Ma’s sweet vegetable pulao

by Sunita on January 20, 2010

What make’s one’s mum’s dishes so special? Probably, it is the familiarity which one acquires while growing up with something. That special way of cooking, which only your ma can. It may not in be in the record books as the best dish in the world, but to us, it is. Probably it is the love and the care that goes into the dish that makes it so special. The tastes and smells that one grows up with, are very hard to forget.

And it is not only the familiarity, but the association of a particular dish to those early days. Remember when ma made that awesome chicken curry and those three siblings looked at each other’s plates just to check if the other has got a bigger piece. Remember that little girl who would save the best parts of the meal till the last and her older siblings would hover around her, teasing and pretending to take it away? Remember all those festivities when ma would literally be in the kitchen the whole day, making one dish after another. Remember that gangly  teenager who would be forced to sit down by her ma and grab a decent meal before she left for college in a hurry. Remember, how even when the teenager had grown into her twenties, (and now was a teacher herself), she would still love it when her ma fed her a morsel from her plate; now how delicious that was, somehow her ma mixed her rice and curries in that extra special way which made the same ingredients seem out of this world.

I can go on and on; amazing how a simple thing can open a floodgate of memories. Interesting things, these  memories are, all the while we are creating memories for tomorrow , and we don’t even realise it. Every simple thing that we are doing today is going to be a memory in the days, months and years to come.

Another thing that comes to my mind, is when ma made her pulao.

It was usually made on special occasions. It was very simple and easy to make but with it’s own special charm. The rice had to be washed in several changes of water, and left in a colander to drain the excess liquid. Then, it would be spread out on layered sheets of news papers to absorb the extra moisture from the rice. This is important if you wanted the grains of rice to remain separate and not go mushy. As I grew older, my job was to keep the rice turning on the sheets so that they dry quickly. So, the preparation for pulao would begin in the morning itself, if it was to be cooked for the evening. But, apart from this, the rest is very easy to follow.

I make pulaos quite frequently, and they are not always in the style ma made them. Probably moving around various places of India has consciously or subconsciously  been responsible for other influences creeping into my way of cooking. But, I often return to this recipe and we absolutely adore it. It has very simple but subtle flavours, and goes well with a hearty curry. We usually have it with a spicy chicken curry. This pulao makes use of just  a few whole spices to impart  their flavours into the dish.

The recipe for ma’s sweet vegetable pulao follows-

What’s needed-

2 and 1/3 C of basmati rice (back home, ma uses a special aromatic rice called ”joha”, found only in Assam), washed  in several changes of water till the water runs clear, strained and dried thoroughly over kitchen towels or newspapers.
2 and 1/2 tblsp of vegetable /sunflower oil or ghee/butter
2-3 tsp of sugar
2, 1 inch cinnamon sticks
5-6 cardamom pods, split at one end
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, peeled and cut into very thin pieces
3-4 tblsp of very thinly sliced green beans
a handful of raisins, hydrated in some water
a handful of cashewnuts, lightly roasted and cooled ( I didn’t have any at the time)

How to-

  1. Heat the oil/ ghee/butter in a pan and add the bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamom.
  2. When the spices begin to release their aroma, add the rice, followed by the sugar.
  3. Stir constantly, preferably with a slotted spoon, till the rice changes colour and is crisp.
  4. Add enough water to come upto 1 and a 1/2 inches above the rice level and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook till the rice is done. It should not go mushy, and should have a little bite to it. If the rice hasn’t been cooked when all the water has evaporated, sprinkle a little more water over the rice at intervals till the desired texture is achieved. Do  not add lots of water at one go.
  5. Raise the heat and give the rice a nice stir, reaching all the way to the bottom of the pan, till all the moisture has evaporated.
  6. Remove from heat, and quickly mix in the carrots, beans, raisins and cashews into the rice. Cover and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. The steam from the rice will soften the vegetables, but they will still retain their bite.

That’s it! A pot of flavoursome  pulao is now ready to be be served .

The rice grains remain separate, the sugar imparts a lovely colour and sweetness, the whole spices add their flavour and the vegetables retain their crunch. I would call this a very elegant dish and it pairs well with almost any vegetarian/non vegetarian curry.   And of course, for me, it is extra special, what with all those memories attached!

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah, Maison Cupcake January 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

You know I’m ashamed to say it but pilau rice thus far to me has been that horrid dry stuff with random grains that have been artificially coloured bright green or red. Understandably I can’t stand the stuff and never order it although my husband frequently does. It never occurred to me that if I made it myself I could improve on it. Shame on me!! Yours looks marvellous and your pictures look very pretty too.


2 Sudeshna January 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Aah Sunita,
It looks so perfect. My mom prepares the veg pulao just the same way. The images made me remember something else too. My father was in a trip to Assam years ago and he got such uttoriyo from some felicitation ceremony. The red and white looked so vibrant to me that I used roam around the entire dangling it to my neck :) like a churni :)


3 Alka January 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm

i love it when my ma makes pulao as well.. she usually makes it on special occassions and sometimes just to suprise us when we got back from school or now when we visit.. mmmm.. and then we just keep on feasting.. i don’t think i have had any with cardamom in it, we usually add cloves, star anise and some whole peppercorns.. will try next time around! :)


4 Sharmilee January 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Pulav is my fav….with sweet flavour am sure it wud taste great…Luved the last click!
You have a mail :)


5 The Cooking Ninja January 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm

wow! It’s gorgeous and looks so delicious. Mom’s food is always the best and even better if it is right out of her plate into your mouth. lol! ;)


6 Rosa January 20, 2010 at 3:54 pm

It looks really delicious and fragrant!




