Throwing a party? This all-Punjabi menu, featuring Mutton Pulao and Palak Gosht, is sure to be a hit

Throwing a party? This all-Punjabi menu, featuring Mutton Pulao and Palak Gosht, is sure to be a hit

Palak is always a hit with pulao, especially with a side of shami kabab
Updated 22 Aug, 2018

My mother always used to say that setting a menu for a meal is as important as making it.

A table spread of mismatched food items is quite the damper on the spirit of a hungry stomach. There were many a times that we would be heading home from a party and Ami would either observe that the menu was very well coordinated, or that the host had done a poor job of putting together the meal.

The menu must make sense, Ami maintained, and not only when entertaining guests, but also in everyday family meals.

I recently entertained a few friends for dinner. I put together the menu with great care, deciding to stick to a staple menu of a pulao, murgh masala, shami kabab, palak gosht, kathi daal, subzi, roti, salaad and raita.

I wanted the meal to be balanced, delicious and something that my wonderful guests would enjoy. Palak is always a hit with pulao, especially with a side of shami kabab.

The dinner was an expected hit, and not for its fanciness, but because the menu items sat together beautifully to make a wonderfully delicious meal over warm chit-chat and laughter.

The recipes I share with you today mostly come from my Nani’s kitchen, with the exception of khatti daal. Enjoy my menu. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.

Mutton Pulao

The aromatic effervescence of fennel, coriander seeds and onions cooking in mutton yakhni (stock) makes pulao a delightful main course. The dish always transfers me to the time of wonder years when I thought my elders would live forever, sitting around a table of laughter, reprimands, family history lessons and character building.

Pulao is a universal and ancient food and has gathered many world cuisines in its embrace. History relays that the chef-d'œuvre of Persian kitchens was mutton and lamb pulao and it transformed to an elegant dish as it travelled from the campfires of hardened nomadic shepherds to the courts of the caliphs.

From ancient Persia, it spread far and wide to the entire Muslim world and beyond. When Babar arrived from Central Asia, he abhorred the sub-continent's cuisine. He was used to a hearty meat-based nomadic shepherds' meals, like the pulao. And so the pulao entered our region.

The cuisine of Pakistan and India may have central Asian, Turkish, Afghan and Persian roots, but we can't ignore that its nourishment and beauty was realised by the spices indigenous to the region. The sub-continental food is unique and has evolved over centuries to become what it has today — rich, vibrant, flavourful and elegant.


2¼ to 2½ lbs mutton, small pieces (preferably goat leg or shoulder meat)

1½ tbsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp coriander seeds

2 large onions

1 tsp garam masala powder

1 tsp cumin

¼ to ½ cup oil

8½ cups water

2 cups rice

Salt to taste

1½ tbsp yogurt

1 tsp fresh ginger (chopped)

1 tsp fresh garlic (chopped)


1) Add mutton, fours quarters of one large onion, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, salt to taste and water in a cooking pot and bring the water to boil.

2) Reduce heat to medium until the mutton is cooked and stock (yakhni) is reduced to half its original quantity (4¼ mugs).

3) Remove mutton pieces from stock (yakhni) and strain stock thoroughly through sieve, discarding the drained fennel, coriander and onions.

4) In a large pot pour oil and brown thinly sliced onions.

5) Once the onions are golden brown, add mutton, ginger, garlic, garam masala powder, cumin, salt to taste and yogurt and stir on high heat for a few minutes.

6) Now add mutton stock and bring to boil on high heat, adding pre-washed rice.

7) Maintain high heat until the rice fluffs and the stock is just a thin layer on the top of the rice.

8) Taper heat to low and seal the pot, initiating the 'dum' method (steam cooking after sealing the pot).

9) Let sit on low heat for 30 minutes.

10) Remove lid. Your perfect pulao is ready to be enjoyed.

Palak Gosht

The Food and Travel Magazine says the following about spinach:

The first we heard of spinach in Britain was when King Richard the Second’s master cooks penned a simple recipe for it in England’s earliest cookery book. Wherever it originated from, everybody seemed to fall for its robust mineral flavours and versatility. In India and Persia its pungent taste was welcomed as the perfect base for the intensely spiced cuisine.

Nothing is more quintessentially Punjabi than saag; it’s a hearty food, abundant in flavour and nutrients, much like the land and the people it belongs to.


