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Category: Chicken & other poultry

Spiced Persian Rice with Chicken and Green Beans (Lubia Polo)

Long ago I shared a recipe for an easy version of lubia polo. As I mentioned in that post that recipe was born out of necessity because I didn’t have the right ingredients at home that day. That very different lubia polo was voted a family favourite by critics No. 1 & 2 and I often make it for them now. But today I’m sharing a more authentic version. Today’s recipe comes with the bonus instructions for saffron tahdig, a crunchy golden crust to die for.

sautéed-greenbeans
Sautéing green beans in oil changes the flavour and keeps them from getting mushy while the rice is steaming.

Green beans taste quite different when sautéed in oil. The flavour of beans in this lubia polo recipe is not same as simply boiled green beans so don’t skip the frying stage

My version of Lubia polo (also spelled as loobia polo) which is very similar to what my mum makes is perfumed with cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and saffron and is really comforting whatever the season. The spices and the two-stage cooking method that involves parboiling the rice and steaming afterwards make all the difference. This one is very fluffy and aromatic.

Persian-green-bean-rice-recipe

I’ve often wondered if there’s a historical link between Persian layered rice dishes like lubia polo and Indian biryanis. They are prepared in the same way but Indian biryanis are usually quite spicy whereas ours are not. The tiny amounts of black pepper and chilli powder that we use in our dishes goes nowhere near the amount in the mildest of Indian dishes.

There’s no mention of meat in the name of lubia polo (green bean rice) but that’s not surprising. Like many other Persian dishes this one takes its name from the vegetable in it. The real authentic and original lubia polo is made with lamb (or mutton). Using chicken breasts is my twist to cut the cooking time almost in half but I must confess, lamb is tastier so I make it with lamb whenever I have time. The rest of the recipe is as authentic as it gets.

loobia-polo-ba-morgh-recipe
Saffron rice in the bottom of the pot ready for the layers of plain rice and the chicken-green beans mixture. The mixture is quite dry so it won’t make the rice mushy.

Sometimes I’m too hungry or too tired after work to follow all the stages of the recipe for lubia polo, that is boil the rice, layer with prepared green beans mix and steam for perfect fluffy rice. On such days I kind of cheat and just make the chicken and green beans mix, add a few chunks of tomato and water and let it simmer away while I’m making rice by the absorption method (kateh) in my Persian rice cooker. Those rice cookers are real life-savers for us Iranians!

Making kateh is much quicker and easier than the more elaborate method of parboiling and steaming (chelo) although the result is not as perfect. But who cares about perfection when everybody’s HUN-GAR-Y?

Persian-rice-recipe

On occasions like that while the rice is cooking I stew the chicken and green beans and serve as a khoresht (stew eaten with rice). If cooked separately like this it will be khoresht-e lubia which is a real khoresht. So two recipes in one here!

Lubia polo (layered rice) and khoresht-e lubia  are both especially nice with chopped lemony tomato and cucumber salad and the rest of the usual things we serve with most meals, like small bowls of pickles (torshi), fresh herbs and radishes (sabzi khordan) and yoghurt. Can a meal get any healthier (and more satisfying) than that?

tahdig-with-saffron-recipe
This perfect golden tahdig (crispy rice from the bottom of the pot) has been flavoured with saffron.

I often make a big pot of this and save some for later in the week. No one has ever complained about having to eat the same thing twice in a week, at least in my house. Lubia polo is always welcomed and enjoyed even two days in a row. The following recipe will feed four hungry people.

Persian-rice-recipe
A classic version of lubia polo with small chunks of lamb. The cooking process is the same but takes longer.

Check out my simplified lubia polo recipe here and if you are using saffron for the tahdig make sure you read the instructions for brewing saffron in my post How to Use Saffron.

