Kabuli Pulao is considered an ancestor of the Yakhi Pulao and is best described by Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian Professor of oriental languages. Vambury widely traveled central Asia, Afghanistan and the subcontinent in the 19th century learning and researching his study of oriental languages and observing the lifestyle and eating habits of the people of the region.
A few teaspoons of fat are melted (…the fat of the tail is usually taken) in a vessel, and as soon as it is quite hot, the meat, cut up into small pieces, is thrown in. When these are in part fried, water is poured upon it to the depth of about three fingers, and it is left slowly boiling until the meat is soft; pepper and thinly sliced carrots are then added, and on top of these ingredients is put a layer of rice, after it has been freed from its mucilaginous parts. Some more water is added, and as soon as it has been absorbed by the rice, the fire is lessened, and the pot, well closed, is left over the red hot coals until the rice, meat, carrots and sweet dry fruit are thoroughly cooked in the steam.
After half an hour, the lid is opened, and the food served in such a way that the different layers lie separately in the dish, first the rice, floating in the fat then the carrots and the meat and the raisins at the top with which the meal is begun.
Vambery having tasted this delight with an Afridi tribe on several occasions deemed it flavourful and highly aromatic.
In central Asia and Afghanistan meat was thought to enhance the essence of a man, his valour, strength and virility; hence it was considered the most potent of foods. Hunting was a way of keeping fit, agile and an effective way of training for battle, therefore rice cooked in meat stock promised a very agreeable mental and physical constitution to the warriors of the region.
The Moghul emperor Babur, a connoisseur of pulao and kababs, on his arrival in the subcontinent complained about the cuisine of the locals and famously wrote, `there is no good meat, grapes, melons, good food in the market.’ People from the Khyber and the mountain people of central Asia were used to eating, what was considered superior food; meats, grapes and melons was thought to be the food of kings, dry fruits and flavoured exotic rice too.
Interestingly Kabuli Pulao is a delicious blend of savoury and sweet, the subtle sweetness and crunchiness of fried carrots and raisins adds an oomph to the mild saltiness of the rice and meat, while the texture of almonds, pistachios and cashews bring a richness to the flavor that is unique in taste and texture.
Research leads us to believe that carrots were indigenous to Afghanistan for almost 5000 years, as were grapes, raisins and other kinds of dry fruits; therefore, the chefs of the times and the region may have used these particular ingredients in the Kabuli Pulao because they were the perfect combination of easy availability and sophisticated taste, laden with what was thought to be superior food.
When it came time for me to make it, I turned to my dear Auntie Shahnaz who happens to hail from the region and makes the meal to an ultimate perfection. Her recipe is quick and easy; and authentically Afghani. Here it is from my kitchen to yours.
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)
2 ½ lbs chicken or goat meat
2 small onions
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp garlic
2 tsp black cumin
½ cup oil
Salt to taste
1 tsp garam masala
2 mugs rice
½ cup raisins
½ cup cashews
½ cup almonds
3 grated carrots
½ tsp sugar
Heat oil adding meat, ginger and garlic and fry for a few minutes. Add sliced onions and stir until meat changes colour, then add black cumin, garam masala powder and salt.
Fry for a few minutes adding 7 to 8 mugs of water, reducing to half the quantity or until the meat is tender. Add ¼ cup raisins, cashews and almonds to the stock. Once the meat is tender, add pre washed rice to the cooking broth. Maintain high heat until rice fluffs and the stock is a thin layer on the top.
Transfer to an oven resistant dish, seal dish and put into preheated oven (medium to low heat) for 20-30 minutes.
In a frying pan, heat two to three tablespoons of oil, pour sugar, grated carrots, and remaining raisins, cashews and almonds, stir fry for a minute and use as garnish on top of the pulao. Your Kabuli Pulao is ready to be served.
-Photos by Fawad Ahmed