Doree (caramalized onion) two colour pilao

Pilao/Pulao/Pilaf/Pilaw consists of rice flavoured with spices and cooked in stock with meat, fish or vegetables. It is not chillie hot but is certainly rich in spices and there are differing versions of this in Arabia, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. 

The recipe below, is an incredibly different version of pilao and the end result is very pleasing to the eyes, as one part of the rice is a very light colour, whilst the other half is of a dark colour.

The dish was created by our ‘fore-mothers’ residing in my dad’s village – Narowal, Pakistan, and has now been passed through the generations. I hope my children will continue to make it in their homes too.


2.5 mugs Sela Basmati Rice (for best results) or other long grain basmati rice

Stage 1

  • (Doree – caramlization of onions)
  • 8 ozs (225g) onion finely sliced into rings
  • 1 cup oil
  • half tsp salt

Stage 2

  • 2lb (1Kg) lamb chops (or any other cut of lamb meat)
  • 4 ozs (120g) lamb chest meat (seena) – optional
  • 6 long sticks whole cinnamon
  • 4tbs whole coriander seeds
  • 5 tbs whole cumin
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 tbs whole black pepper
  • 8 oz (225g) onions roughly chopped
  • 1 whole bulb garlic roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp salt

Stage 3

  • oil from Stage 1
  • 2 tbs whole cumin
  • 2 tbs coarsely ground dry coriander
  • 6 cloves
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • some finely chopped coriander (optional)
  • 2 tsp garam masala (optional)


  1. If using Sela basmati rice, wash a couple of times in cold water and soak overnight or for a minimum of 6 hours for best results. If you are using other basmati rice then soak for 2 – 3 hours.
  2. For Stage 1 (carmalizing of onions) – Add the oil to a large pan, add the onions and stir around on medium heat until they turn almost dark brown (almost burnt) this is when they are fully caramelized – doree! This is an extremely important step as the colour of the onions at this stage will determine the two-colour look of your pilao when you serve it.
  3. Using a slotted spoon remove the onions into a small pan, add 1 cup of water and the salt, bring to a boil and then cook on low heat for 15 – 20. Leave the oil in the large pan.
  4. Switch off heat, pour the onion mixture into a cup, top up with hot water if it’s under, and discard the remainder if it’s more than a cup.
  5. For Stage 2 (making the stock) – Put the water into a deep pan or a pressure cooker, add all of the other ingredients except the meat, bring to a boil then add the meat, cook covered on a low rolling boil until the meat is cooked through. Spring lamb in the UK is usually done in 40 mins. If using a pressure cooker, let it whistle for 12 mins, switch off, cool and open very carefully.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat pieces into a dish. Switch on oven to GM4/150C.
  7. For Stage 3 (cooking the rice) – Drain the soaked rice, and discard the water.
  8. Switch on heat under the large pan with the oil, add the whole masalas, add the meat and cook together on full heat, gently turning the meat pieces over until they darken in colour.
  9. Measure the stock and add 4.5 mugs (for Sela) 4 mugs for any other rice of the stock to the meat pan, add the salt and bring to the boil, now add the rice.
  10. Cook on medium/high flame until the rice absorbs almost all the water and little holes appear on the top.
  11. Gently pour the cup of caramelized onions (doree) over the top of HALF the rice, the other half shouldn’t have any caramalized onions (doree).
  12. Cover with aluminium foil and a tight lid and place into the heated oven for 15-20 mins. Switch off and leave in the oven for a further 10 minutes.
  13. If cooking on stove top, keep heat to an absolute minimum, cook for 10 mins, switch off and let the rice cool for 10 mins.
  14. Use a fish slice or a small plate to dig deep into the rice that is of a lighter colour, remove and serve onto a platter, now do the same with the other darker side, and place the rice so you can view both colours, garnish with fresh green coriander, sprinkle with garam masala and serve piping hot.

Tip – make the doree caramalized onions and water mix in bulk and store in the freezer. In Pakistani households this is usually made on feast days and is served with a lamb or chicken curry. We like it with onions and tomato salsa and plain Greek yoghurt. Can be made using chicken instead of lamb by reducing the cooking time during Stage 2.


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About Me

I am Sabiha Khokhar, born in Kenya now living in London – a busy working mother, wife, published author and passionate cook. Despite having many interests in life, my greatest joy is FOOD!

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