Pictures by David Everett
Mmm… can you believe how delicious the food in the picture above looks? Tender, savory lamb nestled in a warm mound of sweet basmati rice, all generously topped with carrots, crunchy almonds, and juicy raisins. Guess what? You could be having this for dinner soon!
First, let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Rebekah Graham! I am a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, and will be working with EMU junior David Everett to bring you mouth-watering, Middle Eastern recipes each week. I cook the food, he takes the pictures, and we all get to enjoy the results! Sounds like a good plan, right? Food and culture are two of my very favorite things; I am so excited to spend these next couple months sharing this international, culinary experience with you. Let’s get started!
Today I am going to teach you how to make what is almost certainly Afghanistan’s most popular dish – Qabili Palau. This beautiful rice and meat meal is often served at weddings, parties, and other celebrations. It is even considered by some to be Afghanistan’s national dish. I do have to tell you up front – it’s a long process! We were in the kitchen for about 2 hours before the food was on the table. On the positive side of things, we were certainly hungry and ready to enjoy the long-awaited meal. And you can be assured: it was worth the wait.
(If you don’t need to see the pictures, you can just jump ahead to the recipe)
Before we begin, prep your ingredients. This includes rinsing and pre-soaking the rice, chopping the veggies, and drying the lamb.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized pot to brown the meat. Make sure the oil is hot enough that it sizzles when you put in the lamb.
Don’t feel the need to put all the meat in at once, you can work in shifts! Just swap pieces out as they finish browning. Also, be patient during this process. Don’t tug and pull – the meat will come off the pan easily when it is ready to flip.
Mmm. Looks good so far!
After the meat is finished, add a little more oil to the pan with your onions and turmeric. Saute until the onions are tender. Pay close attention to them so they do not burn.
Before the onions are completely done, add in the garlic as well and cook for 2 minutes.
Once the onions and garlic are ready, pop the lamb back in the pot. Add in some coriander and enough water to come halfway up the sides of the lamb. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. The lamb needs to cook anywhere from 45-90 minutes; stir it every 30 minutes or so. You can tell it is done when the chunks slide easily off a fork.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the rice. Bring a large pot of water with some salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and pour in your pre-soaked basmati rice. Cook the rice for 15-20 minutes, stirring often. You are only going to cook the rice halfway, because it will cook the rest of the way when we steam it later. If in doubt, err on the side of crunchy.
While the rice is cooking, boil the carrots in a small pan. This should take about 5-7 minutes; you want the carrots to turn out tender and deep orange.
Once the carrots have softened up, drain the excess water. Then, add in your oil, raisins, almonds, and cardamom. Cook over medium-high heat until the raisins get a little plump (about 2-3 minutes).
You’re going to need a foil pouch, so you should make that now. Just take a sheet of aluminum foil, fold it in half, then fold in the sides. Simple!
When the carrot mixture is done cooking, scoop it out into the foil pouch and fold down the top to seal in all that goodness.
We’ll come back to this in a bit!
When the rice is “done” (remember: we’re only cooking it halfway), drain it and return it to the pot. Now it’s time to make the syrup!
Add oil and sugar to a small pot over medium-high heat. Over the course of about 5-8 minutes, the sugar will gradually clump, dissolve, and get darker and darker as it burns in the oil.
Stir often during this process. It’s fun!
You can see how much the color changes here. It’s a lovely caramely-red hue.
When the sugar is mostly dissolved and has a nice, deep color, give it one last good stir. Next, strain the syrup over the cooked rice… but do not stir the rice to mix it in! You want to leave some of the rice untouched by the syrup so it remains white. This is part of what makes the finished product so beautiful.
Form the rice into a little dome in the center of the pot and tuck the foil pouch on the side. Add some water and a sprinkle of cumin on top. Seal the pot tightly with a lid, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce to a light simmer, and leave it to steam for 20 minutes.
When the rice and the meat are done, it is time to throw it all together! Scoop out half of the rice into a bowl or platter, and form a little hollow area in the middle. This is where you will place the meat.
Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat out of the pan (you want just the meat – no broth), and place it in the middle of the rice.
Then cover it all up with the rest of the rice!
Open up your foil pouch and pour the carrots, raisins, and almonds over top of the rice. Spread them all around evenly.
Finally! Now you have an absolutely exquisit meal in front of you! This colorful dish takes a lot of work and careful attention, but the meal that follows afterwards will warm both your stomach and your heart. Nooshe Jaan (i.e. Bon Appetit)!
1 lb lamb stew chunks
2 tbsp canola oil (maybe more)
small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp coriander
2 c water
2 c white basmati rice
8 c water
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 pinches ground cumin
Carrot Topping Ingredients:
1 c carrots, cut into matchsticks
3/4 c water
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 c raisins
1/4 c sliced almonds
1/8 tsp cardamom
Sugar Syrup Ingredients:
1/2 c canola oil
1/4 c + 2 tbsp sugar
1. Rinse rice until water runs clear. Soak in room-temperature water for 2-3 hours.
2. Use paper towels to squeeze the lamb chunks dry – this will help them brown.
3. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil over medium-high heat. The meat should sizzle when you put it in the pan. Place the lamb chunks in one layer and brown for 5-10 minutes. Do not crowd the meat; you can work in batches and add a little more oil as needed. The meat should lift off the pan easily when it is ready to flip. As the pieces finish cooking, remove them from the pan.
4. Once the meat is finished, add another tbsp of canola oil to the pan and sauté the onions with 1/2 tsp turmeric until they are tender, but not burnt. This should take about 5-7 minutes.
5. When the onions are almost finished, add in two cloves of garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
6. Finally, add the lamb, 1 tsp coriander, and enough water to come halfway up the sides of the meat (about 2 c for me). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the barest simmer and cover. Cook for 45-90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes. The meat is done when it is tender enough to slide off a fork.
7. Add eight cups of water and 1 tbsp kosher salt to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the 2 c pre-soaked basmati rice. Stir every few minutes to ensure the rice cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom. Cook until the rice is halfway done (about 15-20 minutes). Be sure not to overcook the rice!
8. Drain rice and return to pot.
9. Bring 3/4 c water to a boil in a small pan. Add 1 c carrots and cook until they are tender and a deep-orange hue. This should take about 5-7 minutes; use this time to fold a small aluminum foil pouch. Once the carrots are done cooking, drain the excess liquid.
10. Add 2 tbsp canola oil, 1/4 c raisins, 1/4 c sliced almonds, and 1/8 tsp cardamom. Cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes to plump up the raisins.
11. When finished, scoop the carrot topping into foil pouch and fold down to seal.
12. Add 1/2 c canola oil and 1/4 c + 2 tbsp sugar to small pan over medium-high heat. Stir frequently as the sugar clumps, burns, and becomes a deep brown-red color (5-8 minutes).
13. Once the sugar is mostly disolved, give the syrup a good stir and then strain it over the rice in the large pot. Do not stir the rice, some should be left untouched by the syrup.
Putting it all together:
13. Gently scoop the rice into a small dome in the pot. Add 1/2 c water and sprinkle in two pinches of cumin. Tuck the foil pouch in the side of the pot with the rice. Cover tightly and cook on high for 5 minutes. Reduce to a light simmer for 20 minutes.
14. Once the rice is finished, you can combine all the ingredients. Put half of the rice into a bowl and scoop out a little hollow area in the middle. Place the meat (with no broth!) in the middle, and completely cover with the rest of the rice. Empty the contents of the foil pouch and spread evenly over the top of the rice. Voila! You just made Qabili Palau!