Georgian Funeral Rice

Shila plavi is a peppery, caraway-scented lamb pilaf that’s so deeply comforting, it’s traditionally cooked for the bereft.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    45 minutes

Benjamin Kemper

By Benjamin Kemper

Published on February 24, 2023

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I don’t attend many funerals in Georgia, which is why it took me so long to taste one of the country’s most comforting—yet shockingly little-known—dishes: shila plavi, a peppery Georgian lamb pilaf similar to risotto that’s traditionally served to the bereft. But a few months ago, while visiting my friend Sopo Gorgadze’s farm and restaurant in Kakheti, I found what would become my favorite version of the dish. Made with arborio instead of the usual long-grain rice, and with so much black pepper and caraway that their quantities look like typos, Sopo’s shila plavi is al dente and extra-aromatic, with chunks of juicy lamb and shards of salty cheese on top. 

Nobody knows how shila plavi came to be associated with funerals—even Georgian food historians are stumped. But if Occam’s razor is to be believed, it’s probably because the dish is so deeply soothing that it makes a wonderful balm against hardship and grief. So live a little, and eat Georgian funeral rice.


  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 12 oz. boneless lamb leg or loin (see footnote), trimmed and cut into ½-in. chunks
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups short-grain rice such as Carnaroli or arborio
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. caraway seeds, finely ground
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tsp. dill seeds (optional)
  • ¾ cup dry wine (red or white)
  • 3¼ cups lamb, beef, or chicken stock, or water, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup coarsely grated pecorino or other hard sheep’s-milk cheese, plus more for garnish


Step 1

To a pot set over high heat, add the oil. When it’s shimmering and hot, add the lamb, sprinkle with the salt, and cook, stirring every minute or so, until browned with a few pink spots remaining, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and translucent (but not browned), about 7 minutes more. 

Step 2

Add the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until coated in oil and translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the caraway, black pepper, and dill seeds if using, then pour in the wine and cook, stirring continuously, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 1 minute more. Turn the heat to high and add 1½ cups of the stock and the bay leaf. When the liquid boils, turn the heat down to maintain a strong simmer and cook, stirring every minute or so, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 6–8 minutes. Add the remaining stock, return the liquid to a boil, then simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked to your liking, about 8 minutes for al dente or 11 for soft. Remove from the heat.

Step 3

Add the butter and pecorino and stir until both have melted, about 1 minute. Season the shila plavi with salt to taste, then serve immediately, sprinkled with more pecorino and black pepper.

Note: An equal weight of ground lamb, though nontraditional, may be substituted with excellent results.

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