This Palau could be described as Afghanistan’s national dish. Any Palau, including this one, can be served either as a meal on its own or with qorma (vegetable dish). If you use lamb, as in this recipe, trim the excess fat to prevent the palau from becoming too greasy. This version uses the sof method of preparing rice, in which the rice is soaked, parboiled and then cooked in juices from the meat.
1 pound (2 ½ cups) long grain rice, preferably basmati
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 ½ to 2 pounds lamb on the bone or chicken, jointed
salt and pepper to taste
2 large carrots
4 ounces black seedless raisins
2 teaspoons char masala or cumin
¼ teaspoon saffron
Rinse the rice several times in cold water until the water runs clear. Add fresh water and leave the rice to soak for at least half an hour, preferably longer.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large pan and add the onions; stir and cook until brown. Remove the onions and set them aside; add the lamb or chicken to the hot oil. Brown the meat well on all sides. Add one cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer until the meat is tender. After the meat is cooked, remove it from the broth and set it on a plate; keep warm. Grind the onions to a pulp and add t hem to the meat broth; stir well. Reserve.
While the meat is cooking, wash and peel the carrots and cut into pieces the size of matchsticks. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small pan and add the carrots. Cook gently until the carrots are lightly browned and tender (it may be necessary to add a little water, which should evaporate during cooking). Add the raisins and cook gently until they begin to swell. Remove the raisins from the oil and set aside with the carrots. Reserve remaining oil for the rice.
Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a pot and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the rinsed rice to the boiling water. Parboil for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain in a large sieve. Pour the rice into a large casserole and sprinkle with char masala and saffron. Measure ¾ cup of the reserved meat juices and pour over the rice, stirring once. Place the cooked meat on one side of the casserole and the carrots and raisins on the other adding the reserved oil. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven to bake for about 45 minutes; you can also cook it in a tightly covered pan on top of the stove over very low heat for the same length of time.
To serve, remove the carrots and raisins and set aside. Place one quarter of the rice on a serving platter. Top the rice with the meat, then cover with the remaining rice. Garnish with the carrots and raisins.