A Simple Pulao Rice – for everyday cooking

Having a family of five requires me to find recipes most everyone will eat. I have an octogenarian who either can’t or won’t eat certain things, I have a seven year old son who won’t eat certain things either. My daughter, thankfully is relatively easy to please. I seem to spend most of my time in the kitchen either cooking or cleaning up, and frequently both at the same time. One universally accepted recipe, is a pullao recipe which I found in a book and then, of course, adapted. I have this thing about following recipes to a ‘t’. I can’t do it. Yes, it’s compulsive. I blame my mother for it. Not my dad, he always followed recipes exactly. My mother, on the other hand, sees recipes merely as, shall we say, guidelines. Since she influenced my cooking the most, I can say honestly and with gratitude: IT’S HER FAULT! (pssst. I know she’ll be reading this, then she’ll read it to him and he’ll laugh. And then he’ll say he is still her culinary guinea pig).

In this case the initial adaptation occurred because I was missing an ingredient. A spice of all things, which is odd because I have an obscene amount of spices and cooking herbs. Then, I played around using saffron rather than the called for turmeric, but found that the humble turmeric actually worked better than the more elevated saffron in this case. So, back to turmeric. The recipe is astoundingly easy and can be adapted to taste. Mine contains a smidgen of ghee for flavor but it can just as easily be ignored to make this a vegan recipe.

Two caveats. I have cooked this in both a pan with a tight fitting lid as well as in a cast iron casserole with a lid. I have a Le Creuset knock off by KitchenAid and it’s wonderful. I absolutely adore that thing. And since I use it at least once a week, it stays permanently on the counter. The texture of the rice stays better in the cast iron casserole. Much better.

The other caveat is: Forget about left overs. I double the recipe for my family of five in order to get any at all.

Simple Pullao

2 cups of basmati rice
1 tbsp. oil
1 small cinnamon stick
1 bayleaf (preferably the Indian tej patta, otherwise you may prefer to omit this)
1-2 small dried, red chiles
half teaspoon kalonji seeds
half teaspoon cumin seeds
3 green cardamom
1 medium onion,  thinly sliced (we prefer red onions)
1 tsp. garlic pulp (I use a little less)
1 tsp. ginger pulp
1/4 -1/2 tsp. turmeric (depends on how much you like the flavor)
1.5 tsp. salt ( I add more because the veggies absorb salt too)
1 medium potato, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup cauliflower florets, small
scant 1/2 cup of cut green beans – fresh or frozen, not canned
2.75 to 3 cups of water (use less first, if push comes to shove you can sneak a peak and add more if needed. ) make sure it isn’t too cold.
1 tbsp. ghee (optional) – omit if going vegan

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for 20 minutes. Then drain the rice in a sieve and allow to continue draining while you cook.  Heat oil in your casserole on medium heat and add the dried whole spices. Let the seeds sputter a bit and then add the onions. Sauté on medium heat until the onions have taken on a pleasing brownish hue. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 3 minutes stirring to prevent sticking. Add the vegetables, ghee (if using), salt, turmeric, and cook for several minutes. Add the rice to the casserole and stir to coat. Add the water and stir again. Lower heat to between low and medium staying towards the lower end. Let it cook, tightly covered for 15-20 minutes. Open it and check. You can add some frozen green peas when done. Fluff with a fork and close the lid. Let it sit for a few minutes.

pullao rice_01This recipe is substantial enough as a main course by itself, but also lends itself well as a side dish. Garnish with cilantro leaves, thinly sliced onions, and slices of lemon or lime.

I tend to cook this for our supper and therefore have no good photos of it. I’ll try and make this for a lunch one of these days so I get some decent shots. The light quality in my old home isn’t that good and I don’t have a nice camera or light box.


  1. This looks wonderful. I am a huge turmeric fan, both for flavour as well as it’s cholesterol lowering abilities. The curcumin in Turmeric has been proven to reduce cholesterol – so for me, it’s the more the better! I found the cast iron casserole tip useful – I don’t have one, and I think I might have to now, if that is a secret for great rice!

    • It works in a flat bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid as well, but the rice doesn’t hold up well to that configuration. Instead of splurging on a le creuset, go with a simple KitchenAid knock-off. Once you get addicted to using those you can always splurge.

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