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.
It’s officially spring, right? Nothing says spring better than a herby green rice with emerald-green broad beans.
This rice is called baghali polo (broad bean rice) in Persian. It’s an absolute favourite of Persian families and is found in almost any restaurant. In spring when broad beans appear in the markets in their green pods people buy huge bags to shell and freeze for the rest of the year. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say freezing loads of broad beans is one of the main reasons Iranian homes have to have huge freezers!
What gives this lovely rice its characteristic aroma is dill, fresh or dried or even both like in my recipe. Dill is widely used in Persian cooking. According to ancient Persian medical wisdom dill is a “warm” herb and broad beans are “cold” so using the two together balances the dish, making it a healthy one.
“Warm” and “cold” don’t refer to actual heat at all. It’s the composition of natural elements and nutrition occurring in any given ingredient that gives it it’s “warm” or “cold” character. Too much “cold” will result in tummy discomfort among other things and too much heat in food can cause other problems such as a general feeling of too much heat, and skin problems like rashes.
The aim is always to balance these elements (I’m giving a very simplified account). The knowledge of these principles is handed down in families and good cooks are always well versed in these principles so they don’t just throw ingredients in a dish randomly, they try to balance nutritious elements in it. Don’t want to bore you with this stuff anymore so better get down to the real business now!
Iranians make this rice with long-grain Persian (the top choice), or since that is quite expensive even in Iran, with imported basmati rice which is more affordable. Good Persian rice from the Caspian Sea rice-growing region is very hard to come by here so I usually use basmati or Thai Jasmine. I have made this dish with Arborio rice too but with a different method. It turned out like a lovely risotto-like dish (picture below).
A very Persian thing about making steamed rice is covering the bottom of the pot with sliced potatoes, lavash (a kind of flatbread), or even romaine lettuce leaves. This layer, called tahdig (bottom of the pot) cooks to a golden perfection and is the most prized part of a meal. Real or faked fights (for the sake of a bit of dinner-time fun) often happen over the crispy tahdig.
Baghali polo is usually eaten with braised lamb, chicken, pan-fried fish or even with a green herby frittata (kookoo sabzi). I recommend that for vegetarians. My recipe for Kale and Potato Egg Muffins (see the recipe here) can be made like a crustless quiche to be served with baghali polo.
To make enough for 4 persons with very big appetite you will need the following ingredients:
For the rice and tahdig:
For the shanks:
Instructions for cooking the shanks:
Shanks take longer to cook, so start with those first.
Instructions for making the steamed rice: