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Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao

While I was on holiday in India this year, I purchased a couple of cookbooks to add to my collection. And one of the books I bought was ‘Dastarkhwan – e – Awadh’ by Sangeeta Bhatnagar and R.K.Saxena.

A simple cookbook that celebrates the royal kitchens of Awadh with recipes dating back to that golden era!

Awadhi cuisine is not just famous, but one that’s held in reverence. The food that came out of the Awadh kitchens had a royal elegance, a restraint yet so rich and inviting that made it synonymous with royalty. Of course it was made for the Nawabs but today, this cuisine is still held in such high esteem for the techniques, attention to ingredients and complexity of flavours.

The authors, Dr Sangeeta Bhatnagar and R.K.Saxena are both culinary historians and their passion to document the food of Awadh resulted in this book. Drafted after much research and speaking to a wide range of people including Nawabs, Chefs and yesteryear royal cooks, this book is a true tribute to the cuisine of Awadh.

It’s a simple book in appearance; reminds me of the old textbooks we used to have in India. No highly styled photographs of the food, but plenty of visuals depicting the people from the region, ingredients, street food, and also dishes presented in a natural manner.

There’s a brief introduction to the royal era of Awadh (the present day Lucknow), a historical perspective to the cuisine followed by explanation of terms that’s commonly used in Awadh cuisine. For eg: there are unique techniques employed in cooking Awadh food and these are explained along with reference to ingredients and other procedures that are a must know to understand the cooking style and culinary culture.

Clearly this is a cookbook that I would be cooking a lot from, but for that first recipe, I zeroed in on this lipsmacking Kofta Pulao.

Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao -

Pulao is often considered to be second grade in comparison to a biryani. There’s a general attitude that a pulao is made when one does not want to indulge in the extravagance of a biryani. But that is so wrong and an Awadhi style pulao is a prime example of that.

Making a good pulao requires as much skill as a biryani. And it all starts with cooking the rice perfectly. Always made using aged long grain rice which must be fragrant, aromatic and each grain separate from the other yet cooked perfectly. The flavours are much less complex in a pulao when compared to a biryani; there are far fewer spices and aromatics and it is a subtle play of those few spices that make a pulao so delicious.

Just as the name suggests, this is a kofta pulao, literally translated as meatballs and rice.

Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao -

Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao

The meatballs are shaped small in this recipe, unlike the larger ones that we are accustomed to eating in pasta or as snacks. Though mutton would be used traditionally, I have used lamb mince to make koftas, which is flavoured with just cinnamon and cardamom.

Another important ingredient is ghee or clarified butter. In traditional Awadhi cooking, tempered ghee is used but here I have just used plain ghee to keep things simple. Oil can be used but would hardly provide any flavour, and ghee is way healthier anyway.

The rice and koftas are cooked separately and then layered; the cooking process is then finished using the dum technique. For those who aren’t aware, the dum technique is where all the ingredients are placed inside one pot and the edges sealed using dough. Slow charcoal heat is applied on top and also on bottom and the food is allowed to slow cook with minimal heat.

Now most of us would use a modern dum technique in our homes. You could either place all the ingredients in a casserole dish, seal using a foil and finish cooking at low heat in the oven. Or you could follow my technique – since I don’t like to use foil, I place a tea towel over the pot and then place the lid on top so that it’s really tight and no steam escapes. The pot is then placed on a flat tawa or directly on heat but at its lowest setting. Ensure that the edges of the towel hanging out is scrunched up; we don’t want to start a fire!!

Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao

So let’s get onto the recipe for this delicious Kofta Pulao;


  1. 500gms aged basmati (long grained) rice; washed and soaked for atleast 1 hour
  2. 500gms lamb (or mutton) mince
  3. 1 inch ginger
  4. 5 medium garlic cloves
  5. 1 tsp red chilli powder
  6. 10gms roasted gram flour
  7. 1 inch cinnamon stick
  8. 3 whole green cardamom
  9. Salt, to season
  10. Ghee (clarified butter)
  11. 5 medium red onions
  12. 1 ½ tbsp rose water
  13. 1 pinch saffron
  14. 250 ml milk


  1. Grind the cinnamon and cardamom to a fine powder.
  2. Grind the garlic and ginger to a paste (add a few drops of water if necessary)
  3. Also grind 2 onions to a coarse paste and keep aside.
  4. Finely slice the remaining 3 onions; fry in ghee till golden brown, drain and keep aside.
  5. Into the mince, add half of the cinnamon-cardamom powder, roasted gram flour, 1 tbsp ghee and salt to season. Knead well to ensure that all the ingredients are mixed well and the mince has a fine consistency.
  6. Take small portions of the mince and roll into small balls (slightly larger than marbles). You will roughly get about 30 -35 balls. Heat ghee in a pan and fry the meatballs; keep aside. (Take care not to overcook or the meatballs taste dry)
  7. To cook the rice, heat 1 ½ litres water. Season with salt and add the remaining cardamom-cinnamon powder. Add the washed rice and parboil; drain and keep aside.
  8. In the same pan that the onions were fried (add more ghee only if necessary), add the onion and ginger garlic paste. Sauté on medium heat till the rawness disappears. Then add chilli powder and sauté till the ghee separates.
  9. Add the fried meatballs to this and add 1 cup (250 ml) water. Cook till most of the water has disappeared. Taste and season with salt if necessary.
  10. Meanwhile soak saffron in warm milk.
  11. To finally assemble the dish, place a large deep bottom vessel on low heat and add half of the cooked rice. Then layer with the cooked koftas/meatballs, add half of the rose water and saffron milk. Then add the remaining rice followed by the remaining rose water and saffron milk.
  12. Seal the edges (read description above for dum techniques) of the vessel and cook covered on low heat for about 20 minutes.
  13. Open just before serving and garnish with fried onions.
  14. Serve with a raita

Lucknowi (or Awadhi) style Kofta Pulao




Oats Kofte in a Chilli Garlic Sauce– Indo Chinese Flavours

The idea for this recipe came out during one of the weekly ritual calls that I make to my mom. It is often a long one; filled with food conversations, ideas, TV shows, rants, gossips, the latest fashion trends etc…. I share more of a girlfriend relationship with my mother rather a daughter one; this caused plenty of problems while growing up but after I hit my 30s, it blossomed into this calm and silent understanding and accpetance of each other.

