Qabuli Palao with Sabzi
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Qabuli Palao (Afghan, Vegan, Gluten Free)

I haven’t posted much lately. I’ve had a slow recovery from hand surgery on March 30, which has limited my computer time. Basically I had to chose between computer and kitchen–guess which one won!

Much of my time in the kitchen has been focused on completion of my Professional Plant-Based Chef certification program at Toward the end of the course, we’ve had a number of assignments that encourage us to explore flavor profiles from around the world.

One assignment was to have a meal at a restaurant serving a type of cuisine you’ve never tried before, and to research the cuisine’s flavor profile. I took advantage of a trip to San Diego to try Afghan cuisine at Khyber Pass, a restaurant opened many years ago by refugees from Afghanistan. How had I never been there before? I had a wonderful vegetarian plate highlighting several Afghan dishes, which got me eager to try making my own.

When the time came to apply a cuisine’s flavor profile to a rice and lentil dish, I knew it was my chance to take a virtual culinary trip to Afghanistan.  While Afghan cuisine typically features meat, there are tons of vegetarian dishes and variations. I set my sights on Qabuli Palao, which is often described as Afghanistan’s national dish: it’s essentially a rice pilaf featuring bold spices and topped with lightly fried carrots and raisins.

A key technique used in most Afghan savory dishes is to fry onions in oil until they’re golden, which provides a rich base flavor. If you want an oil-free version, you can dry-sauté they onions, using some vegetable broth to deglaze the pan. The character of the dish won’t be quite the same, though.

In Afghanistan, rice is typically served with one or more stews. I made Sabzi, a flavorful stewed spinach dish, to serve with the Qabuli Palao.

This recipe make eight servings. You could easily cut it in half, but the leftovers are delicious too.

Qabuli Palao with Sabzi
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5 from 1 vote

Qabuli Palao

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Afghan, Vegan
Keyword: Gluten Free
Servings: 8
Calories: 358kcal
Author: Singing Vegan


  • 1 onion diced
  • 1/2 cup lentils rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • 1-2 tablespoon oil For frying. Optional. Refined coconut oil or avocado oil work well.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 5-6  cups water
  • 2 carrots small carrots cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup almonds or pistachio nuts, roughly chopped (optional)


  • In a large skillet or saucepan, fry the onions in about 1 tablespoon oil until golden brown, seasoning with salt.
  • Add the spices (except for the saffron) and cook a minute or two, until fragrant.
  • Add the rice, lentils, saffron and 5 cups water. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer, adding more water if necessary, until the rice and lentils are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat while you finish the dish.
  • Sauté the carrots in 1-2 tsp oil with sugar until tender. Remove from oil and reduce the heat. Add the raisins to the oil and fry until they are swollen. Remove from the oil. Finally add the nuts to the oil and cook until just golden brown (don’t let them burn).
  • Serve the rice topped with the nuts, carrots, and raisins.


Calories: 358kcal | Carbohydrates: 66g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 27mg | Potassium: 480mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 2548IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 68mg | Iron: 3mg

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  1. 5 stars
    Yum! I’ve always loved Qabuli Palau from foreign student potlucks, and I was so excited to make my own plant-based version! It came out great, maybe a little dry. Next time, I’ll take the rice mixture off the heat while there’s still a little liquid in the pan. The exotic spices are a lovely mixture, and when it’s all eaten with the carrots, raisins, and pistachios, Magic!!!! Looking forward to the leftovers!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the dish. I haven’t made it in a while…so now I’m inspired to make it again.

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