2 lbs goat meat (preferably leg meat)

Chopped spinach

1½ medium sized onions

2½ medium sized tomatoes

Oil to taste

1 tsp fresh ginger

1 tsp fresh garlic

Salt to taste

3 to 5 green chillies (sliced in half)

1 to 1½ tsp red chilli

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin

½ to 1 tsp garam masala

10 to 12 black peppercorns

8 to 12 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 black cardamom

Chopped cilantro, green chillies, and chopped ginger for garnish


1) In a pot, put together meat, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes and ginger garlic.

2) Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on medium to high heat until the meat releases water, stirring occasionally.

3) Now add powdered spices and salt; cook for a few minutes, adding oil, whole spices and green chillies.

4) Cook and stir on high heat until the stew is of a rich red hue and the oil separates from the meat, adding a little water (eyeballing the required amount) to the stew and leave to simmer until meat is almost tender.

5) Add in the spinach and let the meat and spices cook together until tender, with the oil sitting atop.

6) Garnish and serve with hot chappati, naan or boiled rice. I prefer it with boiled white rice.

Shami Kabab

Shami kabab is Pakistan’s favourite kabab, and mine too.

My earliest memory of stealing a taste of the shami kabab is right from the pot, just before the patty was made and fried, and that is the fun and versatility of shami kabab. It's delicious to steal and eat before it is put in a blender to give silkiness to its texture and fried to a fine finish.

Sanjay Thumma, celebrity chef and author, in his article 'Shammi Kabab' pens:

Shami or Shammi kabab literally means the Syrian kabab (Syria is called Sham in Urdu and Hindi) in Arabic. During the Mughal era, Muslim immigrants from the Middle East introduced this kabab to South Asia. The Mughals had employed cooks from all over the Muslim world to serve in the royal kitchens and some of the cooks were from Syria.*

Another source states that the word Sham is evening in Hindi and Urdu, and Sham-e-Awadh (evenings in Lucknow) during the days of the Nawabs were unforgettable. Some people also believe that Shami Kababs originate from the famous village of Sham Churasi in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab.


1 kg ground beef, or beef chunk

1 ½ cup chana daal

1 ½ onions, large

1 inch piece of ginger

10 pods of garlic

12 whole red chilli

1 tsp cumin, heaped

2 tsp coriander powder

2 sticks cinnamon

3 black cardamoms

20 whole peppercorns

7 to 8 cloves

Salt to taste

24 to 30 ounces of water


1) Put all ingredients (mentioned above) in a pot of water and let cook until water completely dries and lentils are cooked and soft to touch.

2) Let cool and grind until fine to touch.

3) Add 1 medium finely chopped onion, 2 eggs, 1 bunch of fresh coriander leaves (chopped) and 10 to 12 leaves of mint (chopped).

4) Mix well with ground beef mixture.

5) Form kababs and shallow fry.

Khathi Daal

I have, literally, grown up eating Hyderabadi khatti daal. My best friend Amber’s aayaa, whom we lovingly called Amma, was from Hyderabad Deccan and made khatti daal ever so often. Since I was mostly lost to be found at Amber’s house, when found I was usually holding a bowl of khatti daal in my hand.

Our household hardly ever served khatti daal, and I can't help but wonder how ethnic backgrounds play a significant role in determining our choices for daily cooking.

Not that there is anything wrong with it, but generally speaking we tend to stay within our safe zone when cooking in routine, and usually cook the foods we grew up around. It’s a habit one must try to step away from and make a concerted effort to whip up delicious recipes from other cuisines.


1 cup Masoor Dal or Toor Dal (I used Masoor or red lentils)

1 tomato

½ tsp fresh ginger

½ tsp fresh garlic

½ tsp turmeric

Red chilli powder to taste

Salt to taste

¾ tsp coriander powder

1 inch by 2 inch block of tamarind (soak in approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups hot water), let cool, rub/mix with hand to remove fiber/pulp from seeds.

Ingredients for fried garnish (bhagaar)

2 dried red chillis

2 green chillies, slit lengthwise

½ tsp cumin seeds

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 to 4 curry leaves


1) Wash lentils and soak in water for ½ hour.

2) Drain, rinse and add 3 to 4 cups water.

3) Bring to boil adding all ingredients, except tamarind.

4) Let cook, once tender add 1 cup (or to taste) of tamarind and let cook for ten to fifteen minutes, adding water for desired consistency.

5) Heat oil, adding garnish ingredients, temper for a few seconds and pour on dal.

