Also known as: Kabuli Pulao, Qabuli Pulao, Qabili Palau, Afghani Pulao
The Crown of Afghan Cuisine
Kabuli Pulao is a traditional Afghan dish but equally owned by the Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan. No celebration is complete in either of the regions without this dish. Today, it is the pride of Northern Pakistan. Every Afghan & Pushton family has their own family recipe of this flavorful and highly aromatic pulao.
Looking back into the history, we learn that People from the Khyber-Pakhtynkhwa region and central Asia made simple yet exotic meals using local resources available to them. Flavorful rice, meat, carrots, grapes, raisins and other kinds of dry fruits are indigenously grown in Afghanistan, which is one of the reasons why the Kabuli Pulao is adorned with these discrete flavours.
Qabili to Kabuli ?
The story of Kabuli Pulao is very interesting. It was created by the upper class families of Kabul who could afford to include caramalized carrots, raisins and nuts in their rice. With time, as the masses become wealthier the dish became more common and a staple all around. Over time, the name changed from Kabuli Palau to Qabili Pulao however when written we still write the original spellings. The word Qabil – means “learned” indicating that only a learned chef could make it.
When I shared this recipe on my instagram, a friend messaged and mentioned that a woman’s marriage in Afghan culture relies on her ability to make this Pulao. So, every girl /lady is customed to learn this classic dish.
Kabuli Pulao is a delicious blend of savory and sweet flavors. The aromatic stock, saltiness of meat and rice, slightsweetness and crunchiness of fried carrots and raisins adds utmost deliciousness, while the nutty texture of almonds and other nuts brings a unique flavor to the dish.
Keys Elements for Making the Perfect Kabuli Pulao
For making a good pulao, selecting the right rice is the key. Always use Sela basmati rice for making pulao, as they yield long rice grains. For me the pulao rice should be slightly sticky due to the meat stock (yakni) yet fluffy and every rice grain separated from one another.
The pulao has four elements to it which makes it stand out among all pulao: meat, stock, rice and topping. The toppings include caramelized carrots and raisins with crunchy fried nuts are the key elements which made the Kabuli pulao stand out from a regular yakni pulao. When all these four elements are cooked together, the end result is nothing but delicious.
An Old Classic Recipe by my Friend
Every afghan or pushton family has their own version of the pulao crafted over the years to please the taste and flavors of their loved ones. The other known recepie uses caramelized sugar while cooking the rice and that’s definitely another recipe on my list!!
This is an old recipe shared by my dear friend with clear instructions that the traditional authentic way of cooking Kabuli Pulao is just in salt without the use of any whole spices. She emphasized alot not to add any garam masala to enjoy the classic and unique flavors. I followed the recipe exactly as she mentioned but couldn’t resist my Pakistani genes at the end and added a fresh blend of garam masala for fragrance.
For the Pualo
- Sela rice – 1 ½ cup (300gm)
- Beef – 350 gm
- Onion – 1 large thinly sliced
- Oil – ¼ cup
- Salt -1 to 2 teaspoons heaped full
- Tez patta – 1
For the Toppings
- Carrots – 1 large carrot thinly sliced
- Sultanas/ Black raisins – 1/4 cup or as you like
- Sugar – 2 tablespoons
The Garam Masala
- Cumin – 1 teaspoon, coarsely ground
- Black cardamom seeds – 1
- Green cardamom seeds – 2
- Cinnamon – half inch (optional)
- Black pepper – 6 pieces (optional)
- Soak sela rice for 45 mins in warm water. Sela rice needs to be soaked for atleast 45 mins.
- In a frypan,sauté carrots and raisins with 1-2 tbsp of sugar. Cook for 3 minutes until the sugar is nicely caramelized into carrots n raisins. Set aside.
- Sauté onions in oil until they become translucent. Once they are lightly pink add the beef pieces.
- Cook meat with onions until it get nicely caramelized from all sides.
- Add salt and tez patta. Keep bhounfying the onions and meat until the onions are all mashed out and ‘ek jan’ masala is formed. This process will 10- 15 mins. Cook on medium-slow flame.
- Once the meat and onions are nicely bhounfied, add 6 cups of water. Let the meat simmer in the stock for 2 hrs until the meat is nicely tender. (more on notes – 1)
- In a seperate large pot, add the cooked meat along with the stock. For 1.5 cup of rice, add 2.5 cups of stock. (more details in notes – 2)
- Add ½ -¾ salt in the stock, bring it to boil. Now add the pre-soaked rice in the stock. (more details in notes – 3)
- Let the rice cook with meat & stock until all the stock is completely absorbed by the rice.
- When half the stock is absorbed add the garam masala in rice – this will give extra fragrance to the rice. (more detailsn in notes – 4)
- Once all stock is absorbed, place the carrots and raisins on top of the rice wrapped in a foil.
- Close the lid of the pot and put the rice on dam for 20 mins.
- Wrap the lid with a kitchen cloth or towel, so the moisture from the rice is absorbed by the cloth and rice turns out to be fully.
Serving the Pulao
- Spread the rice on your platter, place the meat pieces on top and garnish the pulao with the carrots, raisins and fried nuts(more in notes – 5 ).
- Use pressure cooker or instant pot for cooking the meat and stock quickly. I slowly cooked the meat for 2 hours for more flavorful stock.
- Technically for cooking the perfect rice, the rice to water ratio should be 1:2. Over the years I have learnt to keep the ratio 1 : 1.5 specially for cooking steamed rice i.e. pulaos.
- The stock is prepared with only salt. When adding the rice to the stock it is imporant to recheck the seasoning to have the right flavors.
- Use frangrant whole spices from garam masala during dam for enhaced aroma. (They are ideally not a part of this old classic recipe.)
- Blanched and Fried Almonds and cashew nuts are as garnish to add more richness.