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Category: Rice, quinoa, bulghur, barley, etc.

Persian-Inspired Quinoa with Smoked Trout

How about a Persian-inspired warm quinoa recipe today? Only a few years ago I hadn’t even heard the name of quinoa but now I regularly cook with it. What makes it really great to cook with is that it can be used pretty much in the same way as rice.

On a recent visit to Sweden I saw a beautiful chubby smoked trout in the deli section of a supermarket and just couldn’t go home without it. My gorgeous trout had to sit in the fridge for a couple of weeks while I sorted other stuff and waited for me to make up my mind how to give it the star role in a dish because it deserved nothing less.

smoked-trout-from-sweden

Yesterday I decided it was time to say hello to the my Swedish trout. I put it on a plate and it looked so pretty I wanted to eat it with my eyes! It smelled wonderfully smokey and had nice firm flesh that flaked easily with a fork. How about having it with quinoa? “We’ll give it a try”, said Critic No.1 & Critic No.2.

Iranians usually eat fish with herby green rice. One green rice dish, baghali polo, combines the flavours of dill and broad beans. Another, sabzi polo, is made with lots of herbs (coriander, parsley, Persian chives, fenugreek greens and dill) and baby garlic.

rice-with-broad-beans
Rice with dill and broad beans (baghali polo) is often eaten with fish.
pan-fried-sea-bass
Persian green rice (sabzi polo) with pan-fried sea bass.

Some smoked trout (and other fish) I had eaten in Iran I can really describe as fabulous. In the Caspian Sea regions of Iran they know how to smoke their fish. They even know how to smoke their rice!

I will write about smoked rice soon but not now. Writing about smoked rice to me is like writing poetry. You can’t do it between sorting the laundry and keeping up with the news of the nuclear talks going on between Iran and the world powers in Vienna now. So the story has to wait for a better day.

Since I had no rice at home I decided to go Persian with quinoa that I had, well, a little Persian. I cooked it in stock flavoured with dill and new garlic.

My Persian-style flavouring for Quinoa
My Persian-style flavouring for Quinoa – Note the gorgeous fresh garlic.

Using new garlic was a good idea because I didn’t want the garlic flavour to overpower the fish but I also needed it to balance the aroma and flavour. I used almost the whole head and the scent was still mild and subtle.

Broad beans would have worked very nicely in this dish but I didn’t have any. Plain quinoa and dill wouldn’t look that good. I needed more green. I love to balance colours in my dishes, as much as I can. Petit pois could do the job and I always have a bag or two in the freezer. So petit pois it was!

Double-shelled baby broad beans that I didn't have!
Double-shelled baby broad beans that I didn’t have!

Critics No.1 & 2 both gave very favourable reviews. Both are very picky and will tell me very frankly if something doesn’t work in a dish so I always ask their opinion when I make something new. Sometimes I have to wait for a while because they are too busy eating and won’t speak up!

This recipe will work very nicely with any kind of flaky smoked fish. Salmon will be just as good, if not better.

To serve 4 – 6 you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 large whole smoked trout (about 600g)
  • 300g white quinoa
  • 1 litre water or stock (fish or vegetable)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 11/2 tbs dried dill
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 20g butter
  • 1 head fresh garlic (or three or four cloves of dry garlic), cloves peeled and thinly sliced
  • 60g fresh dill, stalks removed and roughly chopped
  • 250g petit pois or double-shelled baby broad beans

Method:

  1. Bring the water/stock to the boil with the dried dill and salt.
  2. Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve and drain well if it isn’t already washed. Unwashed quinoa can sometimes taste soapy. Add the quinoa to the boiling water/stock with the oil (and butter if using) and stir well. Cook over medium-low heat for five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further ten minutes or until water or stock has completely been absorbed. Don’t forget to give it a gentle stir now and then while it is cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, gently pull away the skin from the fish. Use a fork to lift off chunks of flesh from the bones.
  4. Stir the dill and petit pois (or double-shelled baby broad beans) into the quinoa and transfer to a lidded frying pan. Arrange the chunks of fish on top of the quinoa. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pan. Let the quinoa steam for ten to fifteen minutes on very low heat. Uncover and garnish with a sprig of mint. Serve warm or cold with lots of lemon or lime to squeeze over the dish.

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.

Dolmeh: Persian-Style Stuffed Chard Leaves (Vegan)

This Swiss chard recipe came as a substitute for dolmeh, our favourite stuffed grape-vine leaves but turned out so good I’d be making them again and again. It was that time of year when I had woken up from my winter slumber and started craving food from the garden. One of my favourite spring foods is dolmeh (stuffed leaves or veggies). I usually make it with freshly picked grape leaves if I’m lucky to find a good vine with slightly sour, tender and nicely round leaves. But here in the UK I don’t get that lucky too often.  Most grape varieties grown here have thicker, downy leaves or the leaves have deep cuts that makes them hard to stuff. Most brined grape leaves I’ve tried were quite tough too. But there are other leaves that can be stuffed to make dolmeh, right?