Ingredients

For the rice and tahdig

  • 360g good quality basmati rice
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 20g butter
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • large pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1/2 tablespoon of very hot water (optional)

For layering with rice

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 300g green beans or runner beans, cut into 2 cm pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 tbsp tomato puree
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Method:

  1. Put the rice in a bowl and fill the bowl with lukewarm water. Gently rub the rice between palms and drain the cloudy water. Repeat two or three times until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with water and add the salt. Stir gently. Let stand for two hours. If you don’t have that much time just let it stand while you are preparing the beans, etc.
  2. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat and sauté the green beans until they are slightly caramelised around the edges. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the chopped onion. Sauté until it’s slightly coloured. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken pieces and turmeric and cook until golden. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomato puree and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the sautéed beans and enough water to barely cover the chicken and beans. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for thirty minutes or until almost all of the water has evaporated.
  4. Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a medium-sized pot. Drain the rice well and add to the pot. Cook on medium heat until it’s soft but still has a bite in the centre. Drain well.
  5. Put two tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pot and place over high heat. Put a few spoonfuls of rice in the bottom of the pot and stir in saffron water if using (as seen in the top right corner of the second picture above). You can save some saffron water to drizzle over the last layer of rice before steaming and use it to garnish the rice when plating up.
  6. Mix the cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and nutmeg in a small bowl.
  7. Gently transfer 1/3 of the rice to the pot. Spread 1/3 of the chicken and beans mixture on top of the first layer of rice and sprinkle with 1/3 of the spice mix. Repeat until all the rice, green beans and chicken and spices are used up. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pot tightly.
  8. Increase the heat and cook for a couple of minutes or until the side of the pot is hot and sizzles when touched with a wet finger.
  9. Melt the butter with two tablespoons of water in a small saucepan or in the microwave and pour over the rice evenly. Cover with the towel-wrapped lid immediately. Lower the heat as much as you can and let the rice steam without lifting the lid. Use a heat diffuser if you have one. Steam will soon begin to rise from around the lid. The pot, covered with a lid or foil, can go into the oven at 170C/350F for 30 minutes after pouring in the water if you are not confident with the stovetop method.
  10. When ready to serve gently transfer the rice from the pot to a platter. Now use a wooden or silicon spoon or slicer to lift the crispy rice (or any tahdig that you have made) from the bottom of the pot. Serve on a separate plate.

An Apple Expert’s Chicken & Apple Stew Recipe (Khoresht-e Sib)

I have a Persian apple and chicken stew recipe for you today that is quite unique because it comes from a man who has dedicated his life to growing not one or a few but literally hundreds of kinds of apples and other fruit trees. He also happens to be an excellent cook.

In October I had the honour to visit Keepers Nursery in Kent, England, where Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim have probably the largest private collection of apple trees in the world. The sheer variety of apples they grow is truly stunning. I saw apples that weighed nearly a kilo as well as tiny ones in all colours and shades and many others in between. They also grow Persian and other varieties of medlars and quinces. I got to taste some of Hamid’s superb quince jam and spiced pickled pears the first time I visited.

Keepers-nursery
Hamid Habibi, Sima Morshed and their son Karim. Cookies, the family dog, has a taste for tart apples and competed with me in tasting.

Cooking with fruit is a characteristic of the Persian cuisine. We love putting fruits of all sorts in our food to give it the sweet and sour flavour (malas) we so much love. Hamid is Iranian but has lived in Britain for many years. When he told me he does a Persian apple khoresht with chicken I had to beg for his recipe. He agreed to give me his recipe as well as an interview to share with my readers. So let’s meet Hamid first:

Hamid, please tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been growing apples? How many varieties do you think you have in your collection?

My wife Sima and I have been growing apple trees as amateur gardeners for a long time but professionally for about 25 years. Our professional involvement really started as a result of my father-in-law setting up a little orchard in part of our garden for our two sons when they were small. He thought it would be nice for them to grow up with fruit trees like we had as children in Iran. To cut a long story short we ended up buying some land around our house and going into partnership with the nurseryman who planted the little orchard for us. This was over 25 years ago. We now have what is probably the largest private collection of fruit trees in the country which includes about 600 varieties of apple. The nursery has grown and our younger son Karim, now grown up, has also become our partner (and occasionally boss!) in the business. We believe that we have the largest range of fruit trees for sale anywhere.

apples-keepers-nursery
A few of the many varieties of apples from Keepers Nursery

You obviously have a huge supply of many different varieties of apples from the orchard. In what different ways do you use them?

