This green peas pulao, also known as matar pulao, uses tried-and-true techniques to produce fluffy, aromatic grains of rice studded with peas and spices.
Pulao is a bit of a catch-all term used to categorize spiced rich dishes cooked in water or stock. There are vegetable pulaos, like the one I’m showing you here today, meat pulaos, and even seafood pulaos; the possibilities are endless!
This peas pulao is made by cooking rice and peas in a fragrant mixture of spices, nuts, and raisins. It makes a wonderful side dish to accompany a main entree like grilled chicken or fish.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Let's talk about what makes this recipe special:
- Flavor: Though it's mildly seasoned from aromatic spices, the pulao is not *spicy*. Fried onions add a bit of texture on top, and fresh herbs brighten the whole dish.
- Technique: Pulaos and biryanis can be intimidating! It can be stressful wondering if your rice is going to cook properly. Trust me. I've been there. That's why I recommend parboiling your rice (a technique I learned from Andy Baraghani), which reduces the risk of overcooked or undercooked grains, yielding fluffy, separated pulao.
- Easily Customizable and Riffable: Once you get the hang of this recipe, you can play around with the spices, herbs, and mix-ins! You can replace the peas with chopped asparagus, or add in ginger-garlic paste for a more fragrant pulao.
What is the Difference Between Pulao and Biryani?
Pulaos and biryanis are consumed across many countries around the world. Because of the sheer number of variations, it's difficult to qualify the *exact* differences between the two dishes.
That said, there are a few essential differences:
- Pulao is typically milder in spice1 than biryani. This is why I find pulao often needs to be served with a main entree, whereas biryani can be standalone.
- Traditionally, pulao is made via the absorption method of rice. With the absorption method, the rice cooks in water or stock until fluffy, then finishes steaming and cooking at low heat. On the other hand, biryani is often parboiled. I call for parboiling in my recipe because I find it's more foolproof, but pulao traditionally cooks through absorption.
- Biryani involves layers of rice and meat/vegetables, while pulao incorporates all ingredients together into a homogeneous mixture2.
- Extra-Long Basmati Rice: The rice you choose is very important to the resulting texture of the pulao. If you can find it, I recommend aged extra-long basmati rice. Aged rice is better because it contains less moisture, yielding fluffier, separated grains. An Indian store or online retailers, such as Amazon or DesiBasket, is your best bet on sourcing the rice.
- Raisins or Cranberries: I've used both raisins and cranberries in this pulao, and they're both delicious! Cranberries add a bit of tang, while raisins add more sweetness.
- Peas: You can use fresh or frozen peas.
How to Make Peas Pulao
Steps 1-4: First, you’ll want to rinse and soak your rice. Make sure to rinse the rice thoroughly, until the water *almost* runs clear.
Next, saute some whole spices in oil and onion gets cooked until soft and translucent. This step builds the base of the dish. Stir in the almonds and saute for a minute until they're fragrant.
Steps 5-6: Next, you’ll parboil the rice until just barely cooked through, and gently stir it with the remaining ingredients: ghee (optional), peas, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and raisins.
Steps 7-10: Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the lid of the pot. You can secure it with a rubber band or tie it in a knot. The towel helps absorb excess moisture from steaming. Steam the rice over low heat, then let sit for 10 minutes to finish cooking.
In the meantime, fry up some sliced onions until browned and crispy. Fluff the rice with a fork, garnish with crispy onions and herbs, and dig in!
For perfect, fluffy grains of rice that aren't over or under-cooked, try the following tips!
Tip #1: Rinse the rice thoroughly: Make sure to rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear to remove any excess starch which prevents the grains from clumping or sticking together.
Tip #2: Give it a good soak: Soaking the rice for 30 minutes to an hour helps speed up the cooking process and results in a better texture.
Tip #3: Parboil the rice: Parboiling the rice and then cooking it over low heat with the aromatics ensures that it cooks evenly.
- As mentioned earlier, a lot of pulao recipes have you cook the raw rice with water directly with the aromatics (as opposed to parboiling).
