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Category: Pilaf

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.

Vegetarian Bulghur Pilaf with Aubergine (Eggplant) Tahdig

You’ll love the bulghur pilaf and the aubergine tahdig in this recipe. I think every other recipe I post has aubergines in it but what’s there not to love about it? It’s delicious and nutritious and it lends itself well to all sorts of cooking methods and spices.

I’m not vegetarian, at least not yet, but have been trying to cut meat from our meals as much as I can. Using aubergines helps me balance the flavour of vegetarian dishes, on their own or with mushrooms for added protein.

My desire to eat less or no meat has led me to “invent” quite a few dishes that had not been in my repertoire before, including this delicious pilaf which I made a couple of weeks ago. It turned out even better than I had imagined and looked really good too.

Bulghur pilafs can be found in many of Iran’s regional cuisines. These recipes usually call for mixing bulghur with rice or lentils. There is also one made with noodles which is really delicious.

Since I was making this one with aubergine I decided to go for aubergine tahdig. What’s tahdig? Bear with me, I’m going to explain that right now.

Tahdig is a layer of crispy, golden rice (or other things) coming from the bottom of the rice pot. Iranians love this and there is usually a ritual of fighting over the tahdig at the table to determine who gets the biggest share. Bulghur is treated in the same way. Even pasta, but that’s another story!

tahdig
Thin flatbread (lavash) crispened in the bottom of the rice pot (tahdig). This is only one of the many types of tahdig.

Making good tahdig, nicely coloured and crispy, is an art and the sign of the competency of a cook. Thin flatbread, potato slices or other sliced vegetables are often laid in the bottom of the pot (whatever we are making, rice, pasta, bulgur) for other kinds of tahdig. Aubergine is one of the tastiest.

The aubergine slices turned beautifully golden, caramelised and nicely soft with crispy bulghur surrounding the slices. yum yum! To make tahdig you need to use a non-stick coated or ceramic saucepan or pot. It’s really worth investing in a good one for cooking rice and pilafs. You get a nice crust and nothing is wasted. It’s easier to clean afterwards too.

tahdig-aubergine-eggplant
Aubergine tahdig: Arrange thick slices in the bottom of the pot and cover with the cooked bulghur. Then steam long and slow.
tahdig-aubergine-eggplant
Aubergine slices from the bottom of the pot of the bulghur pilaf. The whole thing is inverted on a plate like a cake.

Bulghur is cooked, pounded and dried wheat. It comes in different sizes. I used medium grain (coarse) to give texture to the pilaf. Finer bulghur is better suited for making salads.

Vegetarian may like to add a minty yoghurt and cucumber topping to this dish like I do. The ingredients and recipe are listed below.

So to make this lovely pilaf for four people you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying the vegetables
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 120 g brown or white mushrooms, quartered
  • 60 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil (drained and coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (or mild Aleppo pepper)
  • 250 g coarse bulghur
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 600 ml boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil for the bulghur (or 10 g butter)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil for the tahdig

For the yoghurt and cucumber topping (for non-vegans):

  • 200 ml  Greek-style or other thick yoghurt
  • 2 tsp dried mint, crushed
  • 1/2 large cucumber, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper (or chilli flakes) to taste

Method: 

  1. Sauté the chopped onion with one tablespoon of the olive oil until it is lightly golden.
  2. Take four thick slices from the aubergine and cube the rest.
  3. Add the aubergine cubes and mushrooms to the onion with another tablespoon of the olive oil. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the aubergine is lightly golden on all sides. Add a tablespoon of hot water to the frying pan and cover. Cook for five minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the aubergine is cooked through.
  4. Add the garlic, spices and sun-dried tomatoes to the aubergine and cook for a couple of minutes again.
  5. Rinse the bulghur in a sieve. Put in a medium saucepan with the boiling water, one and one half tablespoon olive oil (or the butter) and 1 tsp salt. Bring to the boil. Cook for ten minutes. Add the vegetables to the bulghur when half the water is absorbed. Stir and continue cooking until all the water is absorbed.
  6. Put the olive oil for the tahdig in the bottom of a lidded non-stick coated saucepan. Put on the heat and wait until the oil is hot. Sprinkle a little salt over the aubergine slices and lay them in the pot. Pile the bulghur mixture on top of the aubergine slices and put the lid on. Cook on high for one minute (or until the side of the saucepan feels hot to the touch). Lower the heat to very low and cook for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the burner). Check the bulghur after twenty minutes. If steam is rising and you see some crispiness and colouring on the sides it’s time to take it off the heat.
  7. Meanwhile, mix the chopped cucumbers with yoghurt and mint. Correct the seasoning and set aside.
  8. Cover the saucepan with a large plate and holding tightly with both hands very carefully invert the saucepan and the plate to release the bulghur and tahdig onto the plate like a cake. Serve with the yoghurt and cucumber topping or a lemony chopped tomato and cucumber salad. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Rice with Aubergine (Eggplant), Persian-Style

Will I ever stop posting recipes that use aubergines in one way or another? Never! I love aubergines so much I always have at least a couple in my fridge. So here is another recipe with aubergine playing a star role.

