A classic Parsi Mutton Pulao uses dry fruits generously and has potatoes! Photo: Perzen Patel
Life as a Parsi can be tough. Not in the traditional sense, but because as soon as you tell someone you're a Parsi they exclaim, "Oh yes, Dhansak! Or, “Oh yes I've had Berry Pulao before". Some days I wonder why the identity of the community is wrapped up in these two dishes!
Now, while I am not a fan of the tart berries that are an essential part of the Berry Pulao, I am a blue-blooded Parsi that loves my Parsi Pulao. If I told you how it was made - like I will below - you'd exclaim that it's just a biryani with a new name. But, it's not and here's why a Parsi pulao is oodles better!
The primary flavour in a Parsi Pulao comes from the stock and the gravy the meat is cooked in. Since the meat cooks in its own fat and the rice is layered, there is no need to add oil to blend the masalas and consequently the pulao is while meaty, and full of flavour surprisingly oil free.
2. Makes for a complete meal
While some pulaos like the Parsi Prawn Pulao go well with a simple raita, most others including the famous Berry Pulao are usually paired with a Dhansak Dal sans the meat. Not only does the dal provide moisture to the meal, and another kick of spice but with the traditional Kachubar on the side, it makes the pulao a complete meal in a way that the biryani never is for me.
Need I say more? I can feel all the Bengalis and the Parsis nodding their heads in glee as they read this because they know the joy of having potatoes with their rice. Parsi pulaos either have the potatoes steam cooked into the rice or the pulao is garnished - rather generously - with deep fried potato quarters. In fact I love the pulao potatoes so much that in a Parsi wedding, I will normally just have the potato and dal as they are usually cooked with the meat and absorb all that juicy flavour - and skip the rice altogether!
4. The use of dry fruits
My major gripe with most biryanis available in Mumbai is the lack of texture. In most cases, after the ‘dum’ has been given to the rice, everything becomes soggy and there is nothing to offset this. In comparison, most Parsi pulaos are generously topped with a variety of fried dry fruits like cashews, almonds and raisins with some richer versions even having these goodies throughout the dish. The crunch from these nuts provides a great textural element and to me is one of the best components of a pulao.
A Prawn & Kheema Rainbow Rice. Photo: Perzen Patel
5. There's variety
With each region having its own version of a biryani, I’d be wrong in saying there’s no variety with biryanis. But, my problem is that pretty much all of them use the same spice base with the addition of a few ingredients here and there. In contrast, there is a range of lovely Parsi pulaos and the best part is that they all taste completely different. There's the rich Shehenshahi Kheema Pulao with layers of spicy kheema that are interspersed with dry fruits. Or if you can never decide on only one kind of meat then you can try the prawn and kheema rainbow rice, which actually has a fish layer cooked in green chutney along with a layer of spicy mutton mince.
So, what's my favourite? Apart from the classic Mutton Pulao Dal, I recently discovered Katy Dalal's Badami Malai Chicken Pulao, which has chicken cooked in a creamy coriander and crushed dry fruit sauce along with rice slow cooked in coconut milk. Every bite of this pulao simply melts in your mouth, and for me, is definitely one of the top 5 pulaos I've ever had!
If this post has made your mouth salivate for a good pulao, here's the classic Parsi Mutton Pulao Dal recipe for you to try out!
1. Marinate the mutton in the yogurt, salt and green chilly paste
2. In a pan fry the onions for the pulao masala until golden brown
3. Add in the all the whole and ground spices and let the aroma come out
4. In a pressure cooker, add in the pulao masala, tomatoes and the mutton Pressure cook for 3 whistles and 20 mins on slow
5. Once the cooker opens, simmer the pulao gravy for a few more minutes until the gravy reduces by 50%
6. Cook the rice as per normal.
7. Mix everything together for the kheema kebabs. Roll into tiny balls and deep fry
8. Boil the eggs and fry the onion and quartered potatoes for the garnishing
9. Layer the pulao with rice, meat, gravy, kebabs and some fried dry fruits (optional)
10. Finish with rice on top and decorate with fried onions, kebabs, boiled eggs, dry fruits and coriander.
11. Serve the dal along with some plain Dhansak Dal.
Bawi by birth and foodie by life, Perzen Patel is Mumbai's Bawi Bride. While she didn't know how to cook even a simple Parsi Dhandar until she got married, Perzen is now on a mission to spread happiness through Dhansak. When she is not writing, Perzen runs a full-fledged Parsi catering service, organises food experiences and also offers cooking classes.