Pakistani Chickpea Pulao

Serves: 8

In Pakistan, bread is generally for everyday meals and rice is for special occasions. This lamb pulao from Pakistan is a special-occasion dish of lamb and rice that is like the pulaos of Central Asia—Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Xinjiang, for example. Lamb or goat are traditional, but in Pakistan these days, beef might be substituted. The pulao has the blend of flavors that we associate with Moghul dishes: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, all subtly blended.

The list of ingredients may look long, but they’re mostly spices, so all it takes is measuring them out. You will need a wide heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Techniques are not complicated: The lamb is cooked in oil that is flavored with onion and spices, then the liquids (tomatoes and water) are added. The meat, tomatoes, and rice simmer together until the liquid is absorbed, flavors are blended and aromatic, and textures are tender. Traditionally pulaos are cooked over a fire and then simmered over the coals, or finished in the waning heat of a tandoor oven. We start the cooking on our stove top, then finish it in a slow oven, but you can also slow cook the rice over low heat on the stove. Both methods are given here.

Serve as the centerpiece of a special meal.


  • 4 cups cooked (or drained canned) chickpeas
  • 2 cups basmati rice, washed and soaked in 6 cups water for 1 to 3 hours
  • 6 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
  • One 2-inch piece cinnamon or cassia stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 brown cardamom pods, or substitute 2 green cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
  • 3 tablespoons minced ginger or ginger mashed to a paste
  • 6 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoons regular ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cup diced or crushed canned or fresh tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups water


  • About 3 tablespoons melted ghee or butter, or to taste (optional)
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped almonds (optional)
  • Generous ½ cup coriander leaves, coarsely chopped


  1. If the chickpeas aren’t seasoned, stir in 1½ teaspoons salt before you begin.
  2. If you will be baking the pulao, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  3. Drain the rice and set aside.
  4. In a wide heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the ghee or oil over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and bay leaves and stir.
  6. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for several minutes, until aromatic.
  7. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft, 10 to 15 minutes; lower the heat to medium if they start to brown before they are well softened.
  8. Add the ground coriander, cumin, cayenne, and black pepper and stir-fry for a moment.
  9. Add the chickpeas to the flavored onions and oil and stir-fry for several minutes, then proceed as above.
  10. Add the tomato, turmeric, and salt and stir, then add the water and bring to a boil.
  11. Sprinkle the rice into the boiling liquid and bring back to a vigorous boil.
  12. Cover tightly (wrap the pot lid with foil if necessary to make a better seal) and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Or, cover the pot tightly, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 40 minutes, reducing the heat to low after the first 5 minutes.
  13. Remove from the oven or the heat and let stand for 15 minutes


Serve as a vegetarian main dish with a sweet chutney, Zinet’s Young Ginger Pickle (page 346), a raita (see “The Raita Family,” page 67), and stir-fried greens, such as Pea Shoots for a Crowd (page 161).


We often make a half recipe of this chickpea pulao. It’s a good weeknight-supper dish, for once it’s simmering, the cook is free to make a salad or other side dishes. To halve the recipe, just halve the ingredients. Cooking times will remain the same.


Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent


[[Indian recipes]] [[Rice]]

Pakistani Chickpea Pulao