Afghanistan: Kabuli Pulao

kabuli pulao

With Vera and Joanne, we try to plan some of our recipes ahead of time… When I researched Afghanistan a few weeks ago, this dish came up on most of the blogs and websites as being the national dish.

There are different versions of Kabuli Pulao (also called Kabuli Palaw or Qabili Palaw): some with chicken, some with beef and some with lamb. However, the method of cooking and the spices remain in large part the same.

I just love lamb so there was no way I would make the chicken or beef version. I live in Los Angeles where the Jewish population is rather large and we have access to a number of kosher restaurants and groceries. You would think it would be easy to find lamb. However, I had to visit 4 different grocery stores to find enough lamb to cook this recipe!

Vera had already delighted us with a very similar lamb and rice dish from Djibouti. She also recently took us to Kyrgyzstan for a succulent lamb dish but with potatoes this time.

The Kabuli Pulao recipe I followed only used cardamom and cumin seeds. However, I found other recipes that also used coriander, cinnamon or even saffron. Cardamom is really what gives this dish a particular taste so I would make sure to use this spice. I had only used cardamom pods before, mainly in Indian recipes and rice preparations. This dish called for cardamom seeds, which I had in my spice treasure chest. I imagine you could potentially open the cardamom pods and get the seeds out yourself if you are extremely patient!

Kabuli Pulao, like a number of traditional national dishes, is considered a festive and expensive dish due to the presence of meat and noble ingredients, as well as the time it takes to prepare it. Afghan cuisine is mainly based on crops such as rice but also wheat, maize and barley. Although it shares commonalities with Indian and Persian cuisine, it has some unique characteristics.
We ate our meal on our regular dining table… but if you really want to go all the way, you should invest in a floor spread known as dastarkhan and eat on the floor!

This dish was really very tasty and I will probably make it again with additional spices. I really loved that dish, my wife enjoyed it too but the kids who are typically not that picky didn’t seem to enjoy it as much. I am guessing the cardamom flavor may have been a little too overpowering for them.



    4 lb lamb stew (for example, neck)
    1 1/4 cup basmati rice
    6 tablespoons butter
    2 onions, chopped
    2 tablespoons ground cardamom seeds
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    2 carrots, cut into slivers or match sticks
    1/2 cup raisins
    1/2 cup blanched slivered almond
    1/2 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

kabuli pulao


Cover lamb pieces with hot water in a large pot.

Add 1 tablespoon of cardamom seeds and 1 tablespoon of ground cumin.

Cover and simmer for about 2 hours.

Add salt to taste.

Remove lamb. Reserve stock.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Boil a large amount of water with salt. Add half of the reserved stock. Cook the rice in it for 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of the butter (or margarine) over medium high heat.

Add onions and sauté until they are golden brown.

Add lamb and fry with onions.

kabuli pulao

Add remaining tablespoons of cardamom, cumin and black pepper, and about 1 cup of the lamb stock (or more as needed). Simmer for 5 minutes.

Combine cooked rice and lamb mixture. Place in a buttered casserole.

Fry carrot matchsticks in butter for a few minutes and add raisins to them at the very end.

Sprinkle partially cooked carrot matchsticks and raisins on top of the lamb and rice and cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Place in oven for 35-40 minutes.

Slivered almonds and pistachios may be added over the dish just before serving.

kabuli pulao