It is a very popular one in my family. This if you have ever been to visit my mom it is likely that she has fed you Bukhari Pulao at some point. I’m not exactly clear on the origins though. Google tells me it’s a dish with Arabian or Iranian origins. But my great grandmother picked up this recipe when she lived for a time in Turkey, so I always thought it was Turkish. Bukhari itself was the name of a place along the Silk Road. Whatever its origins, I am sure my great grandmother modified it slightly to suit our Pakistani tastes, but the actual core of the recipe remains the same.
It is essentially an Arabian twist on biryani. But with a much shorter ingredient list. The simplicity of this recipe is in no way reflective of the complex flavours that come out at the other end. This recipe is not complicated, but does take a bit of time to develop the slow cooked caramelized flavour and melt in your mouth morsels of meat. It is well worth it though!
What is Bukhari Pulao?
Bukhari Pulao is essentially little cubes of boneless meat cooked down till they melt in your mouth, and caramelized with loads of onions and tomatoes and then layered with grated carrots, peas and rice. The final result is this colourful and subtly sweet and savoury dish that does the most flavourful dance on your tongue! It is something magical that happens when the meat and curry is caramelized together in this way.
The flavour is all in the layered cooking process of the curry. Each ingredient is cooked in stages, allowing the ingredient to cook completely, before adding the next ingredient. You start with the meat, then the onions, and then tomatoes. You need to let each ingredient cook down and caramelize before you add the next ingredient. The longer it cooks, the more flavourful the whole thing gets. The actual spices used in bukhari pulao are minimal – just salt and pepper. But the secret is to add salt every time you add a new ingredient to the curry, to help deepen the flavours and ensure the meat is flavourful throughout.
Two methods to cook Bukhari Pulao
The traditional way to cook bukhari pulao is to cook everything in one pot in layers. When you are finished you turn the whole thing over upside down onto your serving plate for a grand reveal! It can be quite an impressive dish, but also if you don’t get the heat just right during the final stages, you could just end up with a burnt bottom – which is no fun.
My mother’s version is a bit easier no-flip method, and avoids the whole stressful flip to reveal a potentially burnt bottom thing. Her way is foolproof and you can be sure you wont burn anything. But you still get the same flavourful result. I share both the traditional way and the easier oven no-flip method below so you can try whichever you like. However, I don’t recommend the traditional way for any larger quantity than in the recipe as you probably won’t be able to flip such a large quantity over without risking some serious injuries or a just make big mess! So if you want to feed a crowd and are doubling the quantities, go for the easier no-flip way.
Bukahi Pulao is actually a very easy recipe, just needs a bit of patience and time to get you there. It’s definitely a lazy Sunday comfort meal type dish, or a great one for a big family meal. The best part it the flavours only get better the next day! So leftovers are encouraged for this one.
For the Curry
- 1 cup oil (avocado or canola)
- 1 lbs boneless beef cubes* (shoulder is best)
- 1 lbs onions (about 3 large onions)
- 3 green chillies
- 1 lbs tomatoes (about 3-4 large tomatoes)
- 1 lbs carrots (about 2-3 large carrots)
- 1 cup frozen peas
For the Rice
- 2 cups basmati rice (I recommend sella basmati rice)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves (laung)
- 3 black peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
- Rinse the basmati rice well and soak in 1 cup water with the remaining rice spices. Set aside while you prepare the curry.
Make the Curry
- In a large pan with a lid, heat 1 cup of oil and add the 1 lbs boneless beef cubes and 1 tsp salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally till the beef cubes are turning golden brown. About 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, use a food processor to thinly slice the onions, tomatoes, green chillies and grate the carrots separately and set aside (food processor makes quick work of the slicing, but you can also slice by hand). Sprinkle the onions, tomatoes and grated carrots with 1/2 tsp salt and pepper each and set aside separately. You will add them one at a time to the curry.
- When the beef is browned, add the sliced onions. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally till the onions are starting to turn brown. About 20-25 minutes.
- Once the onions are browned, add the sliced tomatoes and sliced green chillies, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, till the tomatoes have softened. You will start to see the oil start to separate and float over the rest of the curry. About 15-20 minutes. Taste the curry, and adjust for salt and pepper to your liking.
Traditional method – On Stove Top
- Turn the heat down to low, spread out the curry in an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Add the grated carrots in a layer over the curry.
- Add the peas in another layer over the carrots, trying not to disturb the layers you are creating.
- Add the rice with soaking water in a layer over everything. I like to add the rice first, then carefully pour the soaking water over top so as not to disturb the layers. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp black pepper over top.
- Cover and make sure the heat is on low. I recommend you place your pot on top of another large frying pan on the stove so as to reduce the direct heat on the bottom of the pan. This will help avoid burning the bottom before the rice has had a chance to fully cook.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes till the rice is almost cooked through and the water is completely absorbed. IF you find the water has not absorbed turn up the heat a bit and allow to steam for 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to steam with the lid on for at least 10 minutes to let the rice soften a bit more.
- To serve, flip the whole thing onto a large serving plate. You should have some deliciously caramelized meat curry on top and the fluffy rice on the bottom with colourful jewels of carrots and peas mixed in between. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh cilantro and serve.
Oven Method – (Easy No-flip)
- Preheat oven to 450F (232C).
- Once the curry is ready, set aside. In a separate large oven proof pan with a lid, add the rice and soaking water and allow to heat in the oven without the lid on till the water has almost evaporated. About 10 minutes.
- Layer the carrots over the half cooked rice.
- Layer the peas on top of the carrots.
- Layer the curry overtop of the peas. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp black pepper.
- Cover and bake in oven at 400F (204C) for 20-30 minutes till the rice is cooked through. Turn off the heat and allow to steam with the lid on for at least 10 minutes.
- Gently give the rice and curry a mix together, and serve warm.