Pea pulao is an aromatic rice dish with mild spices and green peas. It’s a gluten-free one-pot meal in itself. Indian festive thalis often feature some sort of rice dish; this pea pulao is one of them. There are so many ways you can make it – you can cook it in a pressure cooker or an instant pot. Although I have both options available (and I do cook pulao in a pressure cooker and instant pot), the recipe I am about to share here is by far my favourite way to make pea pulao. I find that, with this method, the rice gets wonderfully fluffy and light; packed with aromas of Indian spices, just the way you’d have at any restaurant in India.
What kind of rice do you use for this dish?
Aromatic white basmati rice makes a lovely pulao. For best results, go for an extra-long grain basmati rice. Better still, if possible, get aged basmati rice so the grains won’t stick to each other. You can even try this recipe with brown basmati rice; however, the cooking time will increase and it will alter the texture and flavour of the pulao. Either way, make sure to wash and soak the rice in cold water for 20-30 minutes. This gets rid of excess starch which helps to keep each rice grain separate, light and airy. Also, avoid using rice that’ll go mushy after cooking.
Why only peas? Can I not add other vegetables to this dish?
In India, pea pulao is about as popular as vegetable pulao. So depending on what you fancy, you can add peas or other vegetables (like cauliflower, carrot and potatoes) or even paneer (homemade or not) like I’ve done here. The reason I am talking about pea pulao in particular is to focus on the cooking technique of the rice itself rather than worrying about the vegetables. This pea pulao is a reasonably minimalistic recipe and I have used peas and paneer (a fresh cheese with a milky flavour, a bit like ricotta or cottage cheese but firmer in texture) to add another dimension.
What kind of peas should I use?
As much as I love fresh peas and appreciate their seasonal bounty, they are not available all year round in the UK. In summer, I use my garden peas when making pulao but I tend to resort to frozen peas at other times of the year. Besides, frozen peas are really just as fresh tasting as real fresh peas. Their freshness is wonderfully preserved by freezing within an hour of harvest whereas ‘fresh’ peas are at least a day old by the time you buy them. Frozen peas are also sweeter, tender and delicious and just perfect to go in a rice preparation such as this. So, if you can get fresh peas and have the patience to shell the pods, please feel free to use them in this recipe. If you do use fresh peas, you will need to sauté them a little longer.
Is this pulao (or pulav) vegan? How can it be made vegan?
If you skip the paneer and butter, or replace with tofu and vegan butter respectively, this dish could easily be vegan besides being gluten free.
How to best enjoy this pea pulao or matar pulav?
You’d typically enjoy this rice dish with a curry of some sort like korma etc. I have it with tadka dal but I like it best with some Maharashtrian kadhi.
How do you cook this pea pulao or matar pulav?
The rice is cooked in two stages. First it’s boiled al-dente with aromatic spices in plenty of water. The water is gently drained out and the rice is left to rest on a big plate. The idea is to release all the trapped steam from the cooked rice to stop it sticking. In the second stage, the peas are sautéed in ginger-garlic paste and spices before adding the cooked rice to the pan. Lastly, sprinkle what we call birista or beresta, on top to add extra texture and flavour.
Pea Pulao / Matar Pulav / Pilaf RiceCourse: MainCuisine: IndianDifficulty: Medium
185g (1 cup) extra long grain basmati rice (washed and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes)
140g (1 cup) frozen peas
100g paneer (diced) (optional, skip or replace with tofu if you’re vegan)
1 large onion (sliced)
7 garlic cloves (crushed)
½ inch ginger (crushed)
6 green chillies (slit and optionally deseeded to taste)
½ a lime
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
5 green cardamom pods
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp black cumin seeds (use regular cumin seeds if the black ones aren’t available)
1 heaped tsp garam masala
1 tsp pav bhaji masala (optional)
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter (skip or replace with any vegan butter, if you’re vegan)
Salt to taste
Water for boiling rice
- Essential equipment:
A deep heavy bottomed saucepan for boiling rice
A large flat plate to rest the rice
A large sauté pan
- Start by boiling plenty of water (about 5 times the quantity of the rice) in a deep heavy pan over a medium to high flame. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, black peppercorns and cloves.
- Add 1 tsp salt to the boiling water followed by the rice. Then squeeze in the lime.
- Boil the rice for 6 minutes without a lid. Stir gently every minute or so to ensure the rice doesn’t settle at the bottom of the pan. Check whether the rice is cooked by either tasting it or breaking a grain between your fingers.
- Switch off the flame when the rice is cooked but still ever so slightly al-dente. Strain the rice in a sieve and toss to release some of the steam. Then spread it out on a large plate and rest for a couple of minutes to let the steam fully dissipate.
- Fry the sliced onion in vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over a medium to high flame. Continue frying until the onion is nicely browned. Then, lay it out on kitchen paper to crisp up.
- Optionally, if you’re adding paneer cubes to your pulao, lightly fry them until golden brown in the same pan and oil. Transfer them into a bowl of water to keep the cheese moist and soft.
- In the same pan using the leftover oil, crackle the black cumin seeds followed by the green chillies over a medium flame. Fry the crushed ginger-garlic until semi-translucent and immediately tip in the frozen peas and sauté for a minute. If using fresh peas, cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Add salt to taste bearing in mind that there is already salt in the boiled rice. Add the garam masala and pav bhaji masala and sauté for a minute.
- Toss in the cooked rice that has been resting on a flat plate. Add the butter. Stir and toss gently to mix all the spices with the rice ensuring the rice grains are not broken.
- Finally, add the fried paneer and sprinkle with birista before serving.
- Always toss the rice instead of spooning where possible to avoid breaking the rice grains. It may not always be possible to toss. For example, use the spoon or spatula to gently stir when the rice is boiling in the pan. But do so sparingly and gently.
- When resting the boiled rice on a plate, try to spread it out into a thin layer to encourage the steam to evaporate. Use more than one plate, if needed.
- You can easily swap the frozen peas with fresh. You will need to cover and cook the peas for an extra minute in that case. Try not to overcook them though as you want to retain their inherent sweetness and vivid green colour.
- If at any stage, there isn’t enough oil left in the pan to sauté, add an extra tablespoon but don’t overdo it, the pulao should not be greasy or heavy.
4 servings per container
- Amount Per ServingCalories412
- % Daily Value *
- Total Fat
- Saturated Fat 5.2g 26%
- Cholesterol 12mg 4%
- Sodium 198mg 9%
- Potassium 269mg 8%
- Total Carbohydrate
- Dietary Fiber 4.8g 20%
- Sugars 5.4g
- Protein 9.9g 20%
- Calcium 7%
- Iron 12%
- Vitamin D 10%
* The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.