6) Mix and serve with white rice, topping with cilantro.

Murgh Musallam

In the fabulous book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Lizzie Collingham unveils that many of the Mughlai dishes and other delectable regional cuisines in the subcontinent may very well have resulted from many invasions and are an incorporation of world cuisines.

History tells the tale of Portuguese explorers and the arrival of Babar to the sub-continent and hence the cooking methods and ingredients of central Asia, Persia and Europe came to the exotic east.

Therefore, it's safe to say that it may have been the British who contributed their passion for roast chicken; and the sub-continental cooks mixed it with native spices such as cardamom and black pepper and gave us the Murgh Massallam.


1 whole chicken (approx. 3lbs)

2 green chillies

10 to 15 cloves of garlic

½ inch piece of ginger

1 tsp garam masala powder

pinch of turmeric powder

8 ounce yogurt

1 tsp red chilli powder

4 to 6 brown cardamom

8 to 10 cloves

1 piece cinnamon

8 to10 peppercorns

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsps coriander seeds

15 almonds

2 to 4 oz. oil (or to taste)

2 large onions

Salt to taste

2 to 4 oz. water

Freshly chopped coriander for garnish


1) Blend ginger, garlic, yogurt, green chillies, salt, ½ tsp red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala into a thick marinade for the chicken.

2) Marinate whole chicken, spreading masala inside the cavity and let rest in the fridge for 4 to 5 hours

3) Roast whole garam masala, cumin, coriander seeds and almonds and set aside.

4) In a large heavy pan or pot, heat oil and fry thinly sliced onions. Once golden brown, blend the strained onions with roasted spices, adding a little water if required.

5) In the same pan as used for frying onions, braise marinated whole chicken for a few minutes (saving the marinade for later use) and then remove and set aside.

6) Using the same pan heat a little oil and fry the onion paste on high heat, adding the rest of chilli powder, marinade, and salt if required.

7) Fry on high for a few minutes, adding the whole chicken and water, sealing with lid entirely and setting the heat to medium.

8) Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes on one side and 10 to 15 on the other.

9) Once the meat is tender, set in a platter pouring the masala on the top or side and garnish with greens. Serve with a side of your favourite vegetables and boiled eggs (both optional), hot naan and raita. I served it with a side of shallow fried peas, tomatoes, potatoes and bell pepper.

Truly a delectable meal, enjoy.

