Vegetarian Pulao with Lime Pickle and Raita

Sweet-tart flavors sing in Romy Gill’s plant-based riff on a festive Himalayan rice dish.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    1 hour 18 minutes


By Romy Gill

Published on February 2, 2023

Pulao is part of a family of festive, elaborately spiced rice dishes of which pilaf and biryani are also members. On my travels along the Himalayan Trail, I had the pleasure of eating Yarkhandi pulao. Made with fatty lamb, nuts, and warm spices, I loved the traditional dish’s rich sweetness, which comes from a sprinkling of dried apricots and raisins as well as carrots, which lend the rice its beautiful orange color. The fragrance of spiced rice has always reminded me of my childhood in West Bengal. It’s believed that the Mughals, who ruled India from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, introduced Persian, Turkish, Mongolian, and Afghan cuisine to the Subcontinent, and ingredients and techniques from the Middle East and Central Asia still persist in India’s foodways today. There are many ways of making a pulao. Indian versions differ from their Persian ancestors in that they contain more whole spices and chiles. Some are meat- or poultry-based while others are meatless. My family and neighbors prefer to go easy on the meat, so I developed this Yarkhandi-inspired vegetarian pulao recipe just for them. A satisfying meal all on its own, I like to serve it with a creamy raita and lime pickles (achaar). 


For the pulao:

  • 2½ cup basmati rice
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. sunflower oil or ghee
  • 4 green cardamom pods, smashed with the side of a knife
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 black cardamom pods, smashed with the side of a knife
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 5 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1¼ cup frozen peas
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1¼ cup coarsely chopped dried figs
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped dried cherries
  • Lime achaar (South Asian pickle), for serving

For the raita:

  • 1¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, coarsely grated (¾ cup)
  • 3–4 Tbsp. whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt or chaat masala


Step 1

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the rice and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender but still toothsome, 3–4 minutes. In a large fine-mesh sieve, drain the rice, discarding the cooking liquid. Set aside.

Step 2

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. To a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the sunflower oil, green cardamom, bay leaves, black cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin seeds. Fry the spices, stirring frequently, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are golden brown and soft, 8–10 minutes. Stir in the peas and carrot, the remaining salt, and the black pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved rice, the figs, and cherries, cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil, then immediately transfer to the oven and bake until the rice is cooked through, 30–35 minutes.

Step 3

Meanwhile, prepare the raita: In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, apple, 3 tablespoons milk, the mint, sugar, cumin, and salt. If the mixture is very thick, stir in the remaining tablespoon of milk, then set aside.

Step 4

Using a large serving spoon or fork, fluff the rice. Serve hot, with achaar and the raita on the side.

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