Lamb Pilau – A simpler delicious alternative to Biryani

Biryani is a rice dish, originating in Persia during the Moghul era.
A Pilau or Pilaf which is also a rice and meat dish, is similar to a biryani, except that it may or may not contain yogurt during the marinating of the meat process.  I find that a Pilau is easier to cook than a biryani, hence me blogging this tried and tested recipe for those who have requested it.  Serve with atchaar, a green salad, a cucumber and mint raita or sambals and papadums, this is definitely a dish of kings and a speciality in South African Indian cuisine, where this dish is prepared mainly for special occasions, or an after payday weekend meal.  The saffron infusion is what adds flavour to this dish, and Spanish saffron is the saffron of choice.


1 kg lamb leg or best end shoulder chops, cut up                           
50ml ghee or oil
1 cinnamon sticks
2 Bay Leaves
4 cardamom pods
2 large onion, finely sliced
3-4 tsp  freshly ground garlic and ginger paste
3-4 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1.5 tsp coarse salt
62,5ml fresh cream
3 cups cooked basmati, bimli or ordinary long grain rice
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm thick rounds
250ml frozen peas
Extra oil for frying potatoes
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp saffron strands
Fresh coriander and mint to garnish
Here’s How 
  • Fry the sliced potatoes until pale golden brown. Remove from heat and drain in a colander. Dab off excess oil with absorbent paper towel.
  • Fry thinly sliced onion in hot oil until deep golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper.
  • Heat the saffron strands in a frying pan. When the saffron strands are cool, crush them using your fingertips.
  • Pour 200ml boiling water over the crushed saffron. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes. This process releases the aroma and colour of the saffron strands.
  • Heat 50ml oil in a pot on a medium heat and fry cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and bay leaves until fragrant.
  • Add chopped onion to the oil and sauté until golden brown.
  • Add ginger and garlic paste and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add chilli powder and stir for 2 – 3 seconds only. The mixture in the pot should resemble a thick spice paste.
  • Add lamb cubes and coat the pieces in the fried onion paste.
  • Add salt, ground cumin, coriander, garam masala and turmeric and continue stirring the lamb ensuring that the meat does not stick and burn.
  • Add 500ml boiling water when the meat begins to stick and simmer for about 45 minutes until the meat is tender. Add more boiling water if necessary.
  • Stir in fresh cream.
  • Remove from heat and layer the peas over the lamb.
  • Then add the fried potatoes followed by the rice.
  • Pour saffron infusion over the rice.
  • Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Steam the lamb pilau on very low heat until the saffron infusion evaporates taking care to check that the lamb does not stick and burn.
  • This should take about ten minutes.
  • Adjust the seasoning and garnish with fresh coriander, mint and fried onion slices.
Helpful Hints
  • Cook the rice in advance and allow to cool before layering over the lamb. This helps keep the rice grains separate and prevents the Pilau from becoming sticky.
  • Butter may replace ghee or oil.
  • Chicken can be cooked in the same way. Chicken on the bone is always the best option. I use a chicken weighing about 1,2 – 1,4kg for the 3 cup quantity of rice.
  • You may omit the fresh cream and frozen peas and to create a biryani look-alike, add brown lentils (biryani dhall / masoor dhall).  The lentils give the dish a biryani taste and feel.
  • For a fuss free dinner…Cook the lamb in advance and refrigerate once cool.
  • Add the peas, rice, potatoes and saffron infusion and simmer 20 minutes before serving.
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Prava Singh

A Mom, daughter, wife, sister, aunt and friend experiencing life through an evolutionary body with a revolutionary mind... A recent past former Type 2 insulin dependent and hypertensive walking time-bomb for 13.5 years, I have made positive lifestyle changes that has aided and abetted my health status for my overall betterment. Passionate about all things food, with a proud Indian heritage, I regularly blog my culinary attempts that have worked for me in my endeavours to break the shackles of food addictions and food slavery. Passionate about people too, my decision to share these endeavours is driven by informing others that a lifestyle change through food is indeed possible. I have indeed survived high school and survived life too in the most interesting and thought-provoking ways. Having lost over 50kgs of excess weight in just under a year, I have reclaimed my life and am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

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