This ethereal mixture of rice and lamb, redolent of sweet and warming spices, is the national dish of Afghanistan. Kabuli pulao takes its name from Kabul, the capital of that land-locked Central Asian nation.
Kabuli pulao is special occasion food in Afghanistan. “Pulao” is a type of rice dish made with a special, two-stepped cooking process for the rice that is unmatched in yielding separate, fluffy grains with excellent texture.
While each step in the recipe is not particularly difficult, the dish does require several steps to complete. First you simmer the meat, then you caramelize the carrots and parcook the rice. These steps can be completed ahead of time. Then you can just layer the three components together and finish the cooking on your stovetop.
Sometimes spelled qabuli palao or palaw.
8 to 10 servings
Basmati rice — 3 cups
Oil — 1/2 cup
Stewing lamb or beef, cubed — 2 pounds
Onions, thinly sliced — 2
Garlic, minced — 3 or 4
Cinnamon — 1 stick
Cardamom pods — 8 to 10
Cumin seeds — 2 teaspoons
Whole cloves — 6 to 8
Stock or water — 2 or 3 cups
Salt and pepper — to taste
Carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded — 3
Sugar — 1/4 cup
Raisins, soaked in water and drained — 1/2 cup
Ground cardamom — 1 teaspoon
Salt — to taste
Sliced almonds, toasted — 1/2 cup
Garam masala — 2 teaspoons
In a large bowl, wash and drain the rice in 2 or 3 changes of water. Add more water to cover and set the rice aside to soak for 1 to 2 hours.
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium flame and, working in batches, brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the hot oil and sauté until cooked through and softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and whole spices and saute for another minute or so.
Return the meat to the pot and pour in the stock or water along with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.
Strain the meat, onions and spices from the simmering broth and set aside, reserving the broth.
Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a saute pan or large pot over medium flame. Add the carrots and saute for 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Stir in the sugar and continue to cook for 1 or 2 more minutes to lightly caramelize the sugar, taking care not to let it burn.
Remove from heat and carefully stir in 1 cup of the reserved broth. (Be careful. It may splatter a bit). Then stir in the raisins, cardamom and salt to taste and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drain the soaked rice and stir it into the boiling water. Return to a boil and cook the rice for 3 or 4 minutes. Then drain the rice, discarding the water, and place it into a large bowl.
Lightly oil or grease the inside of an large ovenproof pot with a lid. Mix the remaining broth with the reserved rice. Spread half the rice smoothly over the bottom of the greased pot. Spread the reserved meat and onions evenly over the rice. Top the meat with the carrots and raisins. Finally, layer the remaining rice smoothly over the other ingredients in the pot.
Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke four or five holes through to the bottom of the pot. These holes allow excess liquid to boil out of the rice so that it doesn’t get soggy. Cover the top of the pot with a clean kitchen towel. This keeps condensed steam from dripping back onto the rice. Finally top the pot with a tight-fitting lid and fold the overhanging towel over the lid.
Set the pot over medium-high flame for 3 to 5 minutes. Next reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest, covered, for another 10 minutes.
Gently stir the rice and meat together with a large fork. Mound the pulao on a large serving dish and garnish with the toasted almonds and a sprinkling of garam masala. Serve warm.
KABULI PULAO VARIATIONS
Meats: Feel free to substitute stewing beef for the lamb. Or for a lighter dish, use cubed chicken breast or thigh meat. Chicken won’t have to simmer as long to become tender.
Dried Fruit: Use golden raisins (sultanas), a mix of golden and black raisins or some dried apricots.
Nuts: Use pistachios or a mix of pistachios and almonds.
Toasting the Nuts: Heat an ungreased saute pan or skillet over medium flame. Add the nuts, stirring occasionally until they are lightly browned and release their aroma. Remove immediately to a plate to avoid overbrowning and set aside to cool. You can also spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast in a 400° oven.
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