I grow lots of Swiss chard and beets in my garden. They are the easiest vegetables to grow and if the frosts don’t bite too hard they keep their leaves even through winter. I always thought it was a shame to discard the leaves after using the rainbow chard stems that come in bright red, yellow and green so used the leaves much as I would use spinach. But one day it occurred to me to substitute them for grape leaves. It worked, much much better than I thought.

making-dolmeh-Swiss-chard
Swiss chard leaves are very tender and nutritious.

Stuffed leaves and vegetables, appear in most Middle Eastern cuisines. Every country has its own version and so does Iran. The Persian name (dolmeh) derives from a Turkish root meaning to stuff. Armenian tolma and Greek dolmas are other variants of the same name.

The flavour of the stuffed leaves hugely varies from place to place. Iran has several variants of stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh barg mo) from lightly sour, to sour as well as a sweet and sour version. Some are vegetarian, others made with meat. Some are flavoured with herbs, others with spices. some are made with rice, others with bulghur or a mixture of the two.

Beet-leaves-dolmeh
Beet leaves are not as tender as chard leaves but still very good for making dolmeh.

My title says Persian-style and that’s what these gorgeous bundles of flavour and goodness are. Persian dolmeh are different in several ways including shape. They are shaped like little square parcels rather than rolls like everywhere else. I felt more comfortable rolling the chard leaves like spring rolls but the taste is very very Persian because of the herbs that I’ve used to flavour these.

Persian-grape-vine-leaf-dolmeh
A huge pot of stuffed vine leaves with garlic and gooseberries (substituted for gojeh sabz).

Persian rice is very hard to come by here and I don’t like the texture and look of basmati, the most often used substitute, in dolmeh. I used arborio rice for making my dolmeh. It’s the kind of rice used for making risotto and very tasty. I’ve made it with Thai Jasmine and it works really well too.

As you can see in the picture below the rice for the stuffing is only half-cooked. it will complete its cooking with the rest of the stuffing ingredients inside the leaves so it can absorb all the lovely flavours from other the herbs and spices without getting too mushy.

dolmeh-ingredients
Put all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

In Iran dolmeh are usually made with yellow lentils (split peas). I was feeling a bit adventurous so I went for red kidney beans. I’m glad I did because they looked and tasted great, not to say anything of their protein content.

Did you know there’s a gadget for rolling stuffed grape leaves? It’s a wonderful thing to have if you are making huge quantities and want all your stuffed leaves to be all uniform in shape and size. Here’s a video that demonstrates how the gadget works.  In the pictures below you can see how I roll mine by hand. Not that hard really.

dolmeh-stuffing
Stage one: When lightly steamed chard leaves become soft and easy to fill and roll into shape. Spread a leaf and patch up if necessary, then place a small amount of the filling near the end.
dolma-chard
Stage two: Fold in the end facing you and then sides over the stuffing.
dolmeh-dolma-dolmades
Stage three: Carefully roll each leaf into shape and arrange in a prepared saucepan in layers.

I can’t really tell you how much leaves you need for making enough of these parcels of deliciousness. It all depends on how big or small you roll your dolmeh. Let’s say you need about thirty big leaves. Any remaining leaves can be used for other things, like stirring into yoghurt with some mashed garlic and seasoning for a healthy dip. This recipe will make generous appetiser portions for four people.

ingredients:

  • 30 largish but tender chard, beet or vine leaves
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g Arborio or Thai Jasmine rice
  • 15g parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 10g tarragon leaves, finely chopped (or substitute with fresh mint)
  • 11/2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp dried dill (or 10g fresh dill, chopped)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • Juice of one medium lemon

Method:

  1. Put the chard leaves in a big bowl and pour boiling water on the leaves. Cover with cling film and set aside to soften the leaves.
  2. Fry the chopped onion in two tablespoons of olive oil on medium low until golden brown. Stir from time to time so it colours evenly. Set aside.
  3. Bring 600 millilitres of water to boil in a small saucepan, add a pinch of salt and boil the rice briefly until it’s half-cooked. Drain well and put in a large bowl.
  4. Add the spices, salt, chopped garlic, herbs, beans and fried onions to the rice and mix well.
  5. Drain the chard leaves and use a couple to cover the bottom of a medium-sized lidded saucepan.
  6. Lay the leaves on a chopping board one by one and fill with a heaped tablespoon of the stuffing mixture. Patch up the leaves if they are broken or torn. Roll each leaf as shown in the pictures above. Don’t roll too tightly to allow for the further expansion of the stuffing.
  7. Arrange the stuffed leaves in the prepared saucepan snugly. Depending on the size of your saucepan you may have two or three layers of stuffed leaves.
  8. Pour enough water on the stuffed leaves to barely cover them. Add the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. Cover the dolmeh with a small heatproof plate. This will help keep the stuffed leaves in place. Bring to a very gentle boil on the smallest burner of your cooker and reduced the heat to very low. Cook for thirty minutes or until all the water is absorbed. If your burner is big and the water evaporates too quickly add small amounts of boiling water from time to time. The longer and slower the dolmeh cook, the tastier they will get. At the end of the cooking there shouldn’t be more than a tablespoon or two of water left.
  9. Turn off the heat, remove the plate and let the dolmeh cool a bit and settle. Carefully remove and arrange on a plate. Pour any remaining juices from the pot over the dolmeh and serve warm or cold. Enjoy!