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Category: Persian and Persian-style Rice

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!

Persian Broad Beans & Dill Rice with Braised Lamb Shanks

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!

It takes some effort to shell broadbeans but it's totally worth it!
It takes some effort to shell broad beans but it’s totally worth it.

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.

Fresh dill (or dill weed) has a lovely aroma when steamed in rice and is thought to "balance" the nutrition properties of broadbeans.
Fresh dill (or dill weed) has a lovely aroma when steamed with rice and is thought to “balance” the nutrition properties of broad beans.

“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.

Dried dill is preferred in some dishes as it's aroma is stronger than fresh.
Dried dill is preferred in some dishes as it’s aroma is stronger than fresh.

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 fusion version of baghali polo with Arborio rice. Unlike Persian rice that has to be very fluffy, this one is a bit sticky but tastes fab.
A fusion version of baghali polo with Arborio rice. Unlike Persian rice that has to be very fluffy, this one is a bit sticky but tastes fab.

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.

potato-tahdig
Potato slices keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and are a delicious treat (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.

Golden slices of potato (tahdig) from the bottom of the pot.
Golden slices of potato (tahdig) from the bottom of the pot. It’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?

To make enough for 4 persons with very big appetite you will need the following ingredients:

For the rice and tahdig:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 heaping tablespoons table salt
  • 300g fresh or frozen podded broad beans (double-shelled)
  • 60g dill, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried dill
  • 50g butter
  • 1cm thick slices of baking potatoes (about two medium)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron

For the shanks:

  • 4 small lamb shanks
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or extra virgin rapeseed oil)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tsp whole green or black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp salt

 

Instructions for cooking the shanks:

Shanks take longer to cook, so start with those first.

  1. Trim all the fat from the shanks. Put two tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan big enough to hold all of the shanks. Brown the shanks all around on medium heat, sprinkling with turmeric halfway through. Remove to a plate.
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the saucepan and sauté the chopped onions until lightly caramelised. Add the peppercorns, garlic and bay leaf. Cook for a minute or two. Return the shanks to the saucepan and cover with enough boiling water to cover the shanks. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat as much as you can. Braise, covered, for at least two hours or until well-cooked.
  3. Remove the shanks and put the broth through a sieve. Discard the pulp and return the shanks to the pot with the tomato puree and salt. Cover and cook on medium heat until the sauce has reduced by half and the shanks are really falling off the bones. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Instructions for making the steamed rice:

  1. Put the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water to wash off the starch until the water runs clear. Put in a bowl and add enough water to cover the rice by about three centimetres. Add the salt and gently stir. Let stand.
  2. Defrost the bean (if using frozen). Pop the beans out of their shells with a gentle squeeze. Set aside for an hour.
  3. Bring a medium size lidded saucepan (preferably non-stick coated) of water to the boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Gently stir and cook until al dente (soft with a bite in the centre). Drain in a sieve.
  4. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Arrange one layer of potato slices in the bottom of the saucepan. Use a large spoon or skimmer to gently transfer 1/3 of the rice into the pot, slightly heaping it in the middle. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the fresh dill, the dried dill and 1/3 of the broad beans and repeat until all the rice, broad beans and dill are used up. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pot tightly.
  5. Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices. Set aside.
  6. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave oven.
  7. Increase the heat and cook the rice for a couple of minutes on high heat or until the side of the pot is very hot to the touch. Lift the lid, pour the butter evenly over the rice and cover with the lid. Lower the heat as much as you can (using a heat diffuser is helpful) and let the rice steam for approximately 30 minutes after the first signs of steam appear. The rice is ready when you see a lot of steam and there is some caramelisation around the bottom.
  8. When ready to serve use a skimmer to gently transfer some of the white layer of rice to a plate. Add the infused saffron to the rice and mix gently. Put the rest of the rice in a platter and cover the top with the saffron rice.
  9. Now use a wooden or silicon spoon or slicer to lift the potato slices (tahdīg) from the bottom of the pot. Serve with the lamb shanks and the sauce from cooking the lamb. Enjoy!