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Moti Pulao

Pearl Pilaf


" In Bengal, the celebrations are so much more than just rituals and prayers; Durga Puja is a melting pot of Bengalis coming together every year to celebrate life, love, food, adda and so much more. Of course, having grown up outside Bengal, celebrations are different, but the spirit remains unchanged. Anyway, getting back to the recipe... I had read about something called Moti Pulao. As it transpired, the dish used deep-fried meatballs covered in silver foil/vark, to garnish the rice, almost as if pearls or ‘moti’ were adorning the pulao.’’



 Durga Pujo is here….and THAT calls for a special meal, like this Moti Pulao that was yesterday’s special lunch!

Before I delve deep into the details of this dish, let me wish my readers, family, and friends a Subho Mahalaya. Mahalaya is the official start of Durga Puja, the biggest cultural festival of Bengalis worldwide. In theological terms, it is the end of ‘Pitri Paksha’ and the beginning of ‘Devi Paksha’, which is when Goddess Durga descends from her heavenly abode with her children in tow, and makes her way to earth where she stays for ten days and blesses us all with her divine powers.

Apparently, there are a lot of variations, and there’s also a Moti Biryani. I claim neither authenticity nor knowledge, except that I remember Sanjeev Kapoor making a Moti Pulao, with paneer…so I made mine with homemade paneer  Clever aren’t I?  Oh and I served it with some Hyderabadi style Salan, and Mint-Coriander Raita…


Today’s cooking was pretty much a marathon event; I don’t think I’ve cooked as fast I cooked today. Reasons being, I had several consignments that needed to be packed and delivered before 2 pm, and because ugly monsoon clouds were blocking my daylight, the cooking and clicking had to be done before everything turned black! Even with my super-speed, I finished cooking only after 2!! At least we got to eat hot food It was a long-awaited wish of mine to try making this dish, though I didn’t follow a set recipe and adapted bits and pieces from various online sources. The dish itself is simple enough to make, the only arduous task is making the paneer balls, especially if you’re making it from homemade chenna. I’d suggest making these a day in advance or start early if you’re planning to serve this for lunch. If using a store-bought paneer, the task becomes easier. You also don’t need a lot of sides with this rice, some raita works great and if you want something extra, make a curry or a salan. I have to say, this is my first try with Salan and I loved it. Also, the Mint-Coriander Raita tasted like a lighter version of my fav Green Chutney and was good!

YIELDS     Servings       Preparation         40

                                                                            TIME                          minutes



     For the Moti (Pearl balls):

·        Paneer or Chenna – 300 gm (I curdled 1.5 ltr milk and got about 300 gm chenna)

·        Cornflour – 3 to 4 tbsp

·        Salt – as needed

·        Cumin Powder – 1/4 tsp

·        Coriander powder – 1/4 tsp

·        Black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp

·        Silver leaf/Chandi ka vark – a few

·        Oil – for deep-frying

      For the Pulao:

·        Long-grained Basmati rice or similar – 2 cups (approx 200 gm)

·        Onions – 2, sliced lengthwise

·        Make a coarse paste of – 2 tomatoes, 1-inch piece of ginger, 7 to 8 cloves of garlic, 2 green chilies, 1 cup chopped coriander, a small handful of chopped mint

·        Fresh curd – 1/4 cup or about 4 tbsp

·        Whole spices – 1 black cardamom, 3 to 4 green cardamoms, 1/2 inch stick of cinnamon, 1 star anise, a few peppercorns, 2 to 3 bay leaves

·        Garam masala powder – 1 tsp

·        Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp

·        Coriander powder – 1/2 tsp

·        Salt – to taste

·        Sugar – 1 tsp

·        Red chili powder – 1 tbsp

·        Ghee – 2 tbsp

·        A little bit of chopped coriander and mint for garnish


1.   Wash and drain the rice at least 30 mins before, and keep aside. Or if needed, wash and soak it for an hour or two in some water.

