One of my family’s most favourite of rice recipes, Kabuli pulao in comparison to Pakistani/Indian style pulao is a lot less spicy. The flavours mostly come from salty meat broth and a sweet garnishing of stir fried carrots and raisins.

Just by looking at the ingredients list one can tell that the dish belonged to the elite families of Kabul who could afford to include caramalized carrots, raisins and pricey nuts in their rice. It is still believed among traditional families that a girl’s marriage prospects depend on her ability to cook perfect Kabuli pulao.

Some people pronounce it “Qabili” pulao too. It is believed to be the name given to the dish as it became more popular among common people of the society. The word “Qabil” means “skilled or expert“, which shows that the middle class focused more on cooking the perfect colour colour and texture of cooked rice, rather than the lavish garnishing. Perfect Kabuli/Qabili pulao means the rice should have a rich brown colour from caramelised onions and each golden brown grain should be seperate not clumpy.

My mom always cooked a slightly different, more urbanised version, with black chickpeas and lamb meatballs. I first came across the grander version of kabuli pulao in an Afghani eatery in the gorgeous valley of Naran Naran (Pakistan). We got the hot, aromatic rice packed up and went for a picnic lunch by the side of river Naran, which is basically a glacier melt (visit to the valley is as much recommended as this rice recipe).

It became an unforgettable evening and the dish is a family favourite ever since. I’ve tried to replicate the taste as closely as possible and my family says I’ve succeeded hugely. I’ve only omitted the use of animal fat to make it less fattening.

This very aromatic and rich recipe makes a spectacular centre piece for any formal dinner.


5 cups rice
1/2 kg lamb cut ups
2 medium onions, chopped
4 pods black cardamom
1 tablespoon black peppercorn
5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup raisins
2 medium carrots, julienned
1/2 cup olive or ghee

This Is What You Do:

First we need to make lamb broth for the rice. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a deep pan, add 1 onion and lamb cut ups.

Stir till lamb and onions are golden, add black cardamoms, black pepper corn and 2 teaspoon salt. Add 5 cups water, lower the heat, cover and let simmer till the lamb is really tender and water reduced to half of its original quantity.

In another deep, wide mouthed pan heat the remaining oil. Add I onion, stir till caramelised. Add cumin seeds, rice, ground black pepper and remaining salt.

Add the the lamb broth and cut ups. The broth should be 1 inch higher than the surface of rice in the pan. If its not, add a little water to make it come up to the desired level. Cover the pan and let it cook over medium heat.

When the liquid evaporates and the rice are done (almost 15 minutes) turn down the heat to its lowest possible. Place a skillet/tawa under the rice pan.

Wrap the lid of the pan in a clean tea towel, put the lid back on. This process is called ‘dum’. Leave rice on dum for 10 minutes. Stir fry raisins and carrots in 1 tablespoon oil for 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

Serves 8

28 Replies to “Kabuli Pulao”

  1. What an absolutely delicious recipe, Maria! I can just imagine what a wonderful experience having this freshly made for you, then taking it to be eaten by the riverside. A masterpiece!

  2. You are into history! I constantly see learning about the facts and Interrupting them on your site and enjoy your thought process.
    As to the dish, 5/8 cup of rice to me sounds not much, but maybe because of fat from lamb which contributes to satiety.

    1. No, Janice, you don’t need to pound the pods. The spices will release there flavours and aroma in the stock.
      Thank you for trying out the recipe. Hope you will enjoy. 😊

      1. Thank you, Maria! We had the Pulao last night for dinner. It was delicious! For two people, I used only 1 cup of brown basmati rice (4 cups water and the recommended amounts of the remaining ingredients) following your method but increasing the cooking time for the rice. I expected the black cardamom to be aromatic but the dominant note was smoky (pleasantly so) and a great contrast with the sweet raisins. We really enjoyed it and are looking forward to eating our leftovers and trying more of your recipes. Janice

        1. Thank you so much, Janice, for this lovely and detailed feedback! 😊 You are right, black cardamom has a very different flavour and aroma profile from green cardamoms. While the green ones are added more foe their fragrance,the black ones add a layer of depth and passive heat to dishes. They are an integral part of “garam masala ” , a South Asian spice blend used in many dishes as an ingredient or tarnishing.
          I’m delighted to know you guys enjoyed the recipe.
          Happy cooking, my friend! 😊

    1. Waalakum assalam Jennifer,
      Welcome to my blog! 😊 I usually use leg or shoulder on the bone. Bones make a deeper, richer broth.

