Navratan Pulao: Rice cooked with nine accompaniments
Navratan pulao is a colorful assemblage of nine different ingredients (vegetables, nuts
and/or paneer) with rice, tempered with a sweet and spice mix. It's a no-fuss meal needing minimal effort to prepare. I love having it with plain yogurt and some pan roasted papad.
My version of navratan pulao has no onions or garlic. I like to partially cook the rice while tossing the veggies, and then adding the half-cooked rice to the pulao. However, you can fully cook the rice and then add it to the veggies or even use left over rice if you have from a previous meal.
Tips on making this pulao vegan? How is this different from any other pulao? Read further in the post!
The history of pulao is traceable to Persia where it is called pilav to Greece where it is referred as pilaf . On travelling to India from Persia, we find the term pulao. There are some more variants of pulao: pulav, palav, palau across different geographical regions and cultures. Some even argue that the Spanish paella is also a variation of the Indo-Persian pulao or pilaf.
Can I make this dish vegan?
Absolutely, yes! You can totally skip paneer and use another vegetable or nut of your choice to combine nine ingredients or you can replace paneer with tofu. The tempering of Navratan pulao involves milk. Use a non-dairy milk to make it vegan!
How is Navratan pulao different from a regular pulao?
Although the literal translation of 'navratan' is nine gems (nine ingredients, each rendering a different flavour), there is no strict rule that you cannot make it with lesser ingredients. Here are some points that make this pulao from a regular pulao:
A regular pulao can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Navratan pulao on the other hand is always vegetarian, unless someone is twisting it from its traditionality.
Navratan pulao tends to have a more nutty and a slightly sweet taste as compared to regular pulao. The tempering agent in a navratan pulao is saffron milk or sugar, and that renders a sweet fragrance to it.
This pulao involves a lot more vegetables and a definite addition of more than one nut, which you will not find in a usual pulao.
1 and 1/2 cups of Basmati raw/cooked rice (or any long grain rice of your choice)
Vegetables: 1/4 cup each of about 5 types of diced vegetables like potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, French beans and green peas
Nuts: 2 tbsp each of about 3 types of nuts like cashews, almonds and walnuts
1/4 cup of paneer or tofu (or use another vegetable or nut if you don't want to use paneer or tofu)
2 and 1/2 tbsp oil
Dry whole spices: 2 bay leaves, 4 green cardamoms, 5 peppercorns, 1 big cinnamon
1 tsp raisins (optional)
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup of saffron infused milk (use plant-based milk for vegan version, and if you don't have saffron, use a pinch of turmeric)
Salt to taste
Infuse the milk:
Warm the milk to be tepid and then add a few strands of saffron or a pinch of turmeric and let it rest.
Soak or cook the rice:
Wash the rice and soak it in water. If you don't want to partially cook the rice before hand or if you have pre-cooked rice, move to sautéing vegetables.
In a pot, bring water to a rolling boil.
Drain the water from the rice and add it to the boiling water.
Once the rice is about 80% cooked, drain the water and keep the rice aside.
Sauté the vegetables:
In a pan or wok on medium heat, add 1 tbsp oil and add the potatoes.
After about 3 minutes, add the carrots, and then then the beans. Continue sautéing until the vegetables are almost cooked.
Take out the potatoes and carrots into a plate, and now add the paneer. Sauté for about 3 minutes and then remove into the plate of tossed vegetables.
Add the second tbsp of oil and then add the cauliflower florets. Sauté for the next couple of minutes until golden brown.
Now add the peas and sauté a bit more.
Add the spices, nuts and rice
In the pan simmering with the cauliflower and peas, add the dry whole spices (except the bay leaves) and give everything a good mix.
Add the nuts and raisins, and toss for some more time.
Add the rice and some salt, and mix. Adjust salt according to your taste.
Add the cardamom and cinnamon powders and mix again.
Temper with milk and finish
In a separate pan, heat 1/2 tbsp oil, and then add the cumin seeds and the bay leaves.
As the heat goes up, add the infused milk and some water (enough to cook the rice). Stir it well.
Now add this milk onto the pan or wok with the rice and vegetables.
Cover the pan or wok and cook for about 10 minutes on a low to medium flame.
After 10 minutes, you can continue cooking for some more time if the rice is not soft to eat yet.
When you open the pan, the spicy sweet smell will take you into a different world of love! Enjoy!