Yakhni Pulao

Memories of Childhood Summers in Lahore

It was a hot day in Lahore.

The kind of day when the Loo wind blows in from the Cholistan Desert, as the sun casts its tungsten-white glow on the people of the city.

The canal’s water a dirty brown, small children leaping in one by one, to cool themselves off in the 40C heat.

The willow trees lining the bank, drooped and in prostration, praying for the monsoons to come.

Arriving from the airport, our car heaved and trudged down the Canal Bank Road, laden with a boot full of our suitcases.

Filled with several jelly sandals in shades of grape, cotton candy pink and cloud-white; a shoe for every outfit.

Sundresses for my sister and I, with ribbons which you tie in a pert bow at the tip of each shoulder; cool linen skirts and soft t-shirts.

Gifts for everyone, including cashmere cardigans from Selfridge‘s for my maternal grandmother, Nani Ami.

And in our hand luggage, bars of Dairy Milk, Fruit & Nut and rolls of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles.

As the car entered the gates of my maternal grandparents’ home, I peered out at the brick driveway, stained grape-purple from the bruised and fallen jamun fruit from the slender trees above.

Every summer, Nani Ami would have the gardener pick a basket of jamun for me.

She would place it in the fridge the day before our arrival so I could have the sweet, acidic, tangy jamuns as the heatwave devoured the city outside our cool, shaded home.

The jamun would dye my tongue shades of indigo.

I would douse the olive-shaped fruit with chaat masala; a hot and tart spice mixture of dried mango powder, black salt, chili pepper and other spices.

For my Ami, there would be a jug of opaque, cold lassi, made by Nani Ami with her homemade yogurt.

As she drank it, the ice cubes would clink against the walls of her glass.

Sometimes she would add a dash of 7Up, to sweeten it, enjoying the bubbles on her tongue.

Nani Ami and I would have a siesta in her room, the air-conditioner turned on, the bamboo chicks outside every room’s window rolled down to block the sunrays out.

Cold air pouncing all over the dark room as the ceiling fan whirled round and round.

For supper, Nani Ami would prepare my favourite chicken broth made from the organic chicken she bought in Lahore’s historic Tollinton Market.

Perfumed with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and other spices, she would use the remainder of the chicken broth to make a spiced pilaf; yakhni pulao.

Each grain of rice perfectly separated, flavors intensified with homemade broth.

Slippery ribbons of caramelized onions in every mouthful.

This was one of many dinners that a spoiled eldest grandchild would be treated to.

I remember having the plush, unctuous, meaty, yakhni pulao with nothing but Nani Ami’s creamy, homemade yogurt.

Yakhni pulao in the pan when the lid is removed; the onions and spices at the surface:

During Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims prepare red meat-based dishes.

I prepared this for my family back in November with a side of borani bademjan; smokey aubergine caviar whipped with yogurt.

I learnt Nani Ami’s yakhni pulao from my Khala, my mother’s sister.

This post is for Nani Ami, who is no longer with us.

But whenever I see a roll of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles or Dairy Milk, I know whom that would have been for…

Photocredit jamun and Tollington Market: Wikipedia

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Yakhni Pulao

Yield: 4
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 2 cups Basmati rice soaked for 1 hour, minimum, (maximum 24 hours)
  • 2 lb goat meat, veal or mutton Ask butcher for meat with bone-in
  • 4 black cardamom pods;
  • 6 green cardamom pods;
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp black cumin (kala zeera) This is not nigella sativa, but bunium persicum1
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 large stick cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf fresh or dried
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp salt (rule of thumb: 1tsp salt / 1 cup uncooked rice)
  • 1 medium-sized onion, peeled, root left in tact, marked with an 'X' on top' + 1 medium-sized onion sliced thin
  • 1 thumb fresh ginger
  • 6-8 cloves garlic
  • 6 cups water
  • 3-4 tbsp canola oil


Prepare the yakhni (stock)

