Yakhni Pilau is a rich South Asian dish that fills up the senses with the aroma of mild spices and warms up the soul with the love it’s made with. Pilau reminds me of my nani’s (grandmother) wrinkled hands as she stirred the pot in her kitchen or my mother’s insistence that I finish up the plate through assertive, loving spoonfuls. When I cook Pilau now, each bite brings back tasteful memories of the love of family. This Valentine’s Day my children and I cooked a meal together and made our own memories of family, love and the joy of Pilau.
The love that South Asians have for food and cooking is long established. My family lived by the slogan: “The family that cooks together stays together”. My father was just as involved in the kitchen. The sight of him standing by the stove, adding spices generously and singing loudly is one of the most joyful one of my childhood. He made us all his assistants and we happily handed over spices to him, smelling the aromas and watching in delight as they mixed in the pot adding their own color. In Pakistan we were lucky to have regular help in the kitchen, so these cooking adventures happened only on weekends or on special occasions. I secretly wished for our cook to take long vacations so that I could watch my parents cook more.
When I moved to Canada, I realized that nostalgia was an important part of my cooking, just like many other aspects of my immigrant life. I tried to cook Pilau like my nani in winter days, Nihari like my Phupo on special occasions and Yakhni like my mother when I was sick. As we raise our children as Pakistani-Canadians in Canada, in some ways we are totally desi. Breakfast is not complete on weekends without Parathas, every outdoor activity is planned around meals and a picnic experience becomes epic with a big bundled up pot of hot steaming Pilau.
As my children are growing older, I have realized that I can not live in my world of nostalgia and need to create memories for my own children. I’m the mothership now and the base my little ones look upto. This Valentine’s Day I could not think of a better way to celebrate love but to cook with my children and enjoy a meal we had all cooked together. I want my children to love cooking because not only is this an essential life skill but research has shown that there’s a link between children cooking with their parents and having healthy eating habits later on in life. I also want them to learn that love is as much about giving as taking and cooking for the special people in your life is a great way to show your love.
Any special meal starts with planning and my daughter and I discussed what we wanted to cook. Punjabi Yakhni Pilau was a winner since the Shan recipe is easy to follow and always turns out great. The Pilau is quite a complete meal with the chicken and rice. The taste is also mild for young children and those who can’t tolerate hot spices. To compliment the Pilau we decided to make raita, salad and potato cutlets.
All recipes below:
Punjabi Yakhni Pilau
One of the things I love about the Shan Punjabi Yakhni Pilau Mix is that the packet contains all the spices needed to make Pilau, so it cuts the hassle of collecting and stocking them individually. All you need on hand is the spice mix packet. The recipe is right at the back of the box so no need to fumble with the phone or a recipe book.
- Chicken (around 750g cubes and bones) – you can also use this recipe for red meat
- Rice 3 cups
- Onions 4 medium size (chopped)
- Ginger/Garlic Paste 3 tablespoon
- Oil 1 cup
- Shan Punjabi Yakhni Pilau Mix 1 packet
Steps for Cooking:
- Fill up a pot with water and add the chicken along with ginger/garlic paste and the Shan Punjabi Yakhni Pilau Mix. (Children can help in this step by emptying the contents of the spice mix packet on the chicken)
- Cover the pot and cook till meat becomes tender
- Soak the rice in water (Children can measure the cups of rice and add water)
- Remove the meat from the stock. Keep both separately
- Fry onions in the same pot till they are golden brown
- Add the meat and fry a little
- Drain the water from the rice and add the rice to the pot
- Add 6 cups of stock to the pot (if the stock is not too hot, children can help with the measuring and pouring). Feel free to drink the extra stock.
- Stir the contents of the pot. Cover and let it cook on medium heat for around 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and mix the pilau. All done!
Raita is flavored yogurt. I cut up some onions and cucumbers for my daughter and gave her some yogurt, salt and pepper. She added everything together and felt like quite the chef creating the dish herself.
We made some classic Kachomar salad to go with the Pilau. I cut up tomatoes, onions and cucumbers and added some fresh lemon juice on top. My daughter added the salt and mixed everything up.
Setting the table
Pilau is served best out of the pot so we made the pot the centre of our table. We got some decorations from Michaels and used them around the table. To give our Pilau an extra spice kick for the adults, we added Shan Mango Pickle.
Keeping the kids seated on the table throughout dinner is a challenge all parents face. I learnt a little trick from a parent-tot Waldorf class my daughter and I attended. I add a candle to the table which is lit once all food is on the table and everyone is seated. The rule is that you can’t get off the table while the candle is on. Once everyone finishes their food, the children can blow the candle off together.
We had a great time enjoying a meal we had cooked together. The children felt involved and part of the process. Most important of all we made some special memories I hope my children will look back to lovingly whenever they eat Pilau themselves as they grow older.
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