Sweet Pulao

Sweet Pulao
Here’s a very simple Indian recipe for a change, for pulao (puh-lao), or pee-laff, as most Americans call it. You could think of it as biryani’s vegetarian cousin, even though that’s probably not very historically accurate. What I mean is both that there is of course such a thing as vegetarian biryani and that the earliest subcontinental references to pulao seem to indicate rice and meat cooked together. You could, however, more accurately think of it as biryani’s more laid-back cousin, as it’s generally much easier and less time-consuming to make. Can you think of it as Indian fried rice? Well, some people will get very upset if you do: Chinese-style fried rice generally involves steamed rice that’s then fried with other things, whereas pulao usually involves rice cooked with other things that have been fried or sauteed. What you absolutely should not think of it as is as a dish with any sort of fixed recipe: there are various iterations up and down the subcontinent and every home kitchen probably adds an idiosyncratic twist. 

In most home kitchens though pulao is usually produced on special occasions: even though it isn’t as much of a pain to produce as biryani, it’s a lot more work than steamed rice, and it’s much richer. What follows is my mother’s rough recipe for what she calls “mishti mishti pulao” or “sweet sweet pulao”. It is made with very few ingredients: some cumin, some thinly sliced onion, golden raisins and whole garam masala (the latter two together make it sweet); and, of course, a a lot of ghee. Fragrant basmati rice is the way to go (and basmati in a burlap sack has a certain je ne sais quoi).

Ingredients Ingredients

  • 2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 45-60 minutes and then drained
  • 1 tblspn cumin seeds
  • 2-3 large pieces of cinnamon or cassia bark
  • 6-8 cloves
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods
  • 3-4 dried tej patta (cassia leaves) or dried bay leaves
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 heaping tblspns ghee
  • 2.75 cups of warm water (boiled and cooled, rather than from the tap)

Preparation sauteed-raisins

  1. Heat the ghee in a large pan over medium heat till it begins to foam.
  2. Add the cumin seeds and stir for less than a minute till they begin to split.
  3. Add all the whole garam masala and stir for a minute or two till they begin to become aromatic and the cinnamon begins to darken.
  4. Add the sliced onion and saute for a few minutes till it begins to become golden around the edges.
  5. Add the raisins and saute for another couple of minutes.
  6. Add the rice, mix in thoroughly and fry the grains for a few minutes, stirring all the while, trying to coat as much of it with the ghee as possible.
  7. Add the water, mix in, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook till done (probably 10-13 minutes, depending on your rice).
  8. Take the pan off the heat, let it sit covered for another minute or two, give the contents a gentle stir, and serve.

Notes Cooked

  1. My mother often adds cashews to this pulao. I left them out as one of our boys is allergic to cashews (and many other nuts).
  2. The other version made in our house for parties was with beans, carrots and peas. It’s pretty self-explanatory from the recipe above but I might post a recipe for that separately the next time I make it.
  3. Some people add salt to their pulaos; I don’t, as it’s eaten with other things that have salt in them.
  4. My mother would serve this at parties with chholar dal and meat curries with thick, rich sauces or with “dry” meat/chicken preparations. Of the recipes I’ve posted I’d suggest it would go really well with this one for “mutton korma” and also with this one for “mutton with star anise and vinegar“, and this one for “hybrid chicken curry
  5. For whatever occasion you make it you should try to consume all of it in one go: the rice will harden in the fridge and it will just not be as good; plus the fragrance of the rice and the whole spices is at its peak when just prepared.
  6. No South Asian grocery near you? Amazon sells basmati.

Sweet Pulao



4 thoughts on “Sweet Pulao

  1. Yum I will try this next Indian night. Lot’s of good tips and background in your preface and notes. Maybe a cookbook in the offing?!

    Wondering if sometime you will do a recipe for some of the bread suggestions you make in your recipes?

    Is the basmati found at most of the larger grocers around (Cub, etc.) ok to use, or is it better to go to one of the Asian places?


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