A friend group of mine does a semi-regular country themed dinner. We typically pick a country that we're not familiar with and then need to recreate a dish from that country. The most recent theme was Afghanistan.
Afghani cuisine is not something that is commonplace where I live in Australia nor Western countries in general, so it was something that took a bit of effort to research. Qabli Pulao was one of the first dishes to pop up.
Qabli Pulao or Kabuli Palau is Afghanistan's national dish and it is delicious. It is Afghanistan's answer to a biryani–fragrantly spiced rice with slow cooked meat within it—baked—then topped with plentiful carrots and sultanas.
The meat is always either lamb or beef and the toppings sometimes add slivered nuts like pistachio or almonds. The rice is spiced with Char Masala (which I understand basically means rice spice)—a blend of spices, always with black cardamom.
I really wanted to use lamb shanks and couldn't find a recipe specific for a lamb shank Qabli Pulao so I created this one.
It took a bit to try and find what authentic ingredients were and what was just an added to tailor to Western palettes. This recipe is an aggregation of a lot of different ones from my research and I think it turned out really well.
The Night Before
Wash and soak the rice
Wash and then Soak rice for min 3 hours, ideally overnight
Add the Char Masala ingredients to a pan and gently toast over medium heat
Take off the heat when nice and fragrant and starting to smell toasty. Watch it closely as you don't want to burn the spices.
Grind the spices into a powder
Use a grinder, grind the spices into a fine powder. I use an old blade coffee grinder. If the grind is inconsistent, take out the inedible big bits. Set aside.
Fry the onions and spices off
Dice the onions and fry off in pressure cooker with a bit of olive oil - 3-6 mins. Then add the garlic. Fry for another min and then add the coriander seed and cumin seed (ground up)
Add lamb shanks to pressure cooker
Add the lamb shanks and shank meat to the pot and then cover with water (hot will mean it’ll come to temp faster), add the stock cube, mint, pepper and some salt.
Pressure cook for 25-35 mins
Depending how you like your lamb. 25 is fork tender with a little resistance, 35 the lamb is on the verge of being too soft.
Set aside once finished
Once finished, release the pressure (immediately or naturally, do it when you get to it), then remove the lamb and set the stock aside
Soak the sultanas
Soak the sultanas in hot water for 20-30 mins (I waited for the lamb stock to finish and used this, but not a good use of time)
Prepare and gently fry the carrot
Peel and julian all the carrots. Then in a large pan fry with a little oil until soft. This should only take a few mins.
Remove carrots from the pan and put on some aluminium foil.
Drain and the fry the sultanas briefly with some oil
Remove and add to al foil packet.
Wrap up both the carrots and sultanas tightly and set aside.
Add sugar to a saucepan over low heat
Ensure you have a lid ready for the saucepan as it will spit like crazy.
Wait for sugar to melt and turn into a dark caramel.
You want it dark but not burnt. The colour and slight bitterness is what you are looking for
Take off the heat, dump 300ml of water in and slam the lid on.
Once desired colour, take off heat, dump 300ml of water in and slam the lid on. It will spit like a possessed llama, so have that lid ready to go
Allow to cool and set aside
Add the rice to a boiling pot of water with some salt.
Boil it for about 4-6 mins. You want the rice to be half cooked here. You should be able to easily break a grain with your fingernail
Dump rice into a colander and drain
Sorry Uncle Roger...
Give the rice a few mins to cool.
Get your oven on 180C, get all the elements ready, get a large Dutch oven type thing to bake it all in
Add half the rice to the bottom of the pot gently.
You don’t want to mush or compact the rice.
Lay the lamb shanks and bits on top of the rice.
Then add the rest of the rice on top of the lamb.
Pour caramel and stock over the top of the rice
Add 3 good ladles of lamb broth to the top of the rice pot
Sprinkle Char Masala on top
Add the foil package of carrots and sultanas on top of everything (still wrapped in foil the foil).
Cover and bake for 30-45 mins
It could be less if you are in a hurry as we just want to finish cooking the rice here by steaming it with all the good stuff in the pot
Spoon all contents of pot onto a serving plate
On a large serving plate, spoon out all the contents of the pot into a grand mount. Ensure the lamb shanks look impressive
Add all the shredded carrot on top of the rice and the sultanas on top.
Garnish with fresh Corriander leaves if you are feeling fancy
Here are a couple of thoughts.
Pre-soaking is essential, however, I only soaked mine for about 4 hours and it worked great.
It is really important not to overcook the rice when boiling it. You want it to finish steaming in the pot with the meat, not turn to mush.
You don't need to use a blend of rice. I did a blend of brown and white rice for two reasons:
- I wanted it to look pretty with the different styles of grains
- I'm wanted to up the fibre content—its important for digestive health ok.
You could try adding in black rice or other types of long grain rice if you wanted to be fancy.
If you don't have a pressure cooker you'd need to either simmer this on the stove for 2-3 hours or in a low oven for a similar amount of time.
I was a bit rogue on spicing the broth on this, most recipes were just a plain oniony broth. The spice mix I used was inspired by one I used for Mantu–Afghani dumplings.
If you don't want to buy the spices you could use Garam Masala, but it isn't the same.
From my understanding, Char Masala is a spice blend used across the region (i.e. Pakistan too), and depending on where you are it changes–but black cardamom is always present.
I've tried to keep my blend to what I gather is a more Afghani one rather than one from Pakistan which appears to involve a lot more variety of spices.
The only exception is green cardamom–I threw that in as I love green cardamom.
The caramel is optional but recommended. It was omitted from a lot of more western blogs, but always present in more traditional looking sites/videos.
Most recipes suggest adding oil to the sugar to help it melt. I did this the first time and when I added water the pot basically exploded all over the kitchen—not ideal! I don't think is missing anything from not using the oil here.