carrots and meat. That’s not Kabuli pulao. Let’s add rice to the mix. For Kabuli pulao, you want a grain of rice that has the least amount of starch in it as you can, and for that we use a basmati rice – as opposed to a sushi rice that’s super sticky. We are not only using basmati rice, we are going to use sela rice.
Sela rice is a parboiled rice that results in an extra long grain. It is sometimes difficult to find, but you can call your local Indian or Pakistani grocer and see if they sell it. I prefer using this for pulaos because the rice stays perfectly separated and long. Sela rice needs to be soaked for quite a while before cooking. I cleaned and soaked four cups of rice in 6 cups of water (or enough to cover the rice in the bowl by one inch) for four hours.
In a large pot, bring water to a boil. We will be cooking the rice like you cook pasta. Boiling and straining.
Add in the drained rice and cook until the rice is 75% done. I don’t know how long this is exactly, but you will honestly have to keep taking out rice kernels and bite down on it to see how hard it is. That’s what I have to do too since it varies on so many things. It roughly takes 7-10 minutes though.
The broth is what will bring the Kabuli pulao together. We’re almost at the finish line guys, can you feel it??
Take two cups of the broth made from the lamb and keep it aside.
Place the 75% cooked rice in large pot that has a tight fitting lid.
Cook this on medium high for 5 minutes, medium for 5 minutes, low for 5 minutes, then turn it off and let it sit for 5 minutes. You just want to gradually build up steam then allow it to permeate into all the layers of the pulao.
Your patience will be rewarded with this.
Take the carrot and raisin mixture out and set it on a plate.
I hope you guys try this out! It takes some time but its definitely an impressive dish!
- ⅓ cup slivered almonds
- ⅓ cup pistachios
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 5 teaspoons sugar, divided
- 10 cardamom pods, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- ⅓ cup large raisins
- 2 tsp garam masala powder
- 3 lb. boneless leg of lamb cut into large chunks
- 2 medium sized onions sliced
- 1.5 tsp kosher salt
- 7 cloves
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 7 whole green cardamom pods
- 1 2-inch piece of cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 4 cups sela rice
- Soak 4 cups sela rice for 4 hours
- Toast slivered almonds and pistachios in a dray saute pan until they are a slight nutty color, set aside
- Heat up 2 tsp of vegetable oil in a small sauté pan over medium high heat and cook the shredded carrots for 3-4 minutes and add the sugar and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the carrots caramelize, add in ⅓ cup of raisins and cook for an additional minute, adding in ¼ teaspoon of crushed cardamom
- Heat up ⅓ cup of oil in a pan and sautee 3 cups of sliced onions until well caramelized - add to electric pressure cooker
- Season meat with 1 tsp of kosher salt
- Add ¼ cup of vegetable oil to a large pan and brown the meat in batches until well browned then add to the pressure cooker
- Add in ½ tsp salt, garlic cloves, black cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon and cumin seeds to pressure cooker
- Pressure cook on high for 30 minutes
- Remove meat from the broth and strain the broth and reserve
- Boil rice in a large pot of salted, boiling water until the rice is 75% done, about 7-10 minutes
- Strain and set aside
- In a saucepan over medium heat, caramelize 3 tsp of sugar until it is a light nutty color and add in 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom powder and 2 tsp of garam masala powder
- Add in 2 cups of the reserved broth and set aside
- Place the rice in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, strain half the broth over the rice, mix and top with sprinkled cardamom and garam masala
- Place meat over the rice in a single layer
- Add the reserved carrots and raisins on top of the meat along with one teaspoon of heated vegetable oil until it is smoking hot
- Dock the rice with the back of a wooden spoon to allow the steam to escape
- Cover pot tightly with a kitchen towel and lid
- Cook on high for 5 minutes, medium for 5 minutes, low for 5 minutes, and then let sit for 5 minutes to steam.
- Garnish with the toasted slivered almonds and pistachios
- Serve warm