There are lots of ways apples can be used but there is nothing quite like biting into a fresh, crisp and juicy apple straight off the tree. We are lucky to have almost an endless supply from August until about Christmas. We manage to get through quite a few every day: For breakfast, as dessert after lunch or dinner, or just as a snack straight off the tree while we are working in the nursery. We juice some and have our own apple juice throughout the year and some to give to friends as well. One of our favourite cakes is what I call “triple apple cake” because it has a lot more apple in it than cake! We also make apple sauce with cinnamon as a dessert or to have with yogurt or on cereals. We also make dried apple which is a great healthy snack. One of the favourite dishes in our house is a Persian apple stew – khorest-e sib – and we have our own recipe for it.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit.

This red-fleshed tart apple was the best I tasted during my visit. 

Where does your apple khoresht recipe come from? Your family in Iran? 

When we were first married Sima said that her favourite dish when she was a child in Iran was khoresht-e sib. Apparently it was a regular dish in their house. I had never had it. In fact it is not a very common dish. Anyway I came up with my version of khoresht-e sib which while it follows the basic pattern of Persian khorsht recipes, is probably unique to our house.

What’s your favourite variety of apple to cook with? What kind of apples work best in your recipe? Any commonly found UK varieties you can recommend?

I have tried a lot of different apple varieties but one of the best, which happens to be one that is available from supermarkets throughout the year in Pink Lady. The khoresht needs a sweet apple with a firm texture which does not break up easily when cooked. It also needs to be an apple which does not discolour too quickly.

What’s the key spice in your apple khoresht recipe?

The key spice is saffron which gives a golden yellow colour to the apples. But I also use turmeric and cinnamon in the recipe.

I had dinner with Hamid and Sima recently. Hamid had made the apple khoresht for us with rice and a delicious golden tahdig (crust from the bottom of the pot). The khoresht smelled and tasted heavenly. I took some pictures of his khoresht but the lighting was not good and none was usable so I made the khoresht this weekend according to his recipe and the house once again filled with the lovely aroma of saffron, cinnamon and apples. So here is his recipe for 4-6 servings:

 

Ingredients:

  • 750g chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1.5Kg Pink Lady apples
  • 2 onions
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 100ml white cider vinegar
  • 100ml sekanjebin (Elderflower cordial syrup works well as an English alternative)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder or small stick of whole cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 1 tbsp plain flour 

Method:

  1. Peel and finely chop the onions. Put 3 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add the turmeric and cinnamon and stir in.
  2. Add the skinned chicken thighs to the pan and cook until they are well covered with the spices and sealed. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, season with salt and a little pepper and stir. Add 500ml of boiling water and bring back to boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is well cooked. 
  3. Meanwhile, core and cut the apples into 8-10 segments. An apple segment cutter is ideal for this. Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil in a sauté pan. Add the apple segments and sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Mix the saffron with 2 tablespoons boiling water in a cup. Pour over the apple segments and stir. The apple segments should become golden yellow as they absorb the saffron. Put the apple segments in a bowl. 
  5. Once cooked allow the chicken to cool sufficiently to handle. Gently take the chicken meat off the bone and place the pieces in the sauté pan. Pour the stock left from cooking the chicken into the sauté pan. Arrange the apple segments on top.
  6. Mix the juice from the two lemons, vinegar and sekanjebin (or elderflower syrup) and pour it over the contents of the sauté pan. Simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes checking regularly to ensure that the apple does not overcook. It is important to cook the apple segments to exactly the right amount. They are ready when they are soft and fairly limp but have not yet started to fall apart. Serve with rice and enjoy.

 Reminder from Hamid: “Like most Persian dishes khoresht-e sib benefits from allowing the flavours to blend. We call it ja oftadan. Many are allowed to cook slowly. As this is a dish that cooks relatively fast, I like to leave it to sit for an hour or two and to re-heat it before serving.” 

