Happy you’ve been asked to make a dish for your next small group gathering but haven’t a clue what to make?
Then this is the ideal occasion to introduce your crew to Qabili Palao, the national dish of Afghanistan.
For one thing, Qabili Palao packs big flavor and portions hearty enough to satisfy a small crowd. And for another, it’s likely a dish that no one in your crowd has tasted before.
Fragrant basmati rice, chicken, carrots, almonds, and raisins are the primary ingredients.
What’s more, this recipe boasts a unique spice blend that includes slightly sweet cardamom, mildly bitter cumin, salt, pepper and even a bit of sugar. The spices work together with the carrots, nuts, and raisins to enhance the flavor of the rice and perfume the entire meal as well.
The result is a dish that’s deliciously spicy but in no ways spicy hot.
So all of your friends and family members — even those who “can’t eat hot food” — can enJoy Qabili Palau. It delivers maximum flavor without any burn.
This sweet and savory rice dish will leave each member of your small group feeling well-fed and well-loved.
So what’s the name of this dish again?
Qabili Palau. Afghans originally called it Kabuli Palau, after Kabul, their capital city. But as the dish became more and more popular, the name changed to Qabili Palau.
“Qabili” means well-able and once everyone started making this dish, the bar of excellence got higher. The home cook who could make a stand-out version came to be considered quite skillful in the kitchen — and superior marriage material. (More about this later.)
This Qabili Palau recipe comes from the kitchen of Humaira Ghilzai, writer at Afghan Culture Unveiled.
Humaira was born in Afghanistan and spent her childhood there. However, for decades now, she has been living in the U.S. So she’s more than familiar with what the real deal Afghan dish should taste like. And she also knows exactly what foods available in American grocery stores work best in bringing out the authentic flavor of Afghan cooking.
Kabuli/Qabili Palau – Afghanistan’s National Dish
- sauté pan, large
- Dutch oven
- frying pan
- 3 cups long grain basmati rice
- 10 chicken thighs & drumsticks
- 4 cups diced onions
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil, divided
- 5 tsp. salt
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 1 cup black raisins
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1½ tsp. ground cardamom
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 12 cups water
- 2 tbsp. browning sauce such as Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
- Immerse rice in a bowl of water and drain in a colander. Repeat this step 3 times.
- Choose a sauté pan that is at least a couple inches deep and large enough to fit all the chicken. Pour ½ cup of the oil in the pan and sauté the onions over high heat, stirring quickly, until brown (5-10 minutes). Don't burn them.
- Add the chicken to the pan and sprinkle with 3 tsp. of the salt. Cook the chicken over medium-high heat for 6 minutes, turning from time to time so all sides turn golden brown. The onion will start to caramelize and turn into a thick sauce.
- If using the (optional) Kitchen Bouquet sauce, add it now, and let it simmer. *
- While the chicken is cooking, in a large frying pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the carrots and cook until tender and a deep orange hue, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Keep a close eye on this to make sure you do not overcook them. Once the carrots are tender, add the raisins, almonds, and sugar to the carrots. Stir quickly over medium-high heat and keep stirring for about 3 minutes. The raisins will look plump; the carrots will take on a nice sweet flavor. Remove from heat and package the carrots into a sealed aluminum foil pouch about the size of a small paperback novel.
- Remove the chicken pieces from the broth and set aside. Stir the cumin, cardamom, and black pepper into the broth. Continue to cook on low for 5 minutes to allow it to thicken.
- Meanwhile, measure 12 cups of water and the remaining 2 tsp. of salt into a large Dutch oven or ovenproof* pot with a fitted lid. Bring it to a boil. Add the rice to the water and boil until it is al dente (nearly cooked, though still slightly crunchy). This will take just a few minutes depending on the rice you use. You will have to taste it to check for doneness. Do not overcook it.
- Immediately strain the rice through a colander. Put the rice back into the cooking pot and add the sauce from the chicken. Mix well. Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice. Set the aluminum package of carrots on top of the rice. This will keep the carrots warm and deepen the flavors without mixing with the rice yet.
- Bake the rice for 15 minutes in 500 degrees then drop the temperature down to 250 degrees. Cook for another 20 minutes.
- Arrange the chicken pieces on a large platter, cover with the rice. Sprinkle the carrots, raisins, and almonds on the rice. Serve with a simple salata.
Tips & Tricks Learned My First Time Making Qabili Palau
- Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. Follow them, one by one, and you’ll see how easy this is to do.
- Ground cardamom is more widely available than whole pod cardamom. But if you do find cardamom pods, I recommend you buy it and grind the pods yourself (as I did, with a wooden pestle) for the freshest taste.
- The recipe doesn’t specify a type of onion to use. However, I used yellow onion since it’s the type Ms. Ghilzai has recommended for this dish in the past, and the taste blended in like butter.
- It may feel strange to cook rice to an al dente texture similar to spaghetti. (It did to me.) But resist the urge to keep cooking the rice and get that pot off the stove. Then “immediately strain the rice through a colander” as directed. Your rice will continue to cook in the oven, to later emerge marvelously fluffy.
Sprinkling the top of the dish with rosewater — I use this one— just before serving adds a delicate fragrance that whets the appetite and makes the whole thing smell truly beautiful!
What makes this Qabili Palao recipe special?
What makes this recipe pop, besides the spices and carrot-raisin blend, is the “sauce.” That is, the savory juices created as the meat, oil, and onions simmer together. It’s this sauce that you mix with your perfectly “al dente” rice 😉 before topping it with the other fixings and putting it in the oven.
So just imagine, your already fragrant, tasty basmati rice becoming even more flavorful as it bakes.
But enough imagining for now. Let’s cook Afghan!