- I tried this several times, and each time, the rice cooked unevenly. Additionally, the rice cooked at different success rates depending on how the quality/age of the rice. And most importantly, the absorption method is *NOT* ideal for electric burners, which struggle to quickly change temperatures.
- In the end, I settled on a method of parboiling (inspired by Andy Baraghani’s Herb Rice). This method is common with biryani, too, but I found it really helpful to achieve the right texture for the pulao. You cook the grains in boiling water until just barely al dente, similar to pasta. Then, the partially cooked rice finishes steaming with the rest of the aromatics.
What to Serve with Pulao
The pulao goes really well with a meat entree or vegetarian main dish, and I often serve it with chapatis and raita on the side. It's also delicious with a spoon of chili oil or chili crisp!
Storage and Make-Ahead Instructions
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
You'll want to purchase an aged, long-grain basmati rice, preferably long-grain.
Unfortunately, pulao does take a bit of time. You can skip the fried onion topping if you're in a rush, but I don't recommend changing the cook times as you can end up with undercooked or unevenly cooked rice.
You can fry the leftover rice with a bit of oil in a hot wok for a bit of a twist on fried rice! Stir in a little soy sauce and sesame oil. Alternatively, try making cutlets out of the pulao.
Peas Pulao with Fried Onions Recipe
- Medium-sized dutch oven, or pot
- Kitchen towel
- 1 cup extra-long basmati rice, preferably aged
- ⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons neutral oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 large red onion, sliced thinly and divided in half
- ¼ cup cashews or slivered almonds
- Salt and black pepper
- ¼ cup cranberries or raisins, I like the tartness of cranberries, but raisins add a nice sweetness
- 1 tablespoon ghee or melted butter, optional
- 1 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- A generous handful of fresh herbs, such as mint and cilantro | chopped
- First, prepare the rice: Add the rice to a fine mesh sieve and rinse under water until the water appears *mostly* clear (it won't ever get fully clear), then transfer to a medium bowl. Add enough water to the bowl to fully submerge the rice. Soak for at least 30 minutes and up to 6 hours. While you're waiting for the rice to soak, set a medium pot of water to boil.1 cup extra-long basmati rice
- Prepare the pulao aromatics: Meanwhile, set a medium dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, then follow with the cumin seeds, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Once you hear the seeds sizzling, add half of the red onion to the pot. Saute the onions until they turn light golden brown and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (turn the heat down if the onions begin to burn). Stir in the cashews, and saute until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside while you finish preparing the rice.⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons neutral oil, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 2 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 large red onion, ¼ cup cashews or slivered almonds
- Finish preparing the rice: Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to the boiling water. Drain the soaked rice and add to the boiling water. Cook rice until just barely tender, about 5 minutes. Taste the rice; when done, it should still have a slightly al dente, firm bite in the center, but it will have grown to the size of a full grain of rice. Drain the rice.Salt and black pepper
- Cook the pulao: In the medium pot with all of the aromatics, stir in the cranberries, ghee, lemon zest, peas, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a generous pinch of black pepper. Next, gently stir in the drained rice. Make sure everything is fully mixed together (but be gentle so that the rice grains don't break). Add any additional salt as needed. Wrap the lid of the pot with a kitchen towel, and cook the rice at low heat, covered, for about 25 minutes until the rice is fully cooked through. Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off, and let the pot sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff up the rice with a fork.¼ cup cranberries or raisins, 1 lemon, 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, 1 tablespoon ghee or melted butter
- Make the crispy fried onions: Just before serving, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add ⅓ cup oil to the pot. Once heated, add in the other half of the onion (you may need to do this in two batches) until golden brown and crispy, stirring occasionally to ensure all parts of the onion brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a paper towel lined plate to drain any excess oil. Make sure the onions don't touch each other when draining so that they don't get soggy. Sprinkle the onions with a pinch of salt.
- To serve the rice, transfer to a serving bowl and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with herbs and fried onion, and serve with lemon wedges.A generous handful of fresh herbs