    1. Anum, I usually cook for an hour and a half on low heat but if I’m pressure cooking then 35 to 40 minutes are quite enough.
      Thank you for stopping by the blog.
      Happy cooking!😊

  3. Hello Maria,

    I am currently doing this thing where I’m making one country’s national dish every week. This upcoming week is going to be Afghanistan, and it seems like Kabuli Paulo is the way to go. I’ve found several recipes but yours looks really fragrant and keeps with the traditional lamb (which I’ve never touched in the kitchen, so that’s exciting).

    My question is, what kind of rice are you using? 5 cups dry seems enormous, and I don’t want to get the wrong kind and have it flowing over.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Kent!
      Your project sounds really exciting! And kabuli pulao is really one of the representative dishes from the country. 5 cups of rice are really enormous because this recipe was meant for a festive occasion/family meal. Would feed 10-12 people.
      In most South Asian recipes (Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh) Basmati rice are used. In this recipe too, I used long grain basmati rice. You will easily find them from South Asian or Middle Eastern grocery stores.
      You can cut the recipe in half. The rice are so delicious, you won’t regret having them for 2-3 meals πŸ˜„
      Happy Cooking!

      1. Hey Maria,

        Just an FYI, I made the kabuli paulo last night and it was excellent. I cut the recipe in half with the exception of the onions, carrots and raisins and it still made enough food for me and my partner, then for both of us to have lunch today and probably dinner again tonight. She loves that our house now reeks of cardamom and cumin, even the next day. πŸ™‚

        A great recipe, thank you for your help. Now I get to put my little pin in Afghanistan and decide which country is next!

        Thanks again,

        1. Hi Kent,
          Awesome! 😊😊 I’m delighted to know you and your partner enjoyed the recipe. Why not try a Pakistani dish after Kabuli Pulao? If I may recommend, let’s do Chicken Karahi or Muragh Cholay (chicken and chickpeas curry) – two of the representative dishes from my country. 😊
          Thanks a whole big bunch for your feedback!
          Happy Cooking!

          1. That sounds like a great idea! Do you have a good recipe on hand for those? I was going to do something European next, but I’m really not exhausted with these flavors yet.

  4. Hello Maria,

    I am from Pakistan but have been living in the Midwest for a long time…
    Good biryani is my weakness but usually am disappointed in the restaurants here.
    Your kabuli pullao recepie was superlative.
    I have tried many biryani recepies with horrible results …

    I understand biryani is tricky business …
    But one can always hope…

    1. Pleased to meet you, Tariq! I can totally imagine how much you and all expatriates must miss food from home!
      I completely agree with you! The restaurants usually mess up biryani pretty bad. Either it’s completely flavorless or so loaded with spices that gives a heartburn later on.
      I’m utterly delighted to know you enjoyed my Kabuli pulao recipe. Here is an easier to follow biryani recipe on my blog
      Hope it will help revive some good food memories for you.
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your very encouraging feedback 😊

  5. Aoa, can you please confirm the amount of cumin seeds. Also if I want to keep the quantity of the meat same but let’s say want to change the rice to 2 cups what changes do I need to make in spices and salt? would I still need to put 2 tsp salt in meat? Thanks!

    1. Waalakum Assalam Abdullah!
      Thank you so much for visiting the blog and pointing out the mistake. My bad! I just corrected and added the quantity of cumin.
      You will reduce almost all the quantities to half. 1/2 medium onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt for yakhni should be enough because for 2 cups of rice you shall need a lot less broth.
      Add 1+1/2 to 2 teaspoons to rice, depending on your taste.
      Hope this will help. If you have anymore inquiries, I’m here to answer.

  6. Asslamualakum Maria, hope all is well. In your recipe card it says use 5 cups of rice. Is this the correct quantity? I just want to make sure because I want to make this for my son’s birthday and I think I need around that much of rice anyways.. can you please let me know
    Thanks Allah hafiz.

    1. Yes Amna, 5 cups is the correct quantity. By cups we mean regular teacups not coffee mugs though.
      This quantity would be sufficient for 8-10 people, more if you are making other dishes too. You can increase the quantity of meat in the recipe, if you desire.
      Hope you and your family will enjoy. And a very happy birthday to your son! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’

      1. Oh ok yes im thinking of adding a little more meat inshallah. Aww thank you so much Sis! I’m going to make it today inshallah to practice the recipe first. I hope it turns out how you made it πŸ™‚

  7. I usually make this with chicken (as it is the 1st that I had) but I have made your recipe a number of times now and it is truly fantastic. Everyone loves it especially my youngest brother and our Tajik and Hazara friends. Have a wonderful and blessed weekend πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.