Two types of pulao with a side of history

Two types of pulao with a side of history

Try these pulaos which are beautifully flavoured and deliciously fragrant.
23 Apr, 2021

Anyone who has had their children leave the parental nest, for any reason, and then return home for a much-awaited reunion, knows the joys of cooking that first shared meal.

What is it that your child will want to eat when they return to the home base? Mine said, “Mutton pulao, shami kabab, chicken curry, palak, raita and kachumber.”

I couldn’t have raised a more desi-palated kid, considering she is an American-Born Confused Desi (ABCD) in common parlance. Needless to say, I’m a happy mom. Being a food writer, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that I’ve been able to pass on the baton, or better still, the understanding, respect, appreciation and sublimity of owning the cuisine of our forefathers.

I’m a pulao fan myself, hence, over the years I’ve stumbled upon some wonderful anecdotes regarding this centrepiece of a dish.

The oldest cookbook in the world, Annals of the Caliphs Kitchens, has some exceptional stories about the rice dish, as does Scents and Flavours, a Syrian cookbook containing ancient recipes.

However, my favourite has to be the one when I ate pulao in Tashkant, Uzbekistan, some 27-plus years ago.

Try these pulaos which are beautifully flavoured and deliciously fragrant

The central Asian countries had just been liberated and had opened up for business to the rest of the world. As fate would have it, I sat at the home of a high government official who dined us with the exceptional rice dish, telling us an ancient pulao legend that he said originated in ancient Bactria (ancient region currently encompassing modern day Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan).

He said the dish travelled to Greece with the soldiers of Zulqarnain (believed to be Alexander) as they marched back to Greece after conquering the modern day Subcontinent. Of course, I thought this story to be fiction rather than fact until, a few years ago, when I was researching the history of pulao as a food writer, I stumbled upon this exact story and penned it in my article, Food Stories Pulao. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.

Yakhni Pulao/ Punjabi Pulao


2 1/2 lbs. mutton, goat leg or shoulder meat 1 1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds 3 tablespoon coriander seeds 2 large onions 1 teaspoon garam masala powder 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1/4 to 1/2 cup oil 8 1/2 mugs water 2 mugs rice Salt to taste 1 1/2 tablespoon yoghurt 2 teaspoons ginger and garlic (chopped)


Quarter a large onion, add mutton, coriander, fennel, salt to taste and water, bring to boil, reducing heat to medium, until mutton is tender and stock (yakhni) is reduced to half its original quantity (nearly four and a half mugs).

Remove mutton pieces from stock and strain. In a large pot pour oil, brown thinly sliced onions, adding mutton, ginger, garlic, garam masala powder, cumin seeds, salt to taste and yoghurt, and stir on high heat for a few minutes. Add mutton stock, bringing to boil on high heat and adding pre-washed rice. Maintain high heat until rice fluffs and stock is just a thin layer on top.

Taper heat to low and seal pot, initiating the dum (steam cooking) method. Let it sit on a low heat for 30 minutes. Voila!

Afghani Pulao


2 ½ lbs chicken or mutton 2 small onions 2 teaspoons ginger and garlic 2 teaspoons black cumin ½ cup oil Salt to taste 1 teaspoons garam masala 2 mugs rice ½ cup each, raisins, almonds and cashews 3 grated carrots ½ teaspoon sugar


Heat oil, adding meat, ginger and garlic, and fry for a few minutes, adding sliced onions until meat changes colour. Add black cumin, garam masala and salt.

Fry for a few minutes, adding eight mugs of water and ¼ cup each of raisins, cashews and almonds. Once the meat is tender and stock is halved, add pre-washed rice to the cooking broth. Maintain high heat until rice fluffs and stock is a thin layer on the top.

Transfer to an oven-proof dish, seal and place into preheated oven (medium to low heat) for 20-30 minutes.

In a frying pan, heat three tablespoons oil, pour sugar, grated carrots, remaining dry fruit, stir fry for a minute and use as garnish. Afghani pulao is ready to be devoured.

