When I returned to Karachi this winter, I was met by a familiarity that made me smile. There was always something comforting about the cool winter sea breeze of Karachi in December. It was welcomed after a long hot, intolerant summer, and even though I had only just stepped off a plane from an arctic Scotland, the nostalgia of a Pakistani southern winter greeted me with open arms.

Far removed from the huddled evenings before a log fire in Scotland, Karachi is filled with happy folk, in their shawls and the men in their warm hand-woven Peshawari hats, longing for the first touch of winter to pull out their long awaiting winter wear. It is an idyllic time, with weddings, parties and friends visiting, there was something to look forward to every day.

My best memories in the winter in Karachi have always been being ability to be outside, feel the cool crisp winter air kiss my skin and breathe in the dry desert air of Karachi laced with the essence of mild winter and heightened with hopefully excitement it brought. I loved being able to visit open bazaars with no risk of getting a heat stroke or being weighed down with sweat. I enjoyed experiencing the real Pakistan when I was home this time, the street vendors called thela-wallas (street vendors with wooden wheeled stalls. My favourite the lawallas were the winter Pathan vendors dry fruit in winter. Standing by the rugged stall, laden with tall plastic bags filled with pistachios, chilgozay (Pakistani pine nuts, from the NWFP area, longer and thinner than regular pine nuts), gajjak (sweet candy made with sugar and sesame seeds), almonds, walnuts and my least favourite at the time, sultanas and currants. I have no idea why these tiny bursts of raisin-like sweetness always make me slightly sick. It might have been that my mother loved to add them to everything sweet but more importantly, everything savoury. I never quite understood the fascination – I knew the roots of recipes with this sultana addition, being Kashmiri and North Pakistan based, but never acquired the taste of it, until now. Many of our recipes have nuts or raisins in it for flavour and not so much as you would find in Western kormas. Since I was never a fan of adding them to curries I never experimented much with raisins except when it comes to my mother’s rice dish. This incorporates favourite winter dry fruits, sultanas, saffron and is cooked like a biryani i.e. under dum (cooked covered with its steam) – this allow for the aromas and flavours to infused beautifully into the rice. This recipe now brings warmth to my home, with its comforting fragrance, it’s treasured memories and mostly it’s a taste of my mom’s cooking that I know, love and cherish most.

My mum”s nutty saffron rice

Preparation and cooking time: 45 minutes – 60 minutes

Serves: 4-6 people

Main ingredients:

150 g Basmati rice, washed and soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to cooking

1 red onion, peeled, cut into thin rings and fried in vegetable oil until golden brown, drained and kept to cool

vegetable oil

1/2 stick cinnamon

4-5 green cardamom pods, bashed open

6-7 cloves

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp peppercorns

1/2 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp ginger paste

Salt to taste

Water at hand

Nuts and dry fruit:

A handful of shelled unsalted pistachios

A handful of skinned whole almonds

A handful of sultanas

(save a bit for garnish)

ghee to fry


A few mint leaves

1/2 lemon, sliced into thin rounds

2-4 whole thin green chills

1 generous pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp boiling water


A saucepan with a tight fitting lid



1. Begin with par-boiling the soaked then drained rice, strain and then set rice aside until later. Fry the nuts and then the sultanas in a little ghee and also fry your onions are explained above. Set all this aside for now.

2. Heat about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in the saucepan over medium heat and once hot, throw in all the whole spices, once the start to splutter, add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry stirring continuously, do not let this brown. Once the raw smell of the garlic and ginger evaporates, add the par-boiled rice and fry for a minute or two. Turn the heat to medium low. Add the fried nuts (safe a few for garnishing) and mix with the rice.

3. Now pour over the saffron, shove the lemon slices and a few mint leaves into the rice, sprinkle the fried onions. Add a little water to the pan, about 2-4 tbsp. Place a piece of foil to cover the top the pan, tightly fit the lid and turn heat to low.

4. Leave to infuse and cook for about 15-20 minutes, not longer. Turn heat off and lift off lid and foil. The rice should be steaming and aromas should now be developed! After a gentle stir, serve immediately.