The delicious smell slowly wafting up to my room is an enduring memory of Sunday lunches growing up. It was a tradition carried over by my mother from her parent’s homes when she was growing up. Actually, I believe my paternal grandparents had the same tradition. Our family loved Sunday pulao and had many ways of making it. Pulao is a popular dish of rice and meat or vegetables, usually either mutton, beef, chicken or even just green peas popular all through the region. The rice is seasoned and cooked with meat or vegetables, and an array of whole spices like coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves and others.
Caramelizing the onions as a first step gives the dish its distinct color and taste. Combined with ginger, garlic and whole spices in a combination of oil and ghee, it has the most wonderful aroma that gradually grows in complexity as each new ingredient or spice is added. Unlike biryani, it doesn’t need any more spicing and is quite simple. Another important difference is that it is not layered but cooked altogether.
Pulao is a delightful one pot meal. It is usually served on special occasions and weddings, at funerals or even for a regular lunch or dinner as we did. When served on festive occasions, it follows the curries and sautéed dishes which are eaten with bread, as a palate cleanser before dessert.
I am sharing my chicken pulao recipe. The trick is to slice the onions very thinly and give them enough time to fry till they turn a golden brown color. Achieving the right doneness is half the battle won. Following this with the minced ginger and garlic plus the spices. Chicken is added after and browned and then followed by rice and covered with enough water for the dish to cook through and meld all the flavors seamlessly. The liberty I took with this recipe was that i used whole grain sprouted brown rice (instead of basmati rice) and added half a tomato that was in the fridge from the night before. Otherwise it is true to our original family recipe. Eaten with plain yogurt, fresh mint & tomato salad, or pickled radishes, it is another one of my comfort foods.
- 2 lbs chicken legs, skinned and quartered
- 1 cup rice of choice
- 1 tbsp. olive oil/ 1 tbsp. ghee
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 5-6 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 large cardamom pods
- 2 tsp. coriander powder
- 2 onions, very thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. ginger, minced
- cilantro, chopped
- salt and black pepper to taste
- In a heavy pan, heat the oil/ ghee mix and add the whole spices. Let them sizzle for a little bit.
- Reduce heat and add onions. Fry till the color changes and deepens to close to a golden brown. Keep moving around to prevent sticking. Should be about 25- 30 minutes.
- Add the ginger and garlic and fry till the smell mellows.
- Sprinkle the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper and add to pot along with the coriander powder to brown on both sides.
- Add some water and stir the mixture around to cook the chicken through some.
- Add the rinsed rice and add more water to cover the ingredients.
- Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and cook till the rice is al dente. About 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from heat and keep covered. It is very important for the lid to be heavy with a strong seal in order for it to steam properly. Another 15 minutes or so.
- Uncover, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and breath deeply.