Biryani? Pulao? Let’s call the whole thing osh

My wife, Kellie, and I are parents to a two year old son, Cyrus. We work a fairly routine 7:30am – 5pm day at our jobs – Kellie is a faculty member of the Political Science department at Nebraska Wesleyan University here in Lincoln, and I teach Citizenship Education classes and supervise the AmeriCorps-staffed ESL department at Center For People In Need. We prioritize the time we spend with Cyrus on weekends and after we pick him up from daycare, and we do everything we can do to maximize weeknight family time.

On most weeknights after pickup, the family would settle into a groove: Kellie would read to Cyrus and I’d find myself in the kitchen, a blunt knife in search of finely chopped mirepoix. It’s a habit, a process-oriented state of suspension that would more-often-than-not mean eating (well; artfully) at 7:30pm. PJs for Cyrus at 8:15. Story time by 8:30, asleep by 9…10…30.

It’s a stupid timesuck, to not have a weeknight dinner menu planned out in advance. Nothing really takes *only* 10 minutes of prep work between us and our two year old. Even if we can get one or both sets of our hands free to wield cheap chopping implements and set the table, there’s no way to be done with the wrist action before 6pm.

It’s a stupid timesuck, on a Tuesday night, to dote around your kitchen peppering language with f-bombs for not fully sauteeing aubergine to make three sisters dolma.

As much as I enjoy cooking, playtime with Cyrus at his tender age is way more fun.

A few weeks ago, Kellie had me chopping five pounds of onions at 9pm on a Sunday night, bagging 12 daily pret-a-cuisiner dinners for our slow cooker. In a matter of an hour and a half we had assembled a menu for the ages – the bases for enchiladas fritas, mushroom stroganoff, penne al forno, this von that, meals from every smoky clay recess of the Indo European language family, named for anemic 18th century aristocrats and honored by layering their namesake over a quick boil-up of iron enriched broad noodles.

The freezer was plump with easy meals that could cook while we worked. It hummed with our hope for mellow winter evenings on the floor playing Tallest Tower with Cy – or Lego Stairway to Heaven (no actual Stairway, please – denied) or my favorite blockstacking game, Elevator Inspector Earthquake Rescue.

I may one day share video of that game. Shortest game ever, usually.

The success of Kellie’s forward-thinking plan netted us ample leftovers from very satisfying family dinners. We had time to lesson plan, to catch up on Arrested Development reruns, time to ourselves. Time enough…To rewind all of the shows we’re hopelessly behind on that have been crammed into crushy boxes behind the red curtains of the Netflix account we share with Kellie’s brother.

Lately, I’ve taken it upon myself to prepare lunches for the family. Eases me into the 5:30 – 6:30am block, not needing to rush about the house feeding the dog, throwing together Cy’s lunch, fumbling go-cups and coffee mugs. Not leaving the three of us without something thoughtfully, tastefully prepared in the absence of crockpot leftovers.

An hour or less of “afterhours” cooking, enough time to throw together a one-pot stopgap lunch, has given me a venue for working on my ma la ma po ramen sauce, which I deployed aside a mixed veggie stir-fry and steamed tofu this past Saturday night. More on that later…

It’s also given birth to the three-headed monster of this multi-cultural fryshop operation we run out of our kitchen:

The finished product, ready for sacked lunch!

This. Is it pulaobiryani, or…osh?

Some hold that pulao can be differentiated from biryani in the following three ways:

1.) biryani, perhaps owing to the method of cooking used in kacchi biryani (below), is a one-pot meal; pulao is usually considered a side dish – but that itself is no real hill to die on;

2.) in a classic biryani, rice and meat/protein* are cooked separately and layered before going into the pan, and;

3.) the addition of milder, whole spices to pulao would be done in such a way that they could be removed once the rice was cooked. (?)

Hyderabadi biryani, for example, features goat meat marinated in yoghurt and spices, then layered with parboiled rice, fried onions, and cardamon and cooked in a Handi (or a dum, as seems to be more common), a clay pot with a narrow neck, until all liquid is absorbed and the steam inside the vessel cooks the meat quite tenderly.

And that’s pretty much the method I employed to make the delectable shireen pulao biryani pictured above, using my trusty 6-cup rice cooker – only I added the meat substitute after fully cooking the rice and veggies, simmering everything together for another five minutes.

photo (3)
Pulao Biryani and chaunk, ready to collaborate!

While stirring the rice, in a separate saucepan over high heat, I prepared a(n un)healthy shock of hot oil, gradually tempered with garlic, cloves, raw onions, and spices (in that order, so the ingredients had enough time to brown and infuse the oil) and topped off the dish with quartered kaffir limes and a handful of shaved roasted coconut and almonds.

And that was today’s lunch, packed away for all three of us as 5:55am.

The earthy-sweet personality of this particular shireen pulao biryani comes less from the blend of spices than from cooking the rice with sweet peas, corn, and carrots. A recipe for a more exquisitely fragrant and bright shirin plov, along the lines of what I have had the pleasure of enjoying in Azerbaijan, can be found here, at Bois de Jasmin.

Osh, on the other hand, is a Tajik delicacy from well over the Hindu Killing Kush mountains. I have never had the pleasure of trying osh, per se, although I’ve tried (and cooked) several variations of plov. Should you crave the thickest description of the preparation of osh, I highly suggest reading Emily Schultz’s “Cooking the National Dish of Uzbekistan” at Painted Bride Quarterly, an online and print literary magazine affiliated with Drexel University’s Department of English and Philosophy…although author Emily Schultz locates osh squarely in the Uzbek cultural zone…

Some Tajik friends and colleagues would likely offer a different narrative. But the East is a delicate matter, Petrukha. Recipe for my shireen pulao biryani below the cut.

Shireen pulao biryani:

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 15/20 minutes

Servings: ~4


  • 2 cups, long grain / basmati rice, unwashed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 bay leaf

Now, for the spices, you may want to keep an extra teaspoon or less on hand for the tempering garnish (the chaunk):

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder (prepared)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon National brand masala mix (optional, for added flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • salt to taste
  • 1 can, chickpeas (drained)
  • 1/2 cup, green peas (loose, frozen is fine)
  • 1/2 cup, loose yellow corn (frozen is fine)
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and sliced
  • *1 tofurkey Italian sausage, chopped to your liking

(Note: I cook vegetarian for the family. If you have a preferred land or sea protein to substitute, by all means do so, and let me know how you prepare it!)

  • 1 teaspoon slivered almonds
  • 2 teaspoons shaved roasted coconut
  • 1/2 cup crudely chopped yellow onion (raw)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crudely chopped
  • 2 kaffir limes, quartered

[Featured image courtesy of Cardamom-Poppadom]

3 thoughts on “Biryani? Pulao? Let’s call the whole thing osh

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