Durkhanai Ayubi, of Adelaide Afghan restaurant Parwana, says that back before the convenience of julienne slicers and store-bought slivered nuts, kabuli palaw was too elaborate and time-consuming to make often. Consequently, the pilaf was reserved for ceremonial events.
“These days, although it takes less time to make, it still commands reverence,” writes Ayubi in Parwana: recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen, a new cookbook filled with recipes by her mum Farida Ayubi – many of which she cooks at their restaurant.
“The delicate blend of spices and a crowning glory of glistening carrot, sultanas and nuts gives kabuli palaw pride of place among Afghan rice dishes.”
This beautiful and balanced rice dish is regarded as Afghanistan’s national dish, and can be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and using vegetable stock instead.
If you do opt for meat, Farida uses a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time. If you don’t have one you can always slow-cook the lamb (or chicken, if you want) in the oven. Some other tips: the rice should be soaked for at least two hours beforehand, and when it comes to plating, the meat should be buried beneath the rice.
Parwana’s Kabuli Palaw
Preparation time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 80 minutes
125ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
2 medium brown onions, finely diced
500g coarsely diced boneless lamb leg
600g (3 cups) sella basmati rice, soaked for 2–3 hours
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cardamom
For the topping
500ml (2 cups) sunflower oil
2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
170g (1 cup) sultanas
1 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tbsp slivered pistachios
2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
To prepare the palaw rice, add the oil and onion to a pressure-cooker pan over high heat and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the lamb and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, or until the meat is browned and sealed. Add 1 litre (4 cups) hot water and 1 tablespoon salt, place the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes, then carefully release the pressure to remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon, take out the meat (which should be lovely and tender) and set aside. Reserve the stock to flavour the rice.
Bring 2.5 litres (10 cups) water to the boil in a large saucepan. Meanwhile, drain excess water from the rice, add it to the boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt and cook for 6–8 minutes, or until the rice is parboiled and the grains look like they have doubled in length.
Drain the rice in a colander and return to the saucepan. Pour the meat stock over the rice, then add the cumin, cardamom and 1 tablespoon salt to the mix. Using a large, flat slotted spoon, known to Afghans as a kafgeer, mix gently. With the kafgeer, create a well in the centre of the rice and place the lamb in the well. Cover the meat with rice and place the lid on the saucepan. Cook over high heat until steam escapes from under the lid, then reduce the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes.
For the topping, heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat until shimmering. Add the carrot and fry for 4–5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Add the sultanas to the oil and fry for 3 minutes, or until they are plump and float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the carrot. Add the nuts, sugar and cardamom to the bowl, and mix gently.
Using the kafgeer, layer the rice and lamb onto a large serving platter, creating a heap. Spoon the topping over liberally, then serve immediately.
Here’s another recipe from the cookbook: Parwana’s signature banjaan borani (braised eggplant with yoghurt dressing).
Parwana: recipes and stories from an Afghan Kitchen is out now with Murdoch Books ($45). Buy it here.