  • In a large pot, (I use a 6 qt stockpot), add goat meat, black and green cardamom pods, cloves, black cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, black pepper berries, salt, whole onion marked with an 'X', ginger, garlic and water.
  • You may wrap the spices in a muslin cloth (like you would a bouquet garni) and secure before placing in the stockpot, however, I don't bother with this, and neither did my grandmum, as the spices clinging to the meat did not bother her.
  • Place stockpot on low-medium heat and let it simmer till the meat is tender. Keep checking the meat every 20 minutes; you want the meat to be tender, but not falling off the bone, otherwise it will not endure the cooking time in Step 2 below, and will become like pâté.
  • To tenderise, the meat will take approximately 1-1 1/2 hour. The meat I use takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to tenderise.
  • The garlic cloves will soften up as they cook; incoporate them into the stock with the back of a spatula.
  • When the meat is tender, in a fine sieve, drain the stock. Discard onion and ginger. Remove the spices from the meat by hand, the black cardamom and other large pieces. The rest of the spices will stick to the meat, do not worry about that and please don't wash it off, or you'll lose the flavour of the meat.
  • Set the meat aside.
  • You should have approximately 4-5 cups of stock.

Prepare the pulao, (pilaf)

  • In a heavy-bottomed pan, add oil, and sliced onions. On medium heat, fry the onions till caramelised, this will take about 10-15 minutes. The onions will darken considerably, don't worry, this gives the pilaf it's unique golden colour.
  • Turn the heat to low.
  • Add three and a half cups of stock, the soaked rice and the reserved meat.
  • Cover pot with a teacloth (or kitchen paper towel) and place lid on top. Allow rice to cook for 20 minutes.
  • As much as you may be tempted, please don't open the lid during the steaming process, you'll lose all the steam and end up with an undercooked, almost raw grain.
  • Turn the heat off and allow the rice to settle and rest for 15-20 minutes.
  • Decant with a wide-rimmed spatula or a teacup saucer- as we do in our home.
  • Serve with plain yoghurt or a raita.


1. White cumin may be substituted

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  1. Hi Shayma

    Great article and brilliant opening paragraph, it brought back childhood summer memories of my own.

    Dish looks wonderful!

  2. Such a lovely post, Shayma, engaging all of one’s senses, full of color and heart and light. I’m going to try my first-ever pulao and report back to you. xo

  3. Shyma I love love love a well cooked Yakhni Pulao. I make it loads and must admit can never get enough of it. My favorite!!! It looks good enough to eat the screen right now.

  4. Thank you my darling…this is for me!
    I love the story that comes with it…takes me back to my childhood, carefree days, jamun & mango trees, ice clinking … evocative post! I shall try it again, your way. No, my rice doesn’t separate anymore, rather each grain seems to cling to the other like some long lost soul; exasperating in everyway. DH has now given up his wait for the perfect pilau. Our last fabulous biryani was from Karim’s in Old Delhi… finger licking good. I might spring a surprise on him with this!!

  5. This rice must be delicious, but my favourite part of the post is the story behind the recipe. Thank you for sharing you memories 🙂

  6. you’re an amazing story teller Shayma jan and what a beautiful post this is. love the rice recipe with all the spices, looks very delicious!

  7. Shayma what a lovely post! This is almost identical to my mother’s recipe, those onions make all the difference don’t they? She adds mace to hers and always makes a point of giving me my favourite, the buttery pieces of spiced bone marrow….yum yum

  8. Shayma
    I always felt like I should have been born in a place like Lahore; Beirut was just too westernized for my taste! I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading every word of your post and my imagination is taking off! I am in Lahore now.

  9. Love the story Shayma. I can daydream reading them. As for the recipe, I have to get on with it and make it ASAP. I can almost taste it in my mouth.

  10. What a beautiful post Shayma, I like the story from your childhood. And the pulao looks delicious. I love any rice dish.

  11. Shayms you awakened the lahori craving again, i pine for pulao here but mostly only get biryani.. this looks delish as usual, just like my daadi used to make. My fav is a nice aaloo gosht with the pulao :)LOVE IT!

  12. Food and memory is so often entwined – enjoyment comes from the taste and the images and emotions associated with that taste i reckon. You paint a wonderful picture of your Nani Ami.

    The dish itself looks lovely – all that aromatic spice, juicy meat and rie to soak up the juices. Delicious.

  13. Beautifully evocative post. I will definitely be making this soon.

    When my nan used to come and visit us from England she’d buy all the Sugus mint sweets she could find, as you couldn’t get them outside the UK. I always think of her when I see them.

  14. Hi Shayma, thanks for this beautiful post that gives us, always so interesting, beautiful and magical.
    Already back home, I leave a big hug and extra energy for the journey.
    Thousand kisses for you,

  15. Ciao ! I luckily found your comment and met your great blog ! I’m soory you just moved from roma it would have been wonderful to know you !! Your rice is so good looking I’d eat some now !!

