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Pulao for special occasions

Subtly spiced and wonderfully aromatic, semya-chemeen pulao is cooked in coastal Karnataka as well as adjacent districts in Kerala

Pulao for special occasions

Pushpesh Pant

Whenever the word pulao is mentioned, the images that the mind conjures up are of flavourful yakhni pulao, prepared with mutton, or murg pulao, which is considered healthier. There are, of course, myriad vegetarian versions. Top of the heap is the gucchi pulao that incorporates expensive and exotic wild mushrooms for Kashmir, to the simple jeera pulao at the bottom. In between, matar pulao, navratan pulao and, at times, gatta pulao rub shoulders. There are even some sweet pulaos like aam or ananas ka Muzaffar and mutanjan (made from mutton and rice).

There was a time when pulao was the jewel in the crown of the Awadhi dastarkhan. The bawarchis who cooked for the nawabs competed with one other in creating novelties to titillate the jaded palate of their patrons. Moti pulao and sheesranga pulao are seldom encountered nowadays.

Some time at the turn of the last century, biryani pushed the pulao off the centrestage. Before this, birinj pulao (ancestor of biryani) was just one of many pulao in a long list. This is not the place to go into details of why and how this happened but today, well-made pulao has become almost extinct. This is the reason our heart jumped with joy when our hosts Anurag Malik and Supriya Ganpathy treated us to a subtly spiced and wonderfully aromatic semya-chemeen (prawn sevian) pulao at a delightfully curated meal at their restaurant Oota in Bengaluru. The dish is cooked in coastal Karnataka as well as in the adjacent districts in Kerala. Sevian substitute the rice, breaking the monotony, and the prawns lighten it very pleasantly. A great dish for special occasions.

Prawn sevian pulao


Prawns (medium, shelled 18-20 and deveined, retain tails)

Sevian (roasted) 1 cup

Tomato (medium) 1

Onion (medium) 1

Garlic-ginger paste 1 tsp

Green chillies (crushed) 2

Bay leaf 1

Cinnamon stick 1-inch piece

Cloves 2-3

Black peppercorns 6-8

Green cardamoms 2

Red chilli powder 1 tsp

Coriander powder 1 tsp

Turmeric powder ¼ tsp

Royal cumin seeds ½ tsp

Ghee/butter 1 tbsp

Coconut milk (optional) ¼ cup

Salt To taste

Mint leaves A small sprig


  • Wash the prawns and pat dry. Chop the tomatoes. Finely, chop onions. Heat ghee/butter in a thick-bottomed pan. Add royal cumin seeds and the rest of the whole spices. Stir-fry on high flame for 30 seconds. Add the onions. When these turn light golden brown, add ginger-garlic paste and crushed green chillies. Add tomatoes and continue to stir-fry on medium high flame for two minutes. Add the prawns in the pan and gently stir-fry for a minute to blend all ingredients. Sprinkle the powdered spices, along with salt, and add two cups of hot water. Bring to a boil on high flame. Add the roasted sevian. Cover with lid and cook on medium flame for about five minutes. Uncover. Ensure that all the moisture is absorbed. Sprinkle coconut milk, if using. Cover again. Cook on dum on very low heat for another four to five minutes. Uncover, garnish with mint leaves and serve hot with choice of pachadi/raita and a slice of pickle.
  • The recipe may appear simple, and indeed it is so. But it is not foolproof. It takes little time but requires constant supervision. If you are distracted for even a short while, the sevian will turn lumpy and the pulao will be ruined. You may start with a little less than two cups of water and like to cook the pulao uncovered. Sprinkle the rest of the water as required. Don’t worry excessively as both the prawns and the roasted sevian don’t require much cooking.

#Karnataka #Kerala

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