“Oh! the beautiful city of Kabul wears a rugged mountain skirt,
and the rose is jealous of its lash like thorns,
the dust of Kabul’s blowing soil, stings slightly in my eyes,
but I love her, for knowledge and love, both come from her dust ….
one could not count the moon’s that shimmer on her roofs,
or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her wall” — Saib-e-Tabrizi ‘Kabul’
Afghan Cuisine is a true personification of its ethnic and geographic diversity. The Afghan rice has many variations of which Kabuli Pilaf is the most infamous dish in the South East Asia, now spreading to the far West in its likability. It is also the national dish of Afghanistan. Afghan flavours, like the natives of the land are extremely welcoming. The flavours require minimum spices yet are profuse in savour.
Many of us have come to misunderstand the Uzbeki Pilaf to be the famous Kabuli Polow. It’s interesting how I came to know the difference between the two. The very first time I made this rice, I played around with spices popular in the Afghan Cuisine and I ended up with a dish extremely tasteful and appetizing. I have a friend who is from Kabul and cooks authentic native food. I decided, in all my glory, raving about how good I have made the Kabuli Polow, that I will go to her house and present her some, which she was very pleased to accept. The next day I called her to ask how she found the rice. She smiled a bit and for a moment my heart started to pound fast waiting to hear that I have messed up her native lands most famous dish, both in flavours and texture. She was very kind though and said that that infact wasn’t the authentic way of cooking Kabul Rice and that the rice I made is basically known as Uzbek Polow in her home country. Here is another interesting fact, my ancestors are all from Afghanistan. I am of Afghan descent and I guess that is what happens when your great great grandparent decide to leave their homeland to explore other parts of the world. You intermingle and grow up in a cross-culture home with diversity in languages and food altogether. Yes! that is me; of Afghan descent, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, extended family settled in Pakistan and was taught in American and British schools. Talk about diversity, right! Anyways, coming back to what happened with my friend. I am confused as I have never heard of Uzbeks. They are apparently an ethnicity out of 14 ethnicities in Afghanistan living on the Northern side of the country and they apparently cook food slightly differently than the Pashtuns who cook Kabuli Rice. The difference between the two rice is that Kabuli Rice is made in lamb broth with only onion, salt and black pepper as the spices of the whole dish whereas Uzbek Rice use spices like cumin, clove, cinnamon and cardamom powder. I never knew that, I always found recipes online or other friends who cook it to be the way I made it, with spices, when actually Kabuli Rice has no spice flavour, it has simple flavours that stem from the lamb/beef broth; basically, a little bland in taste but extremely inviting. I know because my friend cooked her authentic version of it and made me have a taste. Although it doesn’t mean she didn’t like mine, that was pretty awesome as well. In all honesty, be it any, it’s famous by the name of Kabul.
Coming to the recipe, any Afghan dish won’t be Afghani without nuts and vegetables in there and this rice is no different. The carrots and sultanas (raisins) is the crown of the dish. One thing though, originally, the carrots and raisins are fried in a lot of oil to make them soft and release their essence but for me it’s just too much oil. So, I fry 1 cup of carrots with only 2 tbsp of oil along with the raisins. Second, I like to shallow fry my meat after taking it out of the stock just to give it a little crisper texture, I like my chicken crispy. Three, I made this dish in Chicken but it can be made in lamb or beef. Four, the addition of caramel at the end, makes Afghan Polow, Afghani. Yes! get ready to jog a little more than your usual running time or mile the following day.
For me personally, this Kabuli Rice is very similar to the Rice Polow we South Asians cook on the Punjab side. The rice even though has a caramel added at the very end, does not taste sweet at all but actually blends beautifully with the whole dish keeping the savoury aspect of the dish dominant all the way.
Kabuli pulao is not your ordinary dish, not something which you would make everyday. It’s for special occasions because it’s rich and not too light on your stomach. The polow is perfect for brunch or dinners. This will definitely be the crown of your dining table and is best served with the piquant sharpness of an onion salad, as if true friends for life. Have a go at it today, you will love Afghan flavours. Oh! and also, I added pistachios just for garnish and photographing purpose.
1 kg – Chicken/beef/lamb
7 tbsp – Oil (divided)
2 – Onions chopped
1 tsp – Cumin Powder
1/4 tsp – Turmeric Powder
1 tsp – Crushed Black Pepper Powder
1 1/2 tsp – Salt
1 – Bay leaf
1 tsp – Garlic crushed
1 1/2 cups – Basmati Rice
2 – Carrots Julienned
1/2 cup – Raisins
1 tsp – Cardamom Powder
4 tbsp – Sugar
1 – Onion (cut into rings)
Kabuli Polow Mix ~
1 – cinnamon stick
2 – Black cardamoms
5 – Green cardamoms
1 tsp – Cumin seeds
5-6 – cloves
- In a cooking pot, heat 1 tbsp of oil and add one bay leaf and crushed garlic. Saute to release the flavour.
- Grind together the ingredients listed under the Kabuli Polow Mix, cumin, cloves, cinnamon stick, black cardamom and green cardamom, into a fine powder.
- Add the chopped onions and cook until the onions become golden brown in colour.
- Add the chicken and add salt, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper, turmeric powder and 1 tbsp of the Powdered Uzbeki Pilaf Mix.
- Fry this for a couple of minutes and add 1 cup of water.
- Let the chicken cook until it is done and the stock reduces down to 3/4 cups only.
- Once the chicken is done, take the Chicken pieces out.
- In a fry pan, heat up 1 tbsp of oil and fry the chicken pieces in it. This will take a couple of minutes on each side. The chicken will turn crispy on the outside.
The frying of the chicken is optional, it gives the chicken a nice caramel colour.
- Wash and boil the rice until it is 95% cooked.
- While the rice is boiling, prepare the carrots and raisins. In a fry pan, add 2 tbsp of oil and fry the Julienned carrots and raisins in it for 5 minutes.
- Add 1 tsp of cardamom powder and 1/4 tsp of sugar for freshness and to prevent the carrots from losing their colour.
- Once done, take them out on a tissue paper to drain the excess oil and wrap them in Kitchen Foil.
- In a cooking pot, add the rice and spread it out.
- Pour the stock from the chicken boiled on top of it.
- Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of cumin, 1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper and 1 tbsp of the Kabuli Polow Mix on top.
- In a fry pan, add 3 tbsp of oil and add sugar to it. Keep stirring the sugar constantly until it dissolves and turns a deep amber colour. Be careful when you do this as the sugar is hot.
- Pour this caramel on top of the rice.
- Mix the rice to combine all the caramel and spices evenly.
- Place the fried chicken pieces on top and put the carrot and raisins foul wrap to one side.
- Cover and steam the rice for 10-15 minutes.
- Serve with onion rings.
Happy Foodieating ~