Isn’t that a beautiful name for a dish? Qubooli is an Urdu word meaning ‘acceptance’. The recipe below comes from the book The Emperor’s Table, written by Salma Husain. And what a marvelous book it is! The author has painstakingly researched the cuisine of seven Mughal emperors who ruled over India for hundreds of years. Most recipes in this collection come from original Persian manuscripts and printed books from those times.

Qubooli was a favorite recipe of Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan (the one who built this). Aurangzeb was not like other Mughal emperors. He was a simple man, not too fond of music, painting, poetry or even, harems; probably because he was constantly pre-occupied with politics. To my surprise, he was a vegetarian and never, but once, drank alcohol. Like every one else though, he loved mangoes. “On his grave he asked for nothing but the open sky and the fragrant Rehan shrub”.*

The Mughal dynasty influenced the Indian subcontinent in myriad ways, not the least of which were culinary. They were fond of nuts, raisins, saffron and fruits. The sheep and goats maintained by the royal kitchen were given “a special diet mixed with aromatic herbs, silver, gold, pearls, saffron marbles mixed with sugar, perfumed grass to get pleasant smelling flesh”. Rose water and musk were used to water vegetable beds to impart them a special aroma. And, guess where they sourced their ghee from? Hissar!!! In case you didn’t know, Hisar is my home town. It was founded by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who named it Hissar-e-Firoza (Persian for Firoz‘s fortress). Ha!

These days, Qubooli is a popular vegetarian dish in Hyderabad. It is a biryani made of chana dal (bengal gram). Salma Husain’s (rather Aurangzeb’s) recipe also uses dried apricots, plums and prunes in addition to other ingredients of a regular biryani. This dish takes time, care and patience. So, make it only when you are not in a hurry. Here are the details:

Ingredients (Serves 5-6)

  • Chana Dal, 1.25 cups
  • Basmati rice, 2.5 cups
  • Oil, 2/3 cup
  • 3 Onions, finely sliced
  • Ginger paste, 1 teaspoon
  • Garlic paste, 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon
  • Yogurt, 1 cup
  • 4 Green chillies
  • Red chilli powder, 1 teaspoon
  • Dried apricots, 1/4 cup
  • Dried plums, 1/4 cup (I couldn’t find plums, so substituted prunes. They are almost the same thing anyway)
  • Dried prunes, 1/4 cup (1/2 cup with the substitution)
  • Cloves, 4
  • 1/2″ stick of cinnamon
  • Brown cardamom, 3
  • Black cumin (shahi zeera), 1/2 teaspoon
  • Black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Saffron dissolved in rosewater, 1 teaspoon
  • Mint leaves, chopped, 2 tablespoons
  • Cilantro leaves, 1/4 cup
  • Lemon juice, 1/4 cup
  • Milk, 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons
  • Ghee, 2 tablespoons
  • Salt, to taste


  • Wash the dal and rice (separately) in several changes of water till the water runs clear.
  • Soak the dal and rice (separately) in water for 20 minutes.
  • Put a large pot of water for boiling the rice. By the time rice finishes soaking, the water would come to a boil. Cover the pot to save time and energy.
  • Soak the dried fruits in water for 15 minutes. Drain, de-stone, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

  • Boil the dal with very little water, salt and a pinch of turmeric. The dal should keep its shape but get tender. You can add more water if needed. Strain the excess water (you don’t need to throw it, use it as stock). Since we are no longer in Aurangzeb-ian times, another option is to cook the dal in microwave for around 20 minutes. It might take longer or shorter depending on your microwave.
  • Drain the soaking rice and parboil it, WITH SALT, in the boiling pot of water. Drain the excess water and set aside.
  • Heat oil in a pan, fry the onions till they turn golden brown, remove half and keep aside.

  • Add ginger and garlic pastes, stir-fry till golden.
  • Then, add turmeric powder and stir for a second.
  • Next, add yoghurt and stir continuously for 2 minutes.
  • Mix in 2 de-seeded green chillies, dal, red chilli powder and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add dried fruits, cover the pan and simmer till the dry fruits are soft and the dal is 99% cooked (I am so precise!)

  • Grind the whole-spices into a fine powder.
  • Turn on the oven for pre-heating at 300 deg F.  Ideally, the biryani should be cooked in a clay oven (tandoor)**. Normal oven is a good substitute. If you don’t have an oven, you can also cook it on stove-top. The flame should be at its lowest possible setting.
  • Brush the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pan with oil.  It’s very important to use a heavy-bottomed one, otherwise the rice will stick. I used a cast-iron dutch oven.
  • Spread half the rice, then, saffron (more on this later), followed by a layer of the entire dal mixture.
  • Next, sprinkle the ground spice powder, lemon juice, half the –mint, coriander and green chillies–.
  • Layer the remaining rice and saffron.
  • Sprinkle 1/3 cup milk, fried onions, remaining mint, coriander and green chillies.
  • Dot the top with ghee and pour 2 tablespoons of milk on the sides.
  • Cover the pot and seal it to prevent the steam from escaping. Traditionally, the lid is sealed with dough, but you can use aluminium foil instead.
  • Cook the qubooli on dum i.e. on a very low flame. If you are using the oven, place the pot in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • Open the pot when you are ready to eat. Mix it gently to combine the various layers.
  • Eat with tomato chutney, raita or any sort of dal/curry.

Important lessons learnt:
  1. Dabur Gulabari is not food-grade.
  2. Google such information BEFORE you mix your expensive saffron in Dabur Gulabari.
  3. Thank yourself for at least doing it before mixing the saffron into the rice!
  4. Lemon juice on a knife cut = BAD, BAD, BAD!
*I think Rehan means tulsi or holy basil.

**How I wish I had one! Although, there’s hope..check out the Hom-door here and here.

This recipe was featured on Season with Spice.


11 thoughts on “qubooli

  1. Loved the recipe, the story and the pictures. I found a book called “Biryani” by Pratibha Karan on my last trip to India that had a similar dish. Will definitely try it out.

  2. Anu-ji! I really liked the second picture of all the ingredients! Very novel perspective. There is an order (grid) as well as lack thereof (No 2 things of the same shape or color) in the composition.

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