So now, we don’t tear each other’s head off, we just talk……for hours!

During one of those conversations, my mom mentioned about a cookery competition that she was going to take part in. Oats was the ingredient around which the competition revolved and as the mother-daughter brainstorming went on, the idea of making oats kofte came about. But what next, should we go the Indo Chinese route or should we make a traditional curry with the koftes?

Both of us decided on the Indo Chinese route but her dish turned out be way different from this one. To cut a long story short, her dish didn’t win any prize but we both had a new and rather fascinating dish to add to our culinary repertoire.


If you are familiar with Indo Chinese flavours, then this dish is no surprise except for the fact that oats is the main ingredient in the koftes.

But if you are new to the term ‘Indo Chinese’, then let me give you a brief intro. During the times of the Indo China war, a lot of migrants from China came across the border and settled in the North Eastern states including West Bengal. The community soon realized that food can be a source of livelihood but the traditional Chinese cooking would not work in India due to lack of certain ingrdients and also preference for bolder flavours especially the fascination with heat and spice. This was the beginning of the modern fusion cuisine which came to be known as ‘Indo Chinese’ or ‘Chindian’. The earliest Indo Chinese restaurants opened in Calcutta and other parts of West Bengal and soon this cuisine spread like wildfire all across the country. Today, Indo Chinese food holds a much coveted spot on the tastebuds of this nation.

For this dish, I have gently toasted the oats with onions and aromatics and then mixed it into boiled potatoes to form the koftes. Since I wanted to keep the dish entirely vegetarian, the koftes are lightly dusted with a mixture of corn flour and all purpose flour and shallow fried.



The crucial part of the dish is handling the koftes with a bit of tender loving care! Since there is no heavy coating, the koftes have to be shallow fried with care to avoid breakage. And the same rule that applies to all other Indo Chinese dishes; this one too has to be served warm immediately after preparation.

So enjoy delicious oats koftes dunked in sweet and spicy chilli sauce, Indo Chinese style!




For the koftes:

1. 1 ½ cups raw oats
2. 1 large potato
3. 1 medium onion; finely chopped
4. 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped/grated
5. ½ inch ginger, finely chopped/grated
6. 2 green chilli; finely chopped
7. ¼ tsp turmeric powder
8. 5 raw almonds; finely crushed
9. 2 tbsp cornflour
10. 3 tbsp all purpose flour
11. Salt, to season
12. ¼ tsp red chilli powder
13. 6 tbsp vegetable oil; to shallow fry the koftes

For the sauce:

14. 12 medium garlic cloves; finely chopped
15. 1 inch ginger; finely chopped
16. 6 long dry red chilli
17. 1 ½ tbsp red chilli paste
18. ½ tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder
19. 1 tbsp soy sauce
20. 2 tbsp tomato sauce
21. 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
22. ½ tsp sugar
23. 1 large onion; cubed
24. 1 yellow bell pepper; cubed
25. 1 tbsp cornflour, dissolved in ½ cup cold water
26. Salt, to season
27. 3 tbsp vegetable oil
28. 1 spring onion; both white and green part chopped


To prepare the koftes:

• Boil the potato, mash and keep aside.
• In a flat pan, heat 1 tbsp oil and saute the onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies along with the turmeric powder till the onions are lightly browned.
• Add the crushed almonds and oats; mix well and saute on low heat for about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt.
• Remove from heat and allow to cool.
• Add the cooled oats mixture to the mashed potato and mix well to combine.
• Shape into small koftes; keep aside.
• In a plate, mix the cornflour, all purpose flour, chilli powder and season lightly with salt.
• Coat the koftes lightly with the flour mixture (it should be a light dusting on the koftes; excess flour will affect the taste of the koftes making it taste doughy).
• Heat the remaining oil in a flat pan and shallow fry the koftes; make sure you turn the koftes carefully to avoid breakage.
• Drain on a kitchen towel.

To prepare the chilli garlic sauce:

• Heat oil in a large wok and add the cubed onions. Stir fry on high heat for a minute and remove.
• Next, add the cubed bell peppers to the wok and stir fry for 30 seconds; remove and keep aside.
• In the same wok (add more oil if necessary), add the dry red chillies, garlic and ginger. Saute on low heat till the garlic is just starting to brown. (Do this on low heat to infuse the oil with maximum flavour from the garlic).
• Next, add the red chilli paste and Kashmiri chilli powder, saute for about 30 seconds and then add all the sauces along with a pinch of sugar.
• Mix well and taste. The measurements given for the sauces must only be a guidance as the taste can vary according to the brands used. So taste and adjust balance of flavours.
• Next add 1 cup water and bring to boil; add the dissolved cornflour and stir in to thicken the sauce.
• Add the onions and bell peppers and mix well.
• Finally add the koftes and mix through without breaking. Season with salt if necessary.
• Remove and garnish with spring onions.
• Serve warm with fried rice or noodles.



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