Ramadan in Nunavut: Kabuli pulao, with Iqaluit lawyer Shaanzéh Ataullahjan
The dish, with a special garam masala, carries reminder of Pakistan, Toronto
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Iqaluit last fall, Ataullahjan is celebrating her favourite food in her new home, with a twist: the chicken pulao has been replaced by Kabuli pulao.
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.’”
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
- Preheat oven to 350
- Rinse 3 cups of rice and let soak for 10 minutes
- Slice onions, then add to pan and fry until browned
- Add cubed beef or lamb to pan
- Sprinkle with tablespoon of salt, teaspoon of garam masala, and teaspoon of sugar. Stir quickly until meat is browned and sugar has caramelized
- Add water to pan and continue cooking until meat is tender
- Strain onions from the water. Onions can also be left in if you want
- Add the cooked water and meat to the rice in a large pot
- Cook the rice on the stovetop on medium-high heat until water is just bubbling through
- Reduce heat and cover until the rice is almost completely dried up
- In a separate saucepan, add teaspoon of oil and half a bag of shredded carrots. Fry for 2 minutes, stirring continuously
- Add half a bag of raisins to the saucepan and fry for another minute while stirring
- When the water in the rice has almost completely dried up, add the carrots and raisins on top
- Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 20 minutes
- When ready to serve, use a fork to gently fluff up the edges of rice dish