Mom makes a mean mutton keema pulao. She’s fast, unfussy and does not follow recipes. Her repertoire of pulaos (pilafs) and biryanis is extensive yet each every single one is cooked from memory backed-up by instinct. On my last visit, as I watched her put together her mutton keema pulao, I felt a strong urge to share the recipe. Busy moms everywhere could use this tried and tested rice cooker recipe to whip up a special meal without spending hours in the kitchen.
As a gynaecologist with a non-governmental organisation treating people afflicted by HIV and leprosy, Mom has a schedule that makes big demands of her time and energy. Despite this, she pampers us with delicious meals every time we visit. She goes about her cooking in a practical, “get the work done” kind of way. You won’t find her lingering over ingredients, smelling the aroma of mint. So, to put together this recipe I had to watch her like a hawk, and badger her with countless questions.
This pulao (pilaf) is rich enough to make a one-dish meal and is especially suited for Sunday lunches with the entire family. A cool, raita is all the accompaniment it needs. Generously dotted with juicy morsels of mutton keema or lamb/goat mince, cashew nuts, almonds and raisins and cooked in pure ghee, the pulao does well as a celebratory main course. It’s important to use good quality ghee and not oil because ghee makes everything taste and smell so much better. Add a teaspoon of ghee next time to your plain steamed rice and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Coming to the choice of meat, we in India prefer goat meat that is widely available here. Goat is chosen for its leanness (the desired proportion of fat to meat) and flavour but lamb mince works equally well. The mutton keema must not be too fatty or too lean. A fat percentage of 30 per cent is ideal. This is a working woman’s recipe so the mince can be fried ahead of time and cooked with the rice just before eating. Prior to cooking, the mutton keema is marinated overnight to allow it to soften and absorb the flavours of the marinade. The marination gives the pulao a deep, meaty deliciousness that belies the plain appearance if the dish.
Cooking the pulao has 2 straightforward steps post marination. The first involves frying the meat with onions to sear and seal in the moisture. Frying the rice with onions and whole spices is the second step. As a result, the rice becomes toasty and aromatic. Finally, before everything goes into the cooker, the rice and the caramelised yet still juicy meat are sauteed for a few minutes so that they get to know each other. The browning brings out the sweetness of the onions and the meatiness of the mutton keema, so that it coats and infuses every grain of rice with the mouth-watering, savoury essences of the meat. After this all that is left to do is to put everything into the rice cooker with water and allow the magic happen.
No matter how many times I’ve enjoyed this pulao, I’m always amazed how this dish with no special technique or secret ingredient tastes so fantastic every time. Mom’s cooking I guess. Nothing quite like it in the whole wide world.
- 750 g goat or lamb mince
- 500 g basmati rice
- 200 g hung natural yoghurt
- 2 tsp ginger pounded to a paste in a mortar or food processor
- 2 tsp garlic pounded to a paste in a mortar or food processor
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 3 tsp chilli powder (cayenne)
- 3 tsp coriander powder
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 3-5 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
- 5 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 green cardamoms
- 1 tsp black cumin seeds (shah jeera) or regular cumin
- ½ tsp nutmeg powder
- 2 + 2 tbsps ghee
- 1 tbsp almonds, sliced
- 1 tbsp raisins
- 1 tbsp cashew nuts, roughly chopped
- Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
- Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- Mix the the ginger and garlic pastes, turmeric, chilli and coriander powders, the hung yoghurt and a little salt with the goat mince, massage well and refrigerate overnight or for a few hours.
- The next day or 30 minutes before you begin cooking, wash and soak the basmati for 20 minutes in sufficient water. Drain and keep side.
- Heat 2 tbsps of ghee in a pan and fry the 2 chopped onions until translucent. Turn up the flame to medium and add the meat.
- Allow it to brown quickly without stirring too much (constant stirring will make the meat release all its juices). Cook for 7-10 minutes till the meat is browned on the outside but is still moist and semi cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the remaining 2 tbsps of ghee to the same pan, add the whole spices (except the nutmeg powder) , bay leaves and the sliced onions and fry till the onions are a light golden.
- Now add the chopped nuts and raisins, sliced garlic and drained rice and gently fry on a low flame for 3-5 minutes.
- When the rice and nuts appear lightly toasted, add the fried minced meat, mixing to evenly incorporate the 2 mixtures. Season with salt and powdered nutmeg.
- Turn off the heat, stir in the chopped herbs and transfer the raw pulao mixture to the rice cooker.
- Add water till it just about covers the pulao (any more water will make it soggy), put on the lid and turn the cooker on.
- When the pulao is cooked (about 15 minutes), arrange the pulao on a large platter and serve hot with cucumber raita.
- Prep time does not include time taken for marinating the meat and soaking the rice.