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, April 18th, 2021


Khurram Apr 23, 2021 11:05am
Shan provide excellent solutions for pulaos and biryani range. For recipe just follow the instructions on the pack. Punjabi yukhni pullao Pulao biryani Bombay biryani Sindhi biryani Beef biryani Malay chicken biryani. All are tremendously tasty.
Walied Ahmed Apr 23, 2021 11:13am
i, myself a pulao fan, when i was posted at Quetta, their was a small shop in area called (put-Killi) that pulao was cooked only in potatoes and cost just 25 rupees per plate but i must say i was the one of best pulao experience in my life, in 3.5 years their taste was constant. their was a small child who was helping his father in that shop once said me something very deep and funny, "bhai pulao ki quality check karny ka meray hisab se ek he tareqa hai k agar ap ko ek plate khanay k bad dusiri plate bhi taste de" and i tried second plate and vola it was still tastes awesome. what i learned from food is that "to get 100% taste you have to cook that dish in its original geological location" pressure, weather and atmosphere play vital role in cooking food, some food are for dry places others are for humid, heighted, grounded, cold and heated
Hasan Malik Apr 23, 2021 12:09pm
Basmati rice is always used to cook Pulao and Biryani. This rice is only native to Northern India ( including Pakistani Punjab). So Basmati rice is native and so does cooking of this rice and its many variants. Anyone associating this rice and its dishes with Turks, Afghans or whatever other than Northern India is just morphing the facts to fit their own agenda.
Polavo fan Apr 23, 2021 12:11pm
Afghani polavo with chicken... never seen in my life.... either Beef or mutton. Also you need to try Bannu Beef polavo.
Sx9 Apr 23, 2021 12:43pm
I asked my mom to make "Aaloo baingan" when I came home after spending 9 months away...
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Apr 23, 2021 02:31pm
No doubt, Pulao is far better and tastier than Biryani.
well-wisher Apr 23, 2021 06:58pm
Good choice of food, Bisma. Can't wait to try them your way!
Ibrahim S Apr 24, 2021 05:47am
Nice dishes . To make your life easier, just use Shawn, National or any commercially available masala mix. It works as a charm
Fast comment Apr 26, 2021 03:01pm
It’s a interesting science to cook a well articulated balanced biryani or pulao. The best is defined as to how each rice is individually separate, neither too hard, nor so soft & gummy. Besides these times the ingredients of biryani short listed, the old formula ignored, nobody put a small pinch of Saffron, instead substandard food colors are added. The quality of meat, mutton, or chicken, matters in preparing a sumptuous banquets. The grandsons of cooks Raja of Ranchore Line, and Bashir from Burns Road Karachi, are still in memory, hope they are maintaining the standards of their grandfathers..
Fast comment Apr 26, 2021 03:06pm
@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad . If we began an unending controversy, we’ll deprive ourselves. The one which comes first be eaten with thanks.
Karachi Wala Apr 26, 2021 03:16pm
Bismah you have taken me to a tour down the memory lane. I am not a big time meat eater but when it comes to Punjabi style goat meat Pulao, the way my mother used to make it and now one of my sister in law makes, I think I can have it at least once a week if not more. I remember my mother would put some ingredients you mentioned in a cotton or malmal pouch I think and put inside the pot that had meat and water to first boil and then simmer. Also, I do not like to mix any other curry or salan with Pulao. I like Just Pulao maybe with good quality Shami Kabobs and plain yogurt. To me perfect Palau is with just right recipe with salt very slightly on the high side.
Shakil Khan Apr 26, 2021 11:24pm
I am a person outside the remit of Urdu speaking culture. Will some one elaborate on the difference between Pulao and Biryani, I believe they are two sides of the same dish with variance in the spices and the Chefs. with added names of the countries as commercial gimmick. I like Pakistani food. Will som one tell me How to make suculent Behari Kebab?. I tried with all kind of tenderiser papaya, Kutcher,y Pinapple at various degrees of temperature but meat get chewey, dried and no good as opposed to I had on a street called buns Road in Karachi on my last holiday to Pakistan
Zulfiqar Apr 27, 2021 12:52am
Nothing beats kabuli pulao!