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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
For the rice and tahdig
For layering with rice
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.