Ramadan in Nunavut: Kabuli pulao, with Iqaluit lawyer Shaanzéh Ataullahjan

The dish, with a special garam masala, carries reminder of Pakistan, Toronto

Shaanzéh Ataullahjan holds a plate of Kabuli pulao, a dish she cooked for her first Ramadan in Iqaluit — one that reminds her of her home in Toronto and Pakistan. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

By Meral Jamal

Shaanzéh Ataullahjan remembers being a picky eater through much of her childhood.

Born and raised in Toronto with roots in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan, she would only ever ask her mother to make one dish: chicken pulao, a mix of rice with vegetables or a protein, cooked with onions, garlic and local spices.

Ataullahjan recalls craving the dish even when her family travelled back to spend summers with extended family.

“There’d be all these delicious dishes around us and I’d refuse to have anything else,” she said. “Every single day, it had to be chicken in rice, and it would drive my grandfather crazy.”

Her chicken pulao phase lasted about five years, until she was about 10 years old.

Now in her late twenties and having moved to Iqaluit last fall, Ataullahjan is celebrating her favourite food in her new home, with a twist: the chicken pulao has been replaced by Kabuli pulao.

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The dish is important, especially during her first Ramadan away from home, because “it is an elevated version of a childhood comfort food,” she said.

“I feel like Kabuli pulao really represents my own personal food journey now because it’s the dish that I have always loved — pulao — but it’s the version of it that’s a bit more elevated and a bit fancier and tastes that I actually enjoy now.”

Muslims around the world observe the holy month of Ramadan this year between March 23 and April 21 by fasting between dawn and dusk, reflecting on their lives and refraining from unkind behaviour.

Making Kabuli pulao for iftaar — which is when Muslims break their fast each day of the 30 days of Ramadan — Ataullahjan said the process of cooking and eating together is “a way of sharing a piece of my childhood, sharing a piece of my community and also sharing love.

“When I’m cooking a dish for someone and when I’m presenting it to them at iftaar, I’m saying: ‘I love you. I care about you. I hope that you’ve had something to eat. I hope that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve eaten. I hope that you can share something with me.’”

A staple from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is a melting pot for both Pakistani and Afghan culture and tradition, the Kabuli pulao — which gets its name from Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul — consists of steamed rice mixed with raisins, carrots, and beef or lamb. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

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Having brought garam masala — a blend of South Asian spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg — from Toronto, she said that cooking Kabuli rice in Nunavut feels more important now too: it’s a way to stay connected to home.

“Pakistan can feel like it is more or less the same distance from Iqaluit as it is from Toronto, but somehow being here and being part of a smaller Pakistani community — it all feels more distant,” she said.

“Holding on to these kinds of connections through food and making sure that I’m able to carry these traditions forward feels a lot more important.”

Shaanzéh Ataullahjan’s recipe for Kabuli pulao

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour and 5 minutes

Servings: 6-8 people


500 to 750 grams beef or lamb cubes

2 medium-sized red onions

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Half a bag of shredded carrots

Half a bag of raisins

3 cups basmati rice

Cooking oil as needed


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Rinse 3 cups of rice and let soak for 10 minutes
  3. Slice onions, then add to pan and fry until browned
  4. Add cubed beef or lamb to pan
  5. Sprinkle with tablespoon of salt, teaspoon of garam masala, and teaspoon of sugar. Stir quickly until meat is browned and sugar has caramelized
  6. Add water to pan and continue cooking until meat is tender
  7. Strain onions from the water. Onions can also be left in if you want
  8. Add the cooked water and meat to the rice in a large pot
  9. Cook the rice on the stovetop on medium-high heat until water is just bubbling through
  10. Reduce heat and cover until the rice is almost completely dried up
  11. In a separate saucepan, add teaspoon of oil and half a bag of shredded carrots. Fry for 2 minutes, stirring continuously
  12. Add half a bag of raisins to the saucepan and fry for another minute while stirring
  13. When the water in the rice has almost completely dried up, add the carrots and raisins on top
  14. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 20 minutes
  15. When ready to serve, use a fork to gently fluff up the edges of rice dish
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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Hypnotized on

    Wow, those look so amazing

    • Posted by Horrible aesthete on

      I agree, they look so yummy and inviting

    • Posted by Seena on

      My hearts delight! How can I try these?

  2. Posted by Adrienne on

    This looks amazing and I am definitely going to make it. Thank you Shaanzeh!

    • Posted by Scrivener on

      I agree! Words of grace, traditions valued. Ramadan Kareem to all of you.

  3. Posted by Jeremiah on

    That looks very delicious.♥️
    Thank you for sharing.✌️

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