2.   Grate the paneer, or make chenna by curdling the milk and straining the whey out. Mash the chenna well until smooth. 

3.   Add cornflour to the mashed chenna/grated paneer, and add the seasonings. 

4.   Mix well, and make small marble-sized balls of the mixture and keep aside. 

5.   Heat a kadhai with enough oil to deep fry, and when the oil is hot, slowly drop the paneer balls in. Fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 mins, and drain on a paper towel.

6.   Cover the fried paneer balls with silver leaf and keep aside.

7.   Now heat a deep-bottomed pan/handi, and add 1 tbsp ghee.

8.   Temper with the whole spices until they’re fragrant.

9.   Drain the rice if you have soaked it, or tip in the drained rice into the pan.

10.                  Toss well ensuring the grains do not break, until rice is coated with the ghee and spices.

11.                  Keep aside; discard the whole spices.

12.                  In the same pan, add the rest of the ghee and add the sliced onions.

13.                  When they turn pink, add the masala paste.

14.                  Saute well for about 5 to 7 mins on low heat, until the masala begins to leave oil.

15.                  Season with dry spices, and the curd; whisk it well with the sugar and ensure it is at room temperature so it doesn’t curdle.

16.                  Mix well with the masala, and add the fried paneer pearls, leaving few for garnish.

17.                  Tip in the sauteed rice, add salt, and mix again. 

18.                  Add water as per measurement (I added 4 and 1/2 cups of water), and drop in a handful of chopped coriander and mint.

19.                  Boil the rice uncovered until about half the water has evaporated, then turn flame on medium, and add a lid. 

20.                  Cook until the rice is fully done and water has evaporated.

21.                  Just before serving, fluff the rice with a fork.

22.                  Ladle on to a platter and garnish with some edible pearls  

23.                  Serve hot with Raita and Salan.  

Hyderabadi style Plain Salan 


·        Chili powder – 1 tbsp

·        Ginger garlic paste – 1 tsp

·        Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp

·        Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp

·        Oil – 3 tbsp

·        Onion – 1 quartered

·        Tomato – 1 quartered

·        Desiccated coconut – 2 tbsp or use dry coconut

·        Sesame seeds – 2 tbsp

·        Peanuts – 2 tbsp

·        Onion – 2 chopped fine

·        Coriander powder – 1 tsp

·        Turmeric – 1/4 tsp

·        Cumin powder – 1 tsp

·        Salt – to taste

·        Tamarind paste – 1 tbsp

·        Jaggery or sugar – 1 tsp


1.   Heat a pan and dry roast the peanuts, sesame and dry or desiccated coconut until they’re golden and fragrant. Keep aside to cool.

2.   Once cooled, grind it to a smooth paste with some water.

3.   Also make a paste of 1 onion, 1 tomato and some ginger and garlic.

4.   In the same pan, add the oil and fry the chopped onions until golden brown.

5.   Add the onion tomato and ginger-garlic paste. 

6.   Saute well, and add chili powder, salt, and cumin, coriander powders.

7.   Mix well and add the peanut, sesame, and coconut paste.

8.   Again mix well. Once the masala starts releasing oil, add tamarind paste and jaggery or sugar, and add a cup and half of water.

9.   Let it come to a boil, and reduce a little until it has reached gravy consistency.

10.                  Serve hot.

 Mint-Coriander Raita 


·        Coriander leaves and stems – 2 cups

·        Mint – 1/2 cup

·        Green chilies – 2 to 3

·        Yogurt, fresh – 2 cups

·        Salt to taste

·        Sugar – 1/2 tsp

·        Oil – 1/4 tsp

·        Lemon juice – 1/2 tsp


1.   Make a paste of the chopped coriander, mint, green chilies, salt, sugar , and oil until very smooth.

2.   Blend with the yogurt and a little bit of water.

3.   Chill and serve.



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