Over the years I’ve been been fortunate enough celebrate Christmas and other holidays like Diwali and Hanukkah with loved ones. This time of year is an important in our family. That may sound a little strange given that we’re a Pakistani family but for us, Christmas is as wonderful a time of the year as Eid.

Christmas Day on the Isle of Man always began with presents, then we would go to Auntie Mercy and Namita’s house for lunch and spend a lazy evening at Auntie Kate and Uncle John’s house (essentially our third set of unofficial grandparents).

At night there would often be a party amongst our family friends. Everyone would bring along a dish of something or other to share. There would be flavours from almost every corner of Pakistan as well as the world. Then late night, the kids would gather, we’d smoke sheesha and crack jokes well into Boxing Day.

On the Isle of Man is where I began to understand the complex and divine flavours from all over the world, it is through food, family and friends that I understood how important it was to share our culture and love and celebrate each other with one another. In just one day, my siblings and I would celebrate Christmas with people of so many different faiths, beliefs, traditions and walks of life.

I like to think that my parents knew exactly what they were doing, that by exposing my siblings and I to so much diversity they ensured their children grew up with tolerance and love for everyone.

You know I’m sure there are people who will question my parent’s values as Muslims, but I know the humans who read this can understand that my parents are probably some of the best examples of humanity and Islam that I happen to have. The greatest gift they ever gave us at Christmas was their openness to the world and embracing everyone as their brothers and sisters. I think when people call this the season of giving; nothing really embodies it more for me than this spirit of theirs.

As far as this recipe goes, this Christmas Kabuli Pulao is an amalgamation of all my Decembers. My favourite Pathan/Afghan flavours so reminiscent of my childhood on the Isle of Man, friendships and travels with P in my twenties. I’ve married them with the cherished Christmas spices that laced Auntie Kate’s cakes, the clementine’s Namita, my siblings and I would eat as children like they were going out of fashion, Ahmed’s affection of rice (only second to his love for me) and my heart on a plate.


Christmas Kabuli Pulao

Spice Mix

This may seem like a lot of spices for one dish, but trust me, it’s so necessary.

– 2 bay leaves
– 2tbsp organic dried cranberries
– 1tsp whole green cardamoms
– 1tsp whole cloves
– 1tsp whole peppercorns
– 2tsp coconut sugar
– 1tsp ground nutmeg
– 1tsp ground ginger
– 1tsp ground cinnamon
– 1tsp ground cumin
– 1tsp ground coriander
– 1tsp ground cardamom (optional)
– 1tsp fine Himalayan pink salt


  • 2tbsp coconut oil
  • 2tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1kg of goat shoulder on the bone (get it cut into small pieces by the butcher)
  • Christmas Pilau Kabuli Spice Mix
  • 5 cups of white basmati rice*
  • Zest and juice of one clementine
  • 1tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 6 cups of water

To serve

  • 2tbsp butter
  • 1tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1 cup of grated carrot
  • 1 cup of pomegranate arils
  • 1/4 cup of chopped pistachios
  • Some goat’s yoghurt, with a swirl of ground cumin


  1. Start by melting two tablespoons of coconut oil on a medium heat in a pan and add two teaspoons of cumin seeds.
  2. Once the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the onions and sauté them for about ten minutes. Cover the pan and leave the onions for as long as you can but at least thirty minutes. You’ll have to stir them every ten minutes or so.
  3. Meanwhile, braze your meat in another pan in hot sunflower oil and set aside.
  4. Once the onions are brown, add your brazed meat, the Chrismas Pulao Kabuli Spice Mix and sauté for a minute to combine the ingredients.
  5. Then add the zest, clementine juice, almond extract and water – bring contents to a boil and then lower the heat.
  6. Here you have two choices, either you can cover the pan simmer until the meat is tender or (and this is what I’m doing), cover the pan with the lid, and turn the heat low-medium and simmer the contents for three hours or so until the meat is falling off the bone and you have a gloriously rich yakhni for the Christmas Kabuli Pulao.
  7. Once you are ready to add the rice, begin by lining the bottom of the lid for the pan with a big sheet of foil, which will seal the pulao completely. (See example: http://media.oceanofrecipes.com/images/indian/bai-biryani/13.JPG)
  8. Add the rice to pan and bring the entire mixture to a boil (do not skip boiling the rice). I recommend doing this step after your guests have arrived so they get freshly made Christmas Kabuli Pulao.
  9. Cover the pan with the lid, lower the heat completely and leave for twenty minutes and then remove from the heat.
  10. Next melt the butter on a high heat in a saucepan and add the carrots and sugar. Continue to stir fry the carrots on a high heat for a few minutes. Remove from heat and set a side.
  11. Serve the rice on a platter, top with carrots, pomegranate arils and chopped pistachios and yoghurt on the side.


*For pulao, use really good quality basmati rice. I soak my rice for a few hours, this way you get beautiful long grains of basmati rice in the pulao. Overcooked rice in pulao is a serious faux pas.

Write A Comment