Learn about Afghanistan – Kabuli Pilau

Afghan cuisines have a style of their own. Fatty dishes are an important fuel in this nation of harsh landscapes and freezing winters with oil used liberally and mutton fat traditionally added to many dishes. Unlike some in their region, Afghans like their food neither too spicy nor too hot and they are renowned for their use of dried fruit and nuts.

Kabuli Pilau:

This dish is widely considered to be the national dish of Afghanistan. Intensely flavored with spices the rice is layered with the lamb to make a hearty one dish meal. Lamb is the traditional meat but you could substitute with beef.



  • 7cups (1.4 kg) basmati rice
  • Salt
  • 4-5 Large onions diced
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • Olive oil


  • 100 g pistachio nuts
  • 100 g almonds
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots
  • 250 g sultanas


  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup fried onions
  • 1.5 kg lamb leg meat, cut into cubes
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 2 tsp masala spice mix
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 200 ml water



Pour rice into a large mixing bowl and cover in water. Wash rice and soak 4-5 hours. To prepare topping, soak pistachio nuts in water for 3-4 hours, remove skin and place back in cold water to keep color. Soak the almonds in water and remove skins. Fry the carrots in a saucepan in approximately 1 cm of oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. When the moisture has been drawn out of the carrots and they are soft but not brown, remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Fry sultanas in the same oil for about 1 minute. Sultanas can fry quickly so watch until the expand, then remove immediately and set aside with carrot.

To prepare the meat, heat oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat, add the fried onions and cook for 1 minute or until soft. Add the meat, salt and pepper and cook until browned. Then add cracked cardamom, masala spice mix, water and cook in presure cooker for 20-25 minutes. (if cooking in a large saucepan, simmer until meat is tender.) Drain and reserve the liquid from meat. Transfer meat into a separate bowl.

Bring 2-2.5 litres water (or enough water to cover the rice), to the boil in a large pot, add rice and salt, cover and cook for 6-7 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Drain the rice.

Off the heat. Put rice back in pot and add the reserved liquid from the meat and mix through. Add 2 tsp masala spice mix and 1 tsp cumin seeds and stir. Rubbing the cumin seeds between the palms of your hands over the pot as you add them helps release some of the flavor. Use the end of the mixing spoon to poke holes in the rice and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Place the meat around the perimeter of the pot on top of the rice. Wrap the saucepan lid with 2-3 tea towels to absorb the steam and place the lid back on top.

Cook on maximum heat for 2-3 minutes until steam can be seen coming out from pot, approximately 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.

Leave for 5 minutes then mix rice thoroughly in pot folding oil and liquid through the rice before serving.

Pile half the rice onto a large platter, then place some of the meat. Cover the meat with the remaining rice and garnish with the carrots, sultanas, pistachios and almonds. Finally sprinkle with a spoonful of crushed cardamom over the top.