While Autumn afternoons are inherently sweet, charming, calm and soothing, the joy doubles up when you received some surprised gifts and if that happens to be a cookbook from your favorite chef, life can not be more blissful than this. November is the month of festivities as each of the culture melds into another, Diwali followed by Bhai duj, Halloween and now Thanksgiving round the corner, the air is beautifully scented with flavours that speaks of festivals, holidays, family time.
On one such lazy winter afternoon I had chance upon this sweet, flavorful pulao recipe draft long buried under the nested folders of my memory, and as the sun shone brightly against the deep blue winter sky, it was time to give some life to this fragrant, ever loving pulao recipe that my family chose to relish only on special occasions.
The origin of pulao or any rice based dish for that matter is as old as the civilization itself, rice and wheat are the two primary grains that has sustained the human race for ages and as my six month old baby slowly transgressing into her first solids which is going to be her first rice eating ceremony or annaprasana, the significant of this most divine grain on earth cannot be ignored.
Though pulao has find its mention in ancient Indian text but the first recipe has come from Persia around 10th century, the city which is almost synonym with everything royal and regal. Persian kings were known for their finicky nature especially if it is about their celebrated bejeweled pulao, and as there were dearth of good rice crops through out Central Asia in older times, the rice was imported all the way from Agra, in India, and it was believed that the holy Gangetic soil made the rice grains little sweeter just perfect for the pulao that was suitable for the sultans. Perfectly fluffed, and white as white as snow flakes, rice become the main export commodity from India to Persia other than the trained war elephants.
There this long grain basmati rice meets with range of dried fruits and nuts that forms the core of any Pulao or Biryani dishes and succulent fresh meats of camel, goat or sheep, mixed and hidden under the heaps of zafran soaked rice, the beautiful aromas that has wafted from the Persian kitchens was believed to cross the miles and miles of dunes and mountains before it reached the plains of Gangetic and Indus valley.
However, here the pulao reborn again to its many vegetarian avatars.
Present here is highly fragrant, nutty, flavourful and protein packed shahi paneer kofta pulao or birayni and instead of the usual raita or yogurt dip that accompanies pulao and biryanis, I had chosen to pair it with most creamy and tangy makhni sauce I had ever made. Both of them complement each other so beautifully.
Pulaos are judged by the aromas that wafted from the delicate balance of spices. My version however uses range of aromatic spices like green cardamom, big cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, nutmeg, mace and kebab chini or long tail peppers.
Another key component of pulao is the onion. Beautifully caramelized onions or birista can make or break any dish if not fried properly. Since caramelizing onions takes time, so it can be made ahead thus saving some precious time that you can devote to prepare the rice. Next is shahi paneer kofta which I always prefer to make with homemade paneer. Paneer koftas should be soft, freshly fried (as they don’t reheat that well) and you can also stuff them with raisins or pistachios.
For makhni sauce use only fresh and ripe tomatoes and how to make a perfect makhni sauce or gravy will discuss later in the subsequent posts.
PS: Recipe for making paneer kofta is here.
- Pulao / pilaf
- Basmati rice (good quality fragrant type) : 2 cups
- Saffron (good quality): large pinch of few threads soaked in warm milk / water
- Assorted nuts ( slivers of almonds and pistachios, raisins, sliced cashews etc) : half cup or more
- Spices : small piece of cinnamon , 4-5 green cardamoms, 2-3 black cardamom, 3-4 cloves, 1 star anise, 1 mace
- Bay leaves : 2-3
- Kebab chini / long tail pepper : 5-6 (optional but lends very nice sweet aroma to the dish)
- Keora water / rose water : few drops
- Nutmeg powder : a small pinch
- Sugar : 2-3 tsp or more as per taste
- Salt to taste
- Ghee : 3-4 tbsp
- Crispy caramelized onion : 1 cup
- Finely minced fresh ginger : 1 tbsp
- Paneer kofta (deep fried): 6-8
- Mint and cilantro finely chopped for garnish
- Makhni sauce / creamy tomato based sauce to serve : 2 cups or more
- Wash and soak the basmati rice for 15 minutes.
- Drain the rice in a net colander and spread it in a wide plate. Let the rice dry out completely.
- Once the rice is dried out, make sure no traces of moisture in it, add a teaspoon of ghee and sugar and mix it properly. Leave it aside for a while.
- In a pan, heat rest of the ghee. Add all the nuts listed and let them fry for couple of minutes till they turn golden hue.
- Add the ginger, bay leaves and all the spices mentioned except the nutmeg powder.
- Once the ginger starts leaving its beautiful aroma, add the rice with salt.
- Stir the rice well so that it incorporates the spices and nuts together.
- This will take around 5-6 minutes.
- I make pulao in a microwave.
- So use any deep bottom glass container with lid, and add half the rice into it.
- Sprinkle the nutmeg powder, saffron water/ milk, keora or rose water.
- Stir in half of the caramelized onions.
- Place the deep fried paneer koftas over the bed of rice.
- Cover it with rest of the rice.
- Add 4 cups of water. level it up.
- Set the microwave temperature to 900W.
- Micro high for 15 minute.
- After 15 minute do not open the lid immediately. Trap the steam to finish cooking.
- Once the rice is done, plate it in rice serving dish.
- Garnish with rest of the caramelized onions and finely chopped mint and cilantro leaves.
- Serve the kofta pulao with creamy and tangy makhni sauce / tomato based gravy.