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- Duration: 30 minutes
- Serves: 4 people
Spice Level: Medium
The paneer used to create the 'Moti' in the Moti Pulao needs to be soft and snow white in colour. If made at home, refrigerate the paneer overnight to make sure it is not crumbly. (Check 'Get It Right: Make the softest paneer at home'.)
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During the reign of the Nawabs of Oudh, trade with Persia was flourishing, the prize import for the rich being the Basra pearl or Basra Ka Moti. Since kitchen fare in those days was a symbol of wealth and elegance, the dishes rolled out for special occasions were required to not only taste great, but also look 'fashionable'. To make the humble Shahi Pulao look more inviting, a Nawab’s chef decided to add small white balls of paneer, resembling Basra pearls, to the Pulao. The host got a round of applause for this special dish. Ever since, the pulao with its dainty paneer garnish has become the highlight of special meals in the region.
- Basmati rice, washed and soaked for 30 minutes (1 cup)
- Onion, chopped (2)
- Tomato, chopped (2)
- Cinnamon (dalchini) (2 one-inch pieces)
- Black cardamom (badi elaichi) (2)
- Cloves (laung) (6)
- Black peppercorns (sabut kali mirch ) (10-12)
- Green cardamom (hari elaichi) (6)
- Curd (dahi) (½ cup)
- MTR Haldi Turmeric Powder (½ tsp)
- MTR Dhaniya Coriander Powder (1 tsp)
- Salt (to taste)
- Ghee (3 tbsp)
- Cottage cheese (paneer) (1 cup)
- Refined wheat flour (maida) (1 tbsp)
- MTR Garam Masala (1 tsp)
- Oil (for deep-frying)
- Silver vark (edible foil for decoration) (as required)
- Water (2 cups)
- Start with the pulao. Heat ghee in a kadai and lightly sauté the whole spices (dalchini, badi elaichi, hari elaichi, laung, and sabut kali mirchi).
- When they give off an aroma, add the onions and sauté till the onions turn golden brown.
- Add the dhaniya powder and haldi. Sauté for a minute.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cook till they turn mushy and the ghee starts to separate from the mixture.
- Add dahi, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook till all the liquid evaporates and the dahi mixes well with the masala and becomes a homogenous paste.
- Now add the rice and 2 cups of water. The water should rise an inch above the rice. Add salt to taste. Cover and cook till the water is absorbed and the rice is ready. This takes about 15 minutes.
- Crush a few grains of rice to see if they are cooked through. They should not have hard centres.
- Using a rice spoon, gently air the rice to ensure the grains do not stick together to form lumps.
- While the rice is cooking, prepare the motis or pearls. Grate the paneer and mix the rest of the ingredients in it.
- Use the heel of your palm to crush and mix the paneer, maida, garam masala, and salt so that you get a soft, even dough. Shape this into small balls, slightly bigger than peas.
- Heat oil for deep-frying and when the oil starts to give off smoke, fry the paneer balls in it for a few seconds.
- Take care not to fry the balls for too long as they should remain white and not turn golden.
- Place the paneer balls on kitchen paper to drain excess oil.
- Sprinkle the fried paneer balls over the pulao and mix them in, partly with a fork, so that the rice grains don’t break.
- Decorate with silver vark and serve hot with a curry of your choice.
In Your Kitchen
Use the juice of beetroot, haldi (turmeric) and pudina (mint leaves) to make colourful paneer balls for your modern day pulao. Though far from the world of Basra pearls, they look just as enchanting.