Qabuli Palau Recipe
Updated: Feb 2
Qabuli Palau is arguably the most well known dish in Afghan cuisine. It utilizes the central spices found in many Afghan dishes into one incredibly flavorful, aromatic rice.
Palau itself refers to a meat broth based rice, cooked with a specific spice mix. Qabuli Palau is this same rice, topped with sweet carrots, raisins, and sliced almonds. Originating from northern Afghanistan, it has traveled across the country in the past century, becoming increasingly popular as it spread to other regions in Afghanistan.
Qabuli Palau has been a cherished dish in my own family, my mother making it in massive quantities, whether it be for a small family gathering of 100 people or an event at our local mosque. Feeding others is a central component of Afghan hospitality, a culture in which incredible generosity is an embedded feature. Entering an Afghan home, you will always be offered tea and dried fruits and nuts on the table, even if you had no intention of staying. Dinner itself may require pants with a more generous waistline as your host will continue to offer you to eat more.
Despite the challenges that the Afghan American community has endured, coming to the U.S. as refugees, they continue to carry on this tradition of generosity and hospitality, even when living in the most humble of conditions. I witnessed my parents hard work and dedication, working two jobs at a time to provide for our family. Yet, I did not realize as a child that we were financially what is considered "poor," as I continued to witness the incredible generosity of my parents to everyone around them.
Qabuli Palau embodies this generosity as it has become a hallmark dish in Afghan homes. It is what you serve the guests whom you love, and share a momentary glimpse into Afghanistan with. Those who have entered an Afghan home or restaurant have likely tasted Qabuli Palau, a rice that is both a labor of love and has become a symbolic representation of Afghanistan in the global community. I hope you enjoy this momentary trip into Afghanistan via Qabuli Palau on your table, noshejaan!
You can find the link to my palau spice mix here: https://www.imanistan.com/post/palau-spice-mix-recipe
Qabuli Palau Recipe
Key to successful palau:
It is very important to choose the right basmati rice. It should be unbleached basmati rice. The best brand which provides a consistent result is Aahu Barah (https://www.globalriceusa.com/shop). Mother is also a great rice brand that will provide good results. Both are also readily found locally in international grocery stores (https://www.imanistan.com/post/afghan-grocery-stores-an-index)
Feeds 4-6 individuals, we are using the saf method of cooking rice
3 c rice
1/3 cup oil
4 tsp palau spice mix
2 tsp salt
1 c meat broth
1.5 lbs lamb
1 medium onion or 2 small onions
Qabuli Palau toppings Ingredients
1 bag of shredded carrots
¼ cup oil
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
¾ tsp cardamom
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup sliced almonds
Qabuli Palau Toppings Instructions:
a. Add oil and water into a flat, wide frying pan with a lid. Place shredded carrots on top of liquid, sprinkle sugar evenly across carrots, sprinkle cardamom evenly over carrots.
b. Cover the pan with a lid
c. Turn the stove on to the highest heat and cook until all of the water evaporates (approximately 5-6 minutes)
d. Turn the heat off completely. Mix carrots to ensure they have properly been evenly covered by sugar and cardamom
e. Once this is done, push the mixture to one side of the pan to make room for the next step
a. Wash raisins
b. Put raisins into frying pan next to the carrots and cover the pan with a lid
c. Ensure raisins do not touch the carrots as the raisins will change the color of the carrots and it will not look as appetizing
Instructions for Palau Rice
Cook your lamb. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZE2VEnp8Ny6Jf7X-4MO-xQ)
Wash your rice. Place rice in a large bowl, rinse several times with cold water removing the cold water at the end of each rinse. After 2-3 rinses, fill bowl with hot water, ensuring rice is completely submerged under water. Set bowl aside for the rice grains to expand in water slowly, allow it to soak for at least 1.5 hours.
Remove rice from bowl and place in a large pot, filled with boiling water, enough to cover rice completely. Allow this to boil on high heat until rice is cooked halfway (this is called a parboil, approximately 6-12 minutes). You will know the rice is cooked halfway when you remove some grains and can see three faint lines on the rice grain or when you touch the rice grain, you feel a soft texture that breaks.
Strain rice into a colander and rinse with cold water.
Place rice into a separate bowl. Add 2 tsp salt, palau spice mix, and broth from your lamb. Mix well by gently folding the rice so as to not break the individual grains. When rice is completely covered with spice and broth such that it appears brown, mixing is complete
Place 1/3 cup of oil into bottom of pot. Add lamb to bottom of pot. Add rice into large pot on top of the lamb. Using the long stick of a wooden ladle, create 4 well holes in your rice about an inch in diameter so that you are able to see straight into the bottom of the pot. If there is more than what appears to be a ½ centimeter of liquid in the pot, turn pot on to high heat to allow liquid to evaporate until only a ½ centimeter remains. Turn off stove.
When you have the ½ centimeter of liquid in the bottom of the pot, cover the pot’s lid with a clean kitchen towel so that it may absorb the steam inside the pot. Cover the pot completely with this towel covered lid.
Turn stove on to high heat. For a gas stove, cook on high for 5 minutes, medium low (a 3 out of 10) for 5 minutes, and 20 minutes on lowest temperature. For an electric stove, cook on high for 5 minutes, 10 minutes on medium, and low for 20 minutes. Do not remove the lid at any point in the process to check on the rice as it will ruin the steaming process.
When rice has completed cooking, turn off heat. Open lid, and plate by laying lamb out on to a platter, and laying rice atop of the lamb such that it is covered. When you have placed your rice on to your serving dish, first put the carrots on top of the rice spread across nicely, then raisins, then almonds. Noshejaan!