Pulav (pulao or pilaf) is a one pot meal that is made in most Indian homes. It is a good way for moms to make their kids eat vegetables, apart from the fact that it means less cleaning up. For some reason my mother would make it more often when dad was on tour, or if she was not up to cooking a full meal. And for the same reason, it did not seem special enough, until one young lady made me realize that it was indeed something special and not just a dish everyone can cook well. The credit goes to Jr.H’s friend, K.
One day Jr.H told me as I was packing her lunch, “if its pulav you better pack me a larger portion than you usually do. Otherwise, I don’t really get much to eat.” I know she loves pulav but I suspected whether she could eat more than what I pack for her, which is quite a lot. And then she said, “You know what K says about your pulav, and she does not say this about other pulavs, ok?!” This is the part where my ears stand up. I hope something good will follow. K is Punjabi and a comment about a North Indian dish from a North-Indian girl always matters. I was a bit apprehensive – understandably. “Well?” I said, cautiously. “She says pulav was just pulav until she ate my pulav, and then it became – YAY! Pulav!” That sums it up.
To say the truth, it is not at all about the pulav. It never is.
It is about the pulav masala. The spice blend that goes in and the spice blend is my own concoction. I have never used pulav masalas that come packaged. If a blend contains too many spices, it loses its charm for me. I like to keep my spice blends simple and uncomplicated. I like to know what is in there. I love to deconstruct the simple flavours as I eat my food.
I am partial to addition of cinnamon in most North Indian spice blends. In my kitchen cinnamon (dalchini) and bay leaves (tejpatta, the Indian varieties) rule the spice cupboard. I cannot do without them. There are others too. Hmm…. Let’s say spices rule!
My spice blend is not heady or strong but lends a very subtle, delicate flavour that perfectly compliments basmati rice, ambemohar or even everyday rice like kolam. I said it before in some posts and I will say it again. You do not need to use basmati. Pulav tastes equally good with other fragrant varieties of rice. If you can find ‘ambemohar’ rice in your area do try making pulav or puddings with it. Basmati is over rated and you will be convinced when you taste this variety of rice. It is native to Maharashtra and is fast losing it original fragrance. I am not sure whether the original strains are even available.
Another feature about my pulav that surprises most is that I always make it in a pressure cooker. I swear by it. It has never let me down, unless I have been watching a very interesting thriller, reading a good book or playing some word game. In which case one should ideally be forgiven for losing track of time. Even a minute more than the recommended time can ruin your pulav – not beyond repair though. Two minutes more will definitely ruin it beyond repair. One of my readers, Bharati tried my pressure cooking method and confirmed that the timing was perfect. Of course the timing also depends on whether you are using an aluminium or a steel pressure cooker. Aluminium conducts heat more uniformly which means that the chances of pulav cooks a minute or two faster than in Stainless steel. My earlier recipes of pulav were made in an aluminium cooker but I soon switched over to steel. The one given below is made in a stainless cooker. The time difference is hardly a minute or two.
Pulav is usually served with raita, rajma or chhole but we like it best served with kali dal. I do not add green chillies or red chilli powder because I like my pulav only fragrant, not spicy. But if you like some heat, go ahead and add 2 green chillies or a tsp. of chilli powder.
Recipe: Matar pulav ~ Green peas pulav
Serves: 3 pulav maniacs or 5 normal people
Long-grained rice or any fragrant, low starch rice like basmati, kolam or ambemohar – 1.5 cups
Oil – 1.5 tbsps.
Cumin seeds [jeera] – 1.5 tsps.
Onions, sliced thin – 2 small ones or 7-8 shallots, thinly sliced
Bay leaves [tejpatta - Indian variety] – 2
Cinnamon [dalchini] – 2, 1″ sticks
Cloves [lavang] – 4-5
Whole black pepper [sabut kali mirch] – 7-8 [optional]
Slitted green chillies – 2 [optional]
Fresh, shelled green peas [matar] – 3/4 cup [as per your liking]
Water – 3 cups [twice the amount of rice]
Pink Salt (kala namak) to taste
or red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp. [optional]
Pulav spice blend [pulav masala] – 1/2 tsp. [recipe follows]
Half an hour before making the pulav, clean and pick rice. Rinse well and pour water just enough to cover the rice. Set aside.
Prepare the pulav masala or spice blend, following the recipe below. It usually makes a little more than required. I use 1/2 tsp. and reserve the rest for later use. If you would like it more fragrant use 3/4 tsp.
Heat oil in a cooker. When hot, reduce heat to medium and add cumin seeds. When they splutter add slit green chillies, if using.
Add the whole spices, saute till the cloves fill up and then add sliced onions.
Saute continuously till the onions caramalize. At this stage you might want to keep a few spices and onion slices aside for garnish, if you plan to take a photograph. If not, just don’t bother with that extra work!
Now add the water. When the water comes to a boil add drained rice and peas, followed by pulav masala (spice blend) salt to taste and red chilli powder (if using).
Cover the cooker with a lid and place the weight (whistle).
After one whistle, reduce the heat to sim. Let the rice cook on low heat for three minutes. Put off fire. Let the pressure fall naturally.
When cooled (about 15 minutes), open the lid and let the extra steam escape for another five minutes. Use a fork or a slotted spoon to gently cut through the rice in shallow scoops. If the grains stick, wait for another five to ten minutes and then scoop.
I know what you will think when you read this recipe. So simple? Yes. That simple! But it makes a difference.
Recipe: Pulav masala [Pulav spice blend]
Yield: A tablespoon or so
Star anise [badiyan] – 2 petals
Mace [Javitri] – Tear off two or three thin strands, a little is a lot
Cinnamon [dalchini] – 1/2 inch, broken into smaller pieces
Green cardamom [chhoti elaichi] – 5
Bay leaf – 1/2 a leaf
Grind in a spice grinder for a minute. It does not grind very fine because of the bay leaf.
Sieve and use as desired.
I use the remaining portion after sifting in cakes. Just blend along with sugar or flour.