Fragrant and delicately spiced basmati rice adorned with fried paneer kofta(balls) that are covered in edible silver & gold warq(leaf) to resemble 'moti' or pearls. This pulao is easy to make and tastes of green cardamom & cloves with a tang of yogurt in every bite.
Pulao/Pilaf is easy one pot comfort food for anytime. They are quick to make and can be served on their own or with curries and lentils. In indian cuisine, there are hundreds of ways to make and serve pulao. From weeknights to weekend pulao to pulao recipes for special occasions, we have it all. Pulao is less labor intensive than layered rice dishes like biryani and that makes it really handy for anytime.
What is Moti Pulao
Moti translates to pearl in Hindi and originally small, melt in the mouth ground meat kofta (balls) are added to pulao along with birista (browned onions), cashews and dry fruits. To make the meat balls resemble shiny pearls, the kofta are coated in edible silver or gold after cooking. This recipe comes from the kitchens of the nawabs where the royal cooks arduously spent hours to come up with culinary masterpieces to please their king.
If you happen to look at the nawabi/awadhi cuisine, you will find luxirious and delicate flavors in the dishes. Not a lot of strong spices (masalas) are used- many of the dishes use lot of nut pastes, ghee, yogurt, mik sweet smelling spices like cinnamon and cinnamon and mild kashmiri chilies. The same theme is carried forward in this dish. There are not strong spices or any fresh ground masalas, the rice cooks to be mellow and is served as one of the dishes among many.
How to make Moti pulao
I take inspiration from the traditional nawabi technique and make a vegetarian version with paneer koftas. In order to make moti pulao, the first step is to the make the birista or fried browned onions which form an important component of its taste profile unless you decide to use store bought fried onions(which is totally fine!)
Once the browned onions are ready and while they cool down,I move on to making the pulao, which basically begins by tempering the ghee with few whole spices, followed by more onions & garlic, green chilies and them making a base of plain yogurt and then cooking the rice in it. While the rice cooks, you can work on the paneer kofta - deep fry or air fry them and then add them on the fluffed pulao.
Finish the pulao with saffron, and serve. If you go with a little planning, the different steps of this recipe can be done methodically and you will be really efficient in the kitchen. Read the recipe to understand how I go about it. You can serve moti pulao with any spiced curry. It goes well with green chutney and salad as well.
- If you want, make the kofta with minced chicken or mutton/lamb keema.
- Don't go overboard with spices. I dot use powdered spices at all. Just a few whole spices are enough to season the rice, its not supposed to be too masaledaar.
- If you want color to your rice, use a little red chilli powder for reddish hue.
- Dont skimp on the ghee. The pulao will be sticky.
- Always use a wide and heavy pan to cook the pulao. The thinner the layer of rice as it boils in rice, the grains won't break and fluffier the rice will cook. I use my 12 inch pan with lid.
- You can make mixed vegetables koftas or add a few vegetables like peas or carrots for a variation.
Can I use any other rice than basmati rice? - Yes definitely. However, this is such a royal dish and if you making it for special occasions like Diwali, I would go for basmati rice only.
Can I avoid deep frying the paneer kofta? You can air fry or shallow/pan fry the paneer kofta. I would go for latter since I feel that air frying makes them dry.
My rice sticks, why do you think? There could be two main reasons for rice to stick or break. First is that you used less oil/ghee. Pulao needs a proper amount of fat to cook fluffy. If you skim on ghee, the pulao will be sticky and taste like steamed rice. Second reason could be that you did not let the rice rest after cooking. It is super important, fluff the rice attest 15-20 minutes after it has rested.
I don't like biting into a whole spices, can I tie them in a bag? Ofcourse. But make sure that you use muslin to tie the spices so that they flavors can permeate properly into the rice.
Paneer Moti Pulao
For the Birista (Fried Onions)
- 2 large onions, halved and sliced (not too thick or thin)
- Oil for deep frying
For the Pulao
- ¾ cup basmati rice
- 1 +¼ cup water (adjust depending on rice quality)
- 4 tablespoon ghee
- 4 green cardamom
- 1 bay leaf
- 3-5 cloves
- 1.5 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 6-8 black peppercorns, whole
- 2-3 Thai bird green chillies, slit
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup whole raw cashews
- ½ cup plain yogurt, beaten
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 10 strands saffron, soaked in 2 tablespoon milk
- Pomegranate arils, fresh mint, cilantro etc for garnish
For the Paneer Kofta
- 1 cup crumbled paneer
- ½ cup grated boiled potato
- 1.5 tablespoon cornstarch (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
- 1-2 thai bird green chilies, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 tablespoon coarse powdered cashews
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- Edible silver or gold leaves
- Oil for frying (same that you used for frying onions)
Make the Birista (Fried Onions)
- In a heavy kadai or wide skillet, heat oil on medium hit and deep fry the onions till they are light brown in color. Fry on ow heat so that the onions are crisp. Drain on a paper towel and spread them. Let cool. They will crisp up more as they cool. Set aside.
Make the Pulao (Start while the onions are frying)
- Wash the rice 2-3 times in running water and soak them in 1.5 cup of water. Keep near.
- In a heavy pot with lid, add the ghee and let it heat up. Make sure that the ghee is not too hot or smoky. Temper with all the whole spices - cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and cumin seeds. Saute for 30 seconds and add the green chilies and cashews.
- Fry the cashews for a minute or so till they are pale brown and then add the onions. Cook onions for 3-4 minutes til they soften a bit but aren't not browned.
- Lower the heat to low and add the yogurt to the pot. Immediately whisk for a minute or so else the yogurt will curdle. Add sugar and salt and cook the yogurt masala for about 2 minutes till you see small bubbles of fat appearing but don't cook for too long.
- Add the soaked rice along with water to the pot, stir to combine everything. Taste and adjust the salt of the water to make sure that its sharp salty, this ensures that rice will be well seasoned.
- Bring to a boil, cover and turn the stove to low for about 12-14 minutes for rice to cook and absorb the flavors. While the rice cooks, you can proceed to make the paneer kofta (recipe below).
- Onde95 percent of the water is aborbed, open the lid of the pot and drizzle the soaked saffron. Don't mix. Immediately cover and let the rice cook completely for another 5 minutes.
- Take off stove and let the rice sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, plate and decorated with warm paneer kofta, fried onions, extra nuts, fresh herbs etc. Serve.
Make the Paneer Kofta (Moti)
- You can use the same oil that you used for frying onions to fry the paneer kofta. Just make sure to strain the oil once to get rid of any burnt onions particles. Heat up the oil on medium.
- In a large bowl, add all the listed ingredients except the silver/gold leaf.
- Using your hands, squish and mix everything nicely to form a smooth dough. Take a smallD portion, roll into a ball and add to oil, if its not spreading, procee and make small koftas. If the kofta spreads, add another tablespoon of cornstarch, mix and then form the koftas.
- Fry up all the koftas on medium heat until golden on all sides.
- Drain on a paper towel and once cool to touch, cover the koftas in gold or silver warq. Add to the pulao as mentioned the instructions above.