I absolutely love pulao, a spiced rich dish often cooked in water or stock. There are vegetable pulaos, like the one I’m showing you here today, meat pulaos, even seafood pulaos. The possibilities are endless. I developed this recipe after itching for some spring-themed vegetable dishes. It’s made by cooking rice and peas in a fragrant mixture of spices, nuts, and raisins. The pulao is not spicy, but rather mildly seasoned from the spices with a fragrant aroma. Fried onions add a bit of texture on top, and fresh herbs brighten the whole dish.
How do we make this dish?
First, you’ll saute some whole spices in oil and onion gets cooked until soft and translucent — this creates the base of the dish. Next, you’ll parboil the rice until just barely cooked through, and add it in with peas, raisins, and cashews and cook until tender. In the meantime, fry up some sliced onions until browned and crispy. Let the pulao sit for a few minutes before fluffing up up the rice. Finally, you’ll garnish the rice with crispy onions and herbs. The pulao goes really well with a meat or vegetarian main dish, and I often serve it with this radish raita on the side.
How do you ensure the rice cooks properly?
It’s important that the rice in the pulao doesn’t overcook (or stay raw) and stays fluffy.
To ensure this, make sure to rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear to remove any excess starch.
Soaking the rice for 30 minutes to an hour helps speed up the cooking process and results in a better texture.
Parboiling the rice and then cooking it over low heat with the aromatics ensures that it cooks evenly.
Note: At first glance, the recipe may appear slightly more complicated than you’d expect. 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. 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.
Recipe: Springy Peas And Fried Onion Pulao
- 1 cup basmati rice (I recommend this one)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, plus 1/3 cup neutral oil for the crispy onions
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 large red onion (sliced thinly and divided in half)
- 1/4 cup cashews
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/4 cup cranberries (or raisins; I like the tartness of cranberries, but raisins add a nice sweetness)
- 1 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- A handful of fresh herbs, chopped (such as mint and cilantro)
- First, prepare the rice: Rinse your rice several times until the water appears clear (it won't ever get fully clear) then transfer it to a medium bowl. Add enough water to the bowl to fully submerge the rice and let it 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.
- Prepare the pulao aromatics: Meanwhile, set a medium-sized pot or dutch oven to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, then follow with the the cumin seeds, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Once you hear the seeds sizzling, add half of the red onion to the pot and cook until onions are 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 cook at medium heat until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside while you finish preparing the rice.
- Finish preparing the rice: Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to the boiling water. Drain the soaked rice and add to the boiling water. Let cook until just barely tender, about 5 minutes. You will notice the rice will be "dancing" at the top of the pot. 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 (see here for what my rice looks like). Drain the rice.
- Cook the pulao: In the medium pot with all of the aromatics, stir in the cranberries, lemon zest, peas, 1/4 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. If the rice feels dry at all, you can toss it with a tablespoon of melted butter or ghee.
- Make the crispy fried onions: Just before serving, heat a small skillet or pot, heat on medium heat. Add 1/3 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 on both sides, 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.
- 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.