A note on Sekanjebin: This Persian syrup is very easy to make at home. Put 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Add 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 2 large sprigs of mint. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and discard the mint when the syrup has cooled. Use as called for in the recipe.

Persian Sweet & Sour Chicken Meatballs with Carrots & Prunes

This Persian sweet and sour chicken meatballs recipe is my quick and easy variation of khoresht-e aloo ba havij (plum & carrot khoresht/khoresh).

I hate to call it a stew but there’s no other word in English to use. In Persian cuisine my sweet and sour chicken meatballs belongs to the category of khoresht (also pronounced as khoresh) like many other so-called stews that we serve with rice. Like curries if you will. Khoreshts can be green, yellow, red or even dark brown.

Khoreshts are made with various kinds of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits and pulses. Many include meat, poultry or fish but there are some without. A khoresht is often named after whichever ingredient that is the star of the dish. Possibilities are quite endless.

khoresht-karafs
Lamb and celery in mint and parsley sauce is an example of green, herby khoresht served with rice.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s no mention of chicken in the Persian version of the name of the my khoresht. That’s because in this one carrots and prunes are the shining stars.

Meat usually plays the second fiddle to vegetables, herbs or fruits in a khoresht. Have you seen my Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime recipe? If you are not a big fan of meat you can make that one with chicken pieces or meatballs like this one. Or use mushrooms if you like and it will still be khoresht bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant khoresht).

khoresht-beh
Lamb meatballs with quinces, prunes and yellow lentils (khoresht-e beh) is another example of khoresht.

Nothing is really set in stone in Persian cooking. We even don’t really measure our ingredients. Most Persian cooks just use their eyes, taste buds and noses and few have measuring cups and spoons in their kitchens!

I learned cooking in the same way. My grandmothers didn’t have measuring cups or scales in their kitchens but very magically they managed to turn out fabulous dishes of same quality every time.

When I’m writing recipes I do use scales and measuring spoons. It takes more time but I want to give you a recipe that works. You can go on to make it your own by adjusting the ingredients to your own taste. It’s the method that really matters.

chicken-meatballs
Frying the meatballs until they are golden makes the sauce richer and the meatballs more delicious.

I often make my sweet and sour chicken with thigh pieces but when I have chicken breasts in the fridge I tend to make chicken meatballs for this khoresht rather than using whole or cut up breasts. All the spices that I add to the meatballs and the onion that goes into it makes the rather bland chicken breast taste so much better and more succulent.

In Iran this dish is usually made with golden aloo bokhara, a special kind of yellow plums that are poached, peeled and sun dried. Aloo bokhara is quite hard to come by here. I find prunes a very good substitute but add a little fresh lemon juice to the sauce. It works quite well.

I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.
I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.

Chicken meatballs with carrots and prunes is delicious with rice but you can also serve it on its own, with crusty bread and a nice green salad like my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Romaine Lettuce Salad and a lovely glass of dry white wine.

Ingredients to serve four:

For the meatballs:

  • 3 medium chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp butter

For the sauce:

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced or cut into batons
  • A handful of pitted prunes
  • Pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • sugar to taste

Method:

  1. Put the cubed chicken, onion, salt and spices in a food processor and blitz until everything is chopped up.
  2. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Wet your hands and shape the chicken mixture into balls larger than walnuts. Add to the pan and fry on medium heat until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add one tablespoon oil to the pan and gently fry the carrots for a few minutes without colouring. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions on medium heat until well caramelised. Add the turmeric and cumin and cook briefly. Add the tomato paste and salt and cook for a minute or two.
  5. Return the chicken meatballs and carrots to the pan. Add the prunes and enough boiling water to almost cover the meatballs. Bring to the boil. Add the saffron and lower the heat. Cover the pan and simmer for thirty minutes or until the carrots and prunes are cooked through.
  6. Add lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to taste and adjust the seasoning. During cooking you can always add a little boiling water if the sauce is too thick or cook longer to reduce it. Serve with rice.