In 2016, I met Asghar at the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) conference in Vancouver. Asghar was working at the time to help education in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s crisis-affected administrative regions. Asghar hails from the village of Shalkanabad Palas in the Kohistan district of KP, where the Hindukush, Karakoram, and Himalayan mountains converge.
When I think of KP cuisine, I think of chapali kebabs, kabuli pulao, and Afghan tikka – what I used to think of as traditional Pashtun fare. As a result, I was startled to find that Asghar’s favourite rural cuisine was Motta Yeel Bat, also known as lobia chawal (rice cooked in red beans). After speaking with Asghar, I realised I had slipped into the exact trap I had set out to avoid with my blog. I had completely ignored the fact that KP, like the rest of the country, is a diverse province with many different groups, each with its own set of culinary traditions and palates.
Asghar generously shared his family’s recipe. Motta Yeel Bat, also known as lobia chawal, is frequently cooked for special events such as Sehri during Ramadan or when distinguished guests arrive. It’s a dish that’s lovely because of its simplicity. Because of the lobia, the rice takes on a wonderful pink tint and goes well with a variety of foods. It is traditionally served with butter or ghee, as well as a chicken or pork curry. I served mine with cumin-spiced raita and chicken roast, which made for a hearty supper.
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 1 cup red beans rinsed and soaked overnight
- Salt to taste I put in about 2 tbsp
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- Bring a large pot of water, about 5 quarts, to a boil.
- Add red beans, cover pot with lid, and let it simmer for roughly 2 hours or till beans are soft.
- While beans are cooking, wash basmati rice well, and let them soak in water.
- About an hour in, add salt and cumin seeds to the beans. Keep an eye on the water to make sure you have enough leftover for the rice. If you are running low, add hot water as needed. I added about 3 cups worth.
- Once the beans are cooked through, check for salt, and add more if needed. Again, check if you have enough water leftover to boil the rice. If you don’t, add hot water now.
- Remove from heat, and let it cool for about 20 minutes.
- After it has cooled down, bring the water back to boil, and add rice.
- Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and let rice and beans simmer on medium heat till the rice has absorbed the water, about 8-10 minutes.
- Tightly wrap the lid with a cloth, and place securely back on the pot. Dial heat to the lowest point, and let rice steam undisturbed for 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Place rice on platter and fluff with a fork, taking care not to smash the beans.