Starting our food journey with our first “A” country – Afghanistan! One of my coworkers is Afghani and his aunts gave me the recipe for this Kabuli Pulao, the national dish of Afghanistan. So we went out, gathered the ingredients, and got to cooking!
Time: 3-4 hours
Ingredients (4 servings):
2 cups / 340g basmati rice
2 cups / 470 ml freshly boiled water
2 lamb shanks or lamb shoulder or leg (2lbs / 850g)
3 carrots (7oz / 200g)
1.8oz / 50g raisins
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp cumin
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp saffron (3-6 threads, depending on the color you’re aiming for)
2 ice cubes (from blooming the saffron)
1 tbsp slivered pistachios as garnish (optional)
Place your saffron threads on the ice cubes in a small bowl and set aside until the ice is completely melted.
Slice your carrots into julienne/matchstick sized pieces.
Dice onion and mince garlic.
We used lamb shanks for the presentation in our recipe, but you can use lamb shoulder, or another type of meat if lamb isn’t your jam.
Heat sesame oil in a large pan and sear your lamb shanks on all sides until they are completely golden brown on all sides.
Remove the meat and fry the onions until translucent (approx. five minutes), then add your garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add tomato paste, turmeric, black pepper, 1 tsp cumin, and salt. Fry on med-low heat for approx. five minutes to get rid of the “raw” tomato paste flavor.
Add 2 cups of boiling water and stir until the tomato paste is evenly distributed.
Add the meat to the pan, cover, and simmer on low for approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes. After 1 hour, add half of the saffron water.
Melt the butter in a small pan. Add your carrots and cook for approx. five minutes. Sprinkle sugar over and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the carrots and cook the raisins in the same pan for 3-5 minutes.
You’ll want to prep your rice about 15-20 minutes before your meat finishes.
Wash your rice until the water runs clear (usually 4-5 times).
Boil water in a pot with 1 tsp of salt and add the rice once the water boils. Stir to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick.
After about 3 minutes, you want to start taste-testing your rice. You want it to be soft on the outside, but still hard/crunchy on the inside. This is called “par-boiled” or “pre-cooked”. This took us about 5 minutes, but can take anywhere between 3-10 minutes to reach this stage.
Once you reach the par-boiled stage, you want to strain your rice and rinse it with cold water to pause the cooking process.
Once the meat is done to your liking (lamb can be done rare, but you can let it cook as long as you prefer!), remove it from the pan. You can strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve/colander to remove the onion and garlic.
If you used meat that was sliced/cubed, you can do this using meat, spices, and garnishes, but for ours, since we wanted to leave the lamb shanks whole for presentation, we only used the garnishes and spices.
Set aside some of your sauce, carrots, raisins, and spices for garnish.
Pat your pan dry and add a very thin layer of oil and 2 tbsp of hot water. Then, add your first layer of rice-enough to completely cover the bottom. Then drizzle over some sauce, sprinkle in your carrots and raisins, and top that with your remaining cumin and cardamom powder. Repeat this until all of your ingredients are used up (you will likely want to end up with rice as your final layer).
Turn on the heat to medium. Using a wooden spoon, poke three holes in the rice to allow the steam to escape. Line your lid with a clean kitchen towel, and as soon as steam rises from the pan, cover the pan with the towel-lined lid. Reduce the heat to low. Allow the rice mixture to steam for 45 minutes.
Soak the bottom of your hot pan into ice-cold water to allow the crispy rice (called the tahdig) on the bottom to separate from the pan.
Place your serving dish upside down over the pan, so when you flip the pan, the rice lands upright on the plate.
Garnish with your carrots and raisins, slivered pistachios, and pour the remaining saffron water over the rice.
Plate your lamb shanks in a crossed manner on top of the rice.
Ingredients: ★★★★★ (5/5)
All of these ingredients were pretty easy to find. We were able to find all of the ingredients at either Walmart or Wegmans. There weren’t too many things that we didn’t already have in our pantry since we keep it pretty stocked. It was most difficult to find the saffron and the lamb shanks, but those were easy to locate at Wegmans, or you might be able to find them at a local international market.
Time: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
This dish took a really long time, and a lot of the cooking needed our attention. Definitely not a dish you can make in a pinch, but it would be a good dish for a dinner party!
Taste: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
This dish taught me that I personally am not a fan of lamb. But, my partner is and she loved this dish. The sweet carrots and raisins played well with the savory rice and sauce. The crunchy tahdig was also a great textural change from the rest of the dish.
Price (per serving) (each $ is $5 increments): $$ (2/5)
This dish was actually quite cheap per serving! The lamb shanks cost about $25, which comes out to about $6.50 per serving. The spices were a bit pricey to start, but since we used only a few tsp of each, it really only added up to a handful of cents. Even the saffron, which was a $15 investment, only used about $1 worth for the entire dish.
We completed this dish in January 2021.