All photographs by the author


Janoo German Oct 28, 2016 12:38pm
Nothing beats Karachi's masalhadar Biryani ,garma garam Nihari and tender aromatic Bihari Kebab lachchedar Paratha .
Recommend (0)
Fredy Oct 28, 2016 01:00pm
Khatti daal wowwwwww!!!!
Recommend (0)
Jaago Oct 28, 2016 03:14pm
Thank you for sharing. This URL is now bookmarked!!
Recommend (0)
Ber Oct 28, 2016 03:32pm
what is the difference between Pulao and Biryani ?
Recommend (0)
Jawad Oct 28, 2016 03:35pm
Recommend (0)
Alio Oct 28, 2016 04:59pm
Well you forgot to tell the quantity of rice you need for the mutton pulao,honest mistake overall a wonderful spread of delicious menu looking forward to make it soon here in the north west of USA.
Recommend (0)
Naveen1 Oct 28, 2016 07:01pm
Just opened Dawn and found these wonderful pics....started feeling hungry in the morning at 9 AM CT in US. Sure going to hit a Desi Buffet place for lunch. I visit Dawn for food related topics, u guys rock with food articles.
Recommend (0)
Helping Hands Oct 28, 2016 09:14pm
Living in a place away from "real" desi food, this article is an utter delight for me!
Recommend (0)
Rajan Mahadevan Oct 29, 2016 03:56am
@Naveen1 : I agree with you. Dawn's food articles are really really good! Rajan
Recommend (0)
Hasan Oct 29, 2016 07:49am
@Janoo German Even Karachi's Masalaydaar Baryani and Behari Kebab are dependant on Punjab because 100 percent requirements of the Basmati rice and almost all Beef comes from Punjab. Basmati rice is infact a specialty of Indian and Pakistani Punjab.
Recommend (0)
JS Oct 29, 2016 12:26pm
All the recipes included here put together are delicious Kashmiri food. Palak gosht, mutton palao and shami kabob is the best combination along with kheer. Too good!
Recommend (0)
aimi Oct 29, 2016 08:22pm
well, you did nit mention , what elements you should consider while coordinating a menu. A combination of vegetables , grains , meat , dairy etc. ??? or any other consideration of known traditional combination ???? or just because it should appeal to your taste ?? anyway to add a comment on that ???
Recommend (0)
aimi Oct 29, 2016 08:25pm
..... And Raita with dinner , especially in colder days would never appeal to me. Only with lunch
Recommend (0)
aimi Oct 29, 2016 08:26pm
But the individual recipes look very nice
Recommend (0)
AMY Oct 29, 2016 10:54pm
Yum Yum. I'm hungry now!
Recommend (0)
RAHMAN SHAIKH Oct 30, 2016 01:26am
Good advice on cooking.
Recommend (0)
Imtiaz ali khan Sep 01, 2017 01:22pm
@Janoo German May be Hyderabad, India will beat because that's where Biryani comes from.
Recommend (0)
Truth Sep 01, 2017 01:22pm
The poor photograph - of what could very well be, very delectable dishes - leaves a lot to be desired... The art of presentation is woefully lacking in Pakistan.
Recommend (0)
Fatima Sep 01, 2017 01:41pm
Recommend (0)
Asif Sep 01, 2017 02:14pm
This is one of the reasons I am shifting back to my country. How good is that and how can I miss this if I can have daily. Amazing food.
Recommend (0)
YASIR Sep 01, 2017 02:23pm
@Ber Just Eat both of them ON Eid and you will get your answer
Recommend (0)
KT Sep 01, 2017 03:10pm
The big conventional Big Thaal of Bronze will always be there in my memories where sweets are kept promoting Brotherhood. Even today in Eid event celebrations of Nawabs different sweets are kept in small plastic bowl kept in one of those traditional Thaals occasionally placed in Center of Hall.
Recommend (0)
Saz Sep 01, 2017 03:18pm
@Ber hears the question and faints
Recommend (0)
GOGA NALAIK Sep 01, 2017 05:15pm
Mouth watering stuff ... as usual. Thanks a lot Now I'm good at mutton pulao but I prepare it in my own style: with no cooking oïl at all and without separating yakhni. My welaity wife loves it :)
Recommend (0)
Khwarizmi Sep 01, 2017 05:21pm
I would just like to add: I feel biryani is more popular then pilao today in Punjab, both in resturants and in homes.
Recommend (0)
waleed fakhar Sep 01, 2017 07:16pm
Mohajir oriented food from Delhi,Bihar,U.P take the lead. Punjabs food is limited
Recommend (0)
VSN Sep 02, 2017 12:04am
Here I am, sitting in Silicon Valley, from New Delhi, with ancestors from Gujranwala, thinking of home.
Recommend (0)
Abdulhaque Shaikh Sep 02, 2017 02:44am
Very good
Recommend (0)
Abdulla Hussain Sep 03, 2017 02:43pm
While the first two are definitely all Punjabi dishes, the later three are not these were adopted by Punjab but not indigenous.
Recommend (0)
Shah Aug 22, 2018 11:10am
@Khwarizmi I agree. By the way, I see you are also a fellow Khwarizmi like my self. Meaning you too have a link to the Gujrat-Syeds.
Recommend (0)
JA-Australia Aug 22, 2018 11:45am
It says on Pakistani passports that the passport becomes void if the person doesn't like Shami Kebab. True story.
Recommend (0)
Shah Aug 22, 2018 01:29pm
There is absolutely no doubt that our food culture got a massive boost after the influx of Pakistanis from North and Central India. Dishes like Nihari, different biryanis and veggie dishes which were not common in Punjab are now part of the locl cuisine.
Recommend (0)
M. Emad Aug 22, 2018 02:05pm
Unhealthy high-calorie Punjabi foods.
Recommend (0)
Lahori kid Aug 22, 2018 09:32pm
And I'm hungry sitting here eating my turkey sandwich and looking at these pics of the real food. Some of us work in foreign lands, so EID is always spent in the oil fields of Texas. EID MUBARAK to all.
Recommend (0)
Sabir Aug 23, 2018 03:19am
Briyani is so over rated now. Love these dishes.
Recommend (0)
Danish Aug 23, 2018 04:55am
Palak Ghost is sumptuous!...across Atlantic, in Houston, Mazban has the best Palak Ghost!
Recommend (0)