  16. A beautiful, evocative blogpost Shayma. Your blog is right up there in my favourites, and this recipe looks SO good. Perfect for these snowy February nights….

  17. Fry the meat as well

    I would fry the meat for around five minutes after I put the onions in when preparing the rice. Then carry on by putting in stock and rice.

  18. @Tasty I think the idea is interesting, however, two points. Firstly, this is my grandmum’s recipe which I have replicated, so I have followed her steps. Secondly, I am open to criticism and / or advice, however, perhaps it could have been done in a friendlier way?

    @Deeba No modesty is allowed, I have seen your pulao post. And it is epic.

    @Jo Thank you every so much, I am humbled to be compared to Tessa Kiros, I can only hope to keep learning and being inspired by wonderful food writers.

    @Natalia I miss Rome very much and it would have been lovely to have met you, too. However, I left for a very good reason-love and marriage! Thanks for your kind words.

    Thank you, all, for your gracious comments, I was really happy to know that this post brought back memories for you all, too, in different ways. Childhood and grandmums always seem to go ‘mano-a-mano’.

  19. What a beautiful blog post. You captured the memories of our childhood with such perfection – the jelly shoes, nani ami and the jamuns. I wish we could go back to that time, but for now I will reminisce with the smell of the delicious yakhni pulao.

  20. @Tigree Thank you so much.

    @Kitchen Butterfly You know, better than anyone else, how taste and places and memories are intertwined.

    @Lipstick Masala I wish we could go back to that time, too. And end the meal with Nani Ami’s famous raspberry jelly.

    @Zurin Thank you so much, Zurin. x

  21. I’ve always searched for an original and delicious Yakhni Pullao. Allahmdullilah I think I have found it now 🙂
    N mmm those black jamuns are really reminding me of home now. Lovely blog you have here. Really enjoyed reading it. Will surly be visiting to get some more traditional recipes :))

  22. Shayma,this was so interesting,brought back so many memories.Your description was so well written,I could relate to it.Keep up the great work,enjoying reading it so much!

  23. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. I was browsing through Yakhni Pulao recipes and came across yours and I knew at once that this was the recipe i was going to try. It came out perfect and was much appreciated at home!!! And looked just like the pictures you posted!! And lucky for me…i read ur method for basmati rice and also the ‘soaking bit’. So i just had to come back and thank you…thank you that my first attempt at yakhni pulao was completely satisfying!!!

  24. @Kajal Thanks for the visit. Jamun really are quintessentially from our part of the world, aren’t they?

    @Ashoo Apa Thanks so much. I can’t think of my childhood without thinking about Lahore. Let’s all keep our fingers and toes crossed for our little country.

    @Michelle Thank you so much. I love feedback, am glad it turned out nicely for you. I forgot (conveniently) to add in the post that I had added too much stock- I had to scoop it out to salvage the rice. Thank god I was able to, otherwise on Eid day, while my sister-in-law was visiting, we would have ended up with rice goop for dinner!

  25. My American Caucasian daughter is bringing home her new and serious sweetheart who was raised in Pakistan. I will try to show him some “American” hospitality with your recipe. He is nervous to meet us. I hope it will show him that we took some time preparing for his arrival too and defuse his concerns.

  26. i made this the other day…didnt turn out as yummy as yours, im sure, still h was licking his fingers 🙂

  27. A friend introduced me to your site and I’ve already made your Ami’s Kabobs (a new family favorite), and your Kabab Deyg is simmering on my stove as we speak. I would love to try this recipe, too! On a side note, I am half Irani, half Pakistani, but my mother wasn’t much into cooking growing up. I love that I can come to one site to try all of these wonderful recipes from both sides of my heritage!

  28. Your creative writing is beautiful. I really enjoy reading about your childhood and your family and plus you give us traditional recipes which look magnificent. I can almost smell the pullou!

  29. Thank you so much for this delicious recipe. I tried out and it came out delicious!

  30. Salaam shayma… I can smell the aroma of the pulao till here… am trying right now ( infact… charha bhi diya ) :)) … will respond to u later… Jazakallah

  31. Salam,

    I tried out this recipe and it was delicious. Thank you for posting an easy recipe of my favorite Pakistani dish.

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