Kabuli Palao Afghan Lamb Shanks with Rice Carrots and Raisins
Kabuli Palao Afghan Lamb Shanks with Rice Carrots and Raisins

Kabuli Palao is a popular Afghan dish often served during celebrations such as Ramadan. Tender spiced lamb is served with rice speckled with almonds, pistachios, carrots and sultanas.

Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and Muslims around the world celebrate with a feast. Lamb, often bought whole, is considered the best meat for family, friends and neighbors, who often stop by unannounced during the three-day celebration. Often the lamb is cooked and reheated in advance, while the accompanying dishes are freshly prepared by the time visitors walk through the front door.

What is Advieh?

Advieh, a Persian spice mix, is used to flavor the lamb. There are so many blends depending on what they are used for. The Advieh Khadija used in this recipe is from Afghanistan and may be difficult to find in the US. It’s a homemade blend of almonds, walnuts and dried garlic, coriander, parsley and chilies. It’s okay to use any advieh you can find – here’s one.

What is Felfel?

This question gave Khadija pause. “Well, it’s ground red chillies. That’s it! There is only one kind that we use in Afghanistan. They’re bright red from the heat and sun.” Felfel tastes slightly floral, with no smokiness or other distinct flavors. It’s spicy, but not enough to take your breath away. Cayenne pepper is a great substitute—use half the amount.

Options for cooking the lamb

Khadija makes this traditional recipe quick by relying on the Instant Pot to cook the lamb in about half the time it would take to braise in the oven or cook on the stovetop.

No choice but to go retro? Here’s how:

  • Braise in the oven: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the lamb in an ovenproof pot with a lid. Add water, onions and spices. First bring it to a boil on the stove and then put it covered in the oven. Stew it for about 2 hours.
  • Simmer on the stove: Place the lamb in a large pot. Add just enough water to cover them. Add onions and spices. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, with the lid closed but slightly ajar, for about 1 1/2 hours.

Then parboiled steamed rice

The basmati rice is cooked in a method called Palao – the rice is pre-cooked just enough to break through the hardness, drained and then steamed over low heat until the rice at the bottom of the pot is slightly golden and crispy and the rice at the top is fluffy. Khadija has a few tips for us to get the rice on point:

  • If the rice doesn’t look gritty, it doesn’t need to be rinsed.
  • The water used to cook the rice should be saltier than salty. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup kosher salt for about 3 liters of water – use 1/4 cup table or sea salt if you have that. It’s your only chance to flavor the rice from the inside out. I gasped when I saw her pouring salt into the water. She replied with a wink, “Promise me it won’t be too salty.” It wasn’t.
  • While the rice is cooking, stir occasionally with a round wooden spoon. Metal spoons have sharp edges that can break the long grains of rice.

More Ramadan recipes to try

  • Gholphi (Afghan Braised Cauliflower)
  • Asparagus pakoras with lemon yogurt sauce
  • Chana Chaat (Jewel Salad)
  • 3 spice brownies

Kabuli Palao (Afghan lamb shank with rice, carrots and raisins)

preparation time
15 minutes

cooking time
90 minutes

total time
105 minutes

up to 6 servings


  • 2 lamb shanks (about 2 pounds)

  • 2 cups water plus more to cook the rice

  • 1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped

  • 1 teaspoon advieh

  • 1 teaspoon of Felfel or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon curry powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup, plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

  • 3 liters of water

  • 2 cups uncooked white basmati rice

  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

  • 2 teaspoons cumin

  • 1 tablespoon sliced ​​almonds

  • 1 tablespoon shaved pistachios

  • 1 cup sultanas or golden raisins

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 x 1/4-inch matchsticks


  1. Cooking lamb shanks:

    Using the tip of a sharp knife, stab each leg of lamb 4 to 6 times to pierce its outer membrane. Place them in the Instant Pot with 2 cups of water (or use one of the other cooking methods above).

    Scatter over the onions and sprinkle over the Advieh, Felfel, turmeric, curry powder, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to incorporate the spices into the water.

    Secure the Instant Pot with the lid, set the steam valve to “Sealing,” and cook under high pressure for 40 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, cook the rice:

    In a large saucepan, add 3 liters of water, the basmati rice and 1/2 cup of salt. Promise me the rice won’t be too salty. This is your only chance to flavor the rice from the inside. Don’t worry about oversalting. If using table salt, use 1/4 cup.

    You don’t need to rinse the rice, and there should be enough water for the rice to float and swirl around freely while it cooks.

    Put the pot on high heat. Once boiling, cover with a lid and reduce heat to simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Do not stray too far from the stovetop as it can rise and overflow. If this happens, remove the lid until the bubbles subside, then put it back on slightly ajar.

    The rice is done when it’s soft but not mushy and you can no longer see small white dots on the rice grains – the dots indicate the rice is undercooked inside.

    Place a colander in the sink and pour in the rice. Don’t rinse it out. Drain it completely and let it cool down a bit.

  3. Finish cooking the rice:

    Dry and put the same pot on medium heat. It doesn’t need to be rinsed out. Add 2 tablespoons oil and when hot and risqué but not smoking, add the cumin seeds.

    Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting and add the cooked rice. Stir to distribute the cumin seeds throughout. Spread the rice to evenly cover the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. The bottom layer can be crispy and lightly browned – that’s okay! The rice grains on top should curl slightly and look like a crescent moon. Turn off the stove but leave the lid on.

  4. Cook nuts:

    In a small saucepan, add the almonds, pistachios, and just enough water to just cover. Place the pot on high heat and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Place a colander in the sink and drain the nuts well. Place them in a small bowl and set aside.

  5. Fry sultanas:

    In a small skillet, add the sultanas and 1/2 cup oil. Put it on medium heat. Fry the sultanas, stirring frequently, until they puff up into tiny balls. This will take 3 to 5 minutes depending on how fresh the sultanas are.

    Place a fine-mesh colander or heatproof strainer over a bowl and drain the sultanas. Place them in a small bowl and set aside. The oil can be disposed of.

  6. Cook carrots:

    In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. The carrots should not turn brown. When they start to darken, stir in 1 tablespoon of water to cool the pan and stop browning.

  7. Serve rice:

    Use a large spoon to gently stir the rice, scraping off the slightly golden crust on the bottom of the pot, if there is any.

    Arrange about half of the cooked rice on the same serving plate. Top with half the cooked almonds and pistachios, followed by half the fried sultanas and carrots. Repeat the process again with a layer of the remaining rice, nuts, sultanas and carrots. Serve warm.

  8. Arrange the lamb:

    When the lamb is done cooking in the Instant Pot, quickly release the pressure by gently turning the steam valve to the “Vent” position. Use an oven mitt or thick kitchen towel to avoid burning yourself! When all pressure is released, open the lid. The lamb will be tender and the meat will easily separate from the bone.

    Carefully place the lamb on one side of a serving dish large enough to hold the lamb and rice.

    Don’t throw away the lamb cooking liquid. It’s so flavorful and perfect for serving, sipping or drizzled over lamb and rice.

    Refrigerate leftover lamb or rice in separate containers for up to 5 days.

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