The now humble aubergine has been eaten in Iran since ancient times. There are references to dishes made with aubergines in 9th century books, like a dish called burani that was created for the very lavish wedding feast of Queen Buran, the Persian wife of Caliph al-Mamoun, the caliph of Baghdad. At that time the aubergine which originated in India was quite a novelty.

Medium-sized aubergines
Medium-sized aubergines. Aubergines were brought to Iran from India  in ancient times.

The list of Persian rice dishes has no ending. This one is not a particularly authentic one although there are some regional rice dishes that are layered with aubergines such as the bademjan polo of Qazvin (a city to the west of the capital, Tehran).

This dish is one of my “fusion” ones. It’s kind of a cross between bademjan polo and the Spanish paella. The cuisines of Iran and Spain  have a lot in common. Sounds strange? It does but food historians have established the connection between the two cuisines. The influence came through the Moors that ruled Spain for centuries. The Moors who had been influenced by the Persians in many ways took both rice and saffron to Spain with them.

Iranian rice dishes are usually made in deep saucepans but I like to make this dish in a big frying pan, much like in making paella. I also like to make it with Arborio rice. Arborio is short-grain and usually used for making risottos. If you are using other rice varieties, such as basmati, make sure you use less water as other types of rice can quickly get mushy unless they are of the “easy cook” type which needs even more water to cook thoroughly.

Cubed aubergines, mushrooms, tiny plum tomatoes, sliced jalapeño peppers, chopped onions and garlic give body , texture and lots of flavour to the rice.
Cubed aubergines, mushrooms, tiny plum tomatoes, sliced jalapeño peppers, chopped onions and garlic give body , texture and lots of flavour to the rice.

 

vegetarian-pilaf-recipe-with-eggplants-aubergines-mushrooms
Turmeric and saffron give a bright colour, and lots of flavour, to the pilaf.

This dish can be flavoured with saffron, too. I usually use saffron (I’m lucky I always have a stash sent to me by family from Iran) but sweet smoked Spanish paprika is a great spice on its own. I sometimes use both. There are no words to describe the aroma of these spices when the rice is bubbling away on the stove!

I love to serve this scrumptious rice dish with plenty of tomato and cucumber salad (salad shirazi), a basket of herbs (sabzi khordan), yoghurt, olives and/or Persian relishes (torshi). With all these accompaniments the meatless dinner turns into a real feast!

To serve four people you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 large white onion (or 2 small), finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp oil (extra virgin rapeseed oil works very nicely)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large or 2 small aubergines, unpeeled, cut into cubes
  • 400g brown (or other) mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 2 red pepper, seeded and cut into small squares
  • 2 jalapeno, thinly sliced (or substitute chillies, or omit if you wish)
  • A handful of tiny plum or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds, lightly crushed
  • 400g Arborio or other risotto rice
  • 1 litre boiling water (or vegetable or other stock)
  • Pinch of saffron (ground)
  • 1 tsp salt (less if using stock)
  • Chopped parsley or coriander to garnish

Method:

  1. Put the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Heat half of the oil in a large frying pan with a lid. Add the chopped onion and sauté on medium heat until lightly golden (about six minutes). Add the minced garlic and red peppers and cook for 2 minutes. Stir from time to time.
  3. Add the cubed aubergine. Stir and cook for a few minutes until the aubergine is lightly golden. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle all the spices (except saffron, if using) on the aubergine mixture. Add the sliced jalapeno (or chillies) and the rest of the oil. Cook for 2 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons water and cover. Cook on medium heat until water is evaporated and the tomatoes soften a bit.
  5. Add the rice to the pan and stir to cover the rice grains in oil and spices. Add 1/4 litre (one cup) boiling water (or stock) and stir gently. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat (or medium, depending on the size of your burner) until most of the water has evaporated. Add the saffron and the rest of the water (or stock) in the same way, one cup at a time and cook until the rice grains soften but still have a bite in the centre. Cover with the lid and lower the heat to low. Let the rice steam. If you like the slightly caramelised crust in the bottom of a paella pan or are a fan of Persian tahdīg continue the steaming on low heat until the rice in the bottom is slightly browned. The crust will be really yummy!
  6. Garnish with chopped parsley or coriander and serve with yoghurt, herbs and chopped tomato salad. Enjoy!

Cooking time: Anywhere between 45 to 60 minutes depending on the type of rice, size of frying pan and size of burner.