7 diva January 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

beautiful dish Sunita and i totally agree, mum’s cooking will always open a floodgate of memories. It’s always so unique, so her and so good it’s almost indescribable ;) thanks for sharing! it’s a lovely post! x


8 pavithra January 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Looks so yummy and wish to have that whole bowl.. picture perfect…..


9 shamanags January 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm

yummy pulao..tempting picture..nice presentation


10 Happy Cook January 20, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Hi hi i ws the youngest in my family and i used to hoared all the good stuffs too and ate in the end or made the other two drool for it. Now when i think aobut it i feel so bad that i did.
I think it the the love the moms put into the dished which makes it taste better.
I trymy moms recipes and each time i tell it is not same ashers.
Pulao looks so so delish.


11 shilpa January 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Loved to read this post Sunita. My memories of my aayi’s pulav are also something like yours. She spreads rice on towel and waits till it dries and pulav was always a special treat. Though I use her recipe to make pulav, somehow I feel it never turns out same :) .
Never tried using sugar in pulav (thats how we pronounce it, so have got a habit of typing same). Will try this recipe soon.


12 Pragyan January 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Hi Suni, very nostalgic post, indeed! So many Maa feeding me, even today! Your pulao recipe sounds simple and delicious. Hope to try it out sometime soon.


13 Sutapa January 20, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Hi Sunita,
I just had to comment when I saw this. My mum makes a ‘fried-rice’ exactly the same way, starting from using the special grain (gobindo-bhog chal in WB) and drying it on sheets of paper to letting the veggies cook in the steam of the rice (in a rice cooker these days!). That home-made fried rice and chicken curry is (and has always been) my favourite meal… In our home its a birthday-special too, along with a bowl of chaler payesh :) Thank you so much for posting this lovely recipe. Mothers are truly ageless, aren’t they?

Sutapa :)

ps. I thought this is a good time to let you know that I love your blog and every single recipe that we have tried from it has been a huge success!


14 kalva January 20, 2010 at 9:28 pm

lovely pulao. i bet it tasted great tooo


15 usha January 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm

slurp! slurp!


16 BongMom January 21, 2010 at 3:14 am


Our Bengali Pulao is exactly the same. Lovely post


17 mallugirl January 21, 2010 at 5:37 am

sunita, love the snaps of the rice as well as the background that an embroidered coverlet?


18 Nirmala January 21, 2010 at 6:00 am

Just wondering how the dishes made by Amma turn to be the best with the simplest ingredients and elegant cooking methods….no fuss, no fancy gadgets…yet they were seeded in our heart and minds for ever and we could never match any dish even made in a 5 star hotel to those simple ones! This pulao looks lovely and soothing!


19 Aliena Varghese January 21, 2010 at 9:16 am


I had emailed you yesterday on a substitute for cream cheese on attempting your recipe chocolate mousse.Awaiting your reply on the same

Thanks a ton!


20 Lakshmi January 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Pulao looks yum!!
So true about mom’s cooking…always special!


21 Soma January 22, 2010 at 1:48 am

ma would make this sweet pulav too. I hardly ever make it, as no one is used to the sweet taste in rice. I guess it is the east indian thing. Now i really want some with some spicy chicken curry.


22 The Gypsy Chef January 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Comfort food at it’s best! This recipe is a keeper, I know my kids will love it.


23 Deepa G Joshi January 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm

ahh..what tempting clicks..Was about to go for cooking and saw this, I am hungry and nothing is prepared yet :( ..wish could eat some from here..even I miss my mum’s cooking, after marriage


24 Jeanne @ Cooksister! January 24, 2010 at 12:26 am

Interesting to see raisins in a rice dish like this – as I told you, Couth African bobotie us usually served with turneric rice with raisins in it. I love the nuggets of sweetness but lots of my English friends find it weird!


25 Pedhakka April 1, 2010 at 5:30 am

Lovey write up !!


26 pratibha das hatibaruah May 14, 2010 at 10:07 am

Sunita I am also confused with one thing when I make pulao. What is the ratio of sugar and rice? Meaning if we make a larger quantity of pulao how much sugar should we put? and shouldnt we add salt too ? If yes how much quantity ? Plus should we cook pulao in a pressure cooker or pan?



27 Sunita May 15, 2010 at 6:08 am

Pratibha, I add about a teaspoonful for every cup of rice. And no, you don’t need any salt with this one. I usually cook my pulao in a pan, to keep an eye on it, and in case it needs more liquid. You can, however use a pressure cooker too. Hope this helps :-)


28 pratibha June 11, 2010 at 5:49 am

awright…this was one thing which really stopped me from makin pulao esp if it was of a larger quantity – i mean the sugar-rice ratio and also the water…now i think i have the confidence and the right tool…thanx… :)


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