Kabuli Pulao (Lamb Pilaf) by Haris Coussidis

Afghanistan – Zohra’s story

The house fills with tantalizing aromas from the kitchen where many pots bubble over a hot stove. Zohra has been up since seven in the morning, making many different dishes for this day. She is tired but brimming with excitement as she is having guests over and has the chance to cook traditional Afghan food.

She explains that she doesn’t get many opportunities to prepare food for guests.  “It is only my husband and I here, no one else.” But she always cooks a small dish or two when she joins Fara’s cooking class on Mondays, something she looks forward to every week as she gets to see her friends.  

Born in Kabul where she lived most of her life, Zohra recalls life there before the war and the Taliban. Life was good and women free to go out without covering themselves.  There were tourists visiting and girls attended school.  She would get together with her friends at each other’s houses to cook, sew, drink tea, sing, talk and laugh.

“It all seems a distant memory now”.

Kabuli Pulao | Lamb Pilaf

Considered the national dish of Afghanistan, the saffron steamed rice is mixed with slow cooked lamb, caramelised carrots and sultanas. This makes for a comforting meal to be shared at large gatherings.

Serves 6

100ml olive oil
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 – 1.5kg lamb, leg or shoulder, on the bone, cut into 6 large pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp salt
500ml water

Carrots and sultanas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg carrots, peeled, thickly shredded (julienne style)
3 tbsp caster sugar
200g sultanas
1 kg basmati rice, soaked in water overnight


  1. In a large cooking pot heat the olive oil over a medium heat and cook the onions for 5 – 7 minutes, until golden and soft.  Add the garlic and pieces of lamb and cook until the meat is well browned on all sides. Add the salt and water, stir everything well. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour 30 minutes, until the meat is soft and easily falls apart and there is a nice thick sauce.
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the carrots for 5 minutes over a medium heat stirring occasionally, until they are soft and slightly caramelised. Add the sugar and stir well so the sugar melts evenly. Remove from the pan into a bowl to allow to cool. Add the sultanas in the same pan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes until they plump up and slightly caramelise. Remove from the heat and add with the carrots.
  1. Drain the rice. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rice for 5 – 7 minutes, until almost cooked; you still want it to have a slight bite. Drain, return to the pot and set aside.
  1. Transfer the pieces of lamb onto a plate. Pour the sauce from the meat onto the rice and mix until the rice is evenly coated. Place the lamb pieces on top of the rice and cover with the carrots and sultans. Cover with the lid and cook for 10 minutes over low heat. This steams the rice and infuses all flavours together. Turn off the heat and rest for 10 minutes.
  2.  To serve cover the base of your serving plate with half the carrots and sultanas and put some of the rice on top. Place the lamb pieces on the rice and cover with the rest of the rice and top with the rest of the sweet carrots and sultanas.  Covering the meat with the rice is giving the element of surprise when you start serving the kabuli pulao.

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