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.

Chocolate Orange Espresso Chiffon Cake

There are many wonderful chocolate cake recipes out there but if you want a really light, fluffy and moist chocolate cake this recipe must be for you. Chiffon cakes sound a bit daunting to make but trust me, they are not hard to make. I saw a chiffon cake recipe in a magazine years ago when I was a teenager and I had to try it. The recipe worked so beautifully that I was hooked. Over the years I’ve given that basic recipe many twists to create my own flavour combinations including this chocolate orange espresso chiffon cake. It has worked beautifully every single time.

A chiffon cake is basically one made by folding a cake batter made with egg yolks and vegetable oil into stiffly beaten egg whites. It has an interesting story too. The cake was invented in 1920 by an American salesman turned caterer. He kept his recipe secret for twenty years before finally selling it to a food company for a hefty sum I suppose.

chocolate-clementine-orange-espresso-chiffon-cake-recipe
Another version with a very light orange drizzle. A few edible flower petals gave it a million dollar look.

Now a few technical tricks to make your chiffon cakes perfect: First of all, like in making meringue you must make sure the bowl and beaters and your hands are completely grease-free and dry before you start beating your egg whites. Egg whites don’t beat well if these conditions are not met.

Secondly, you must remember never to oil your chiffon cake tin. I’ll explain that when we come to our next point which is using the right kind of tin. There are special aluminium chiffon cake tins with detachable bottoms for easy removal of the cake. My bundt tin does the job but the proper one I used to own gave better results as it made the unmolding of the cake much easier.

In case of chiffon cakes it’s best not to use non-stick coated tins. You want your batter to cling to the tin and pull itself up. If it’s a bundt tin you are using (like the one I use) you will need to use a wooden skewer and some careful gentle pulling and tugging with your fingers to release the cake from the sides of the tin. A bit fiddly but works for me every time. It just needs a bit of patience and I’d rather be patient than buy a special tin that I have no room to store in my almost exploding kitchen!

mini-bundt-orange-chiffon-cakes
I replaced the cocoa powder in the recipe with flour and baked the batter in mini bundt tins. A sprinkling of vanilla icing sugar and some raspberry jam to serve made them very popular in our house.

The last thing you need to know and do is cooling the cake in the tin upside down! You need to invert the cake in its tin (because it’s clinging to the sides it won’t fall out) and place it on a short-necked bottle or inverted funnel on the counter so that the neck of the bottle or funnel holds the tin (and the cake obviously) in mid-air.

If you are using a non-stick coated tin it’s a good idea to check the cake to make sure it’s clinging to the pan properly. This step will ensure that your cake is very fluffy and of proper hight. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t though so you can skip this stage if you are not feeling very confident.

In the pictures below you can see how the whites and the batter are mixed together, lightly, gently, lovingly… And for those of you who may want to ask if candied peel works for decoration my answer is yes, absolutely! But making the orange slices won’t take more than a few minutes and is totally worth going the extra length if you ask me. I prefer to use clementine juice for the cake because it’s sweeter and more intense in flavour than orange juice and oranges for decoration because orange slices look prettier but use whichever you like better.

Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into white in several stages.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into beaten whites in several stages.
Don't overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that's OK.
Don’t overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that’s OK.

There are endless flavour combinations you can use with this recipe as a guide. You can replace the cocoa powder with an equal amount of flour and make an orange chiffon cake or use lemon juice and zest for a lemon one. I’ve even done marbled chiffon cake with very good results. Give your imagination free reign, I’m sure you’ll come up with your very own favourite flavour combos!

So here’s the recipe for one large cake:

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 220g cake flour, sifted
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 180ml freshly squeezed juice (or orange juice)
  • 125ml oil (sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil)
  • zest of two medium oranges
  • 7 medium eggs, separated and allowed to reach room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (or a pinch of salt)

 

For the drizzle:

  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Boiling water

For candied orange slices:

  • 125ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 4-5 slices of orange (about 2 mm thick)

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170.
  2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, espresso powder and cocoa powder in a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Set aside.
  3. Put the egg yolks, juice and oil in a small jug and set aside.
  4. Put the egg whites in a clean, dry, grease-free bowl and add the cream of tartar (or salt) and beat on low for two minutes or until frothy. Increase speed to high and beat until very stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the yolks mixture and add the zest. Beat on low for 1 minute, then on medium for three minutes or until the batter is smooth.
  6. Add one third of the egg whites to the batter and fold in with gentle circular movement (from bottom to top, in one direction only) with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining whites in two more batches. Pour the batter into ungreased tin. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR for the first 40 minutes or your cake may deflate.
  7. While you are waiting for the cake to bake make the candied orange slices and the drizzle: Put the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook until syrup is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Arrange the orange slices in one layer in the syrup and cook on medium heat for three minute. Oranges will release juice and dilute the syrup so stir very gently to mix the syrup with the juice. Now cook on low for a few minutes or until the syrup is thick again, turning the orange slices once or twice halfway through to cook them evenly. Let the orange slices cool in the syrup. For the drizzle sift the icing sugar and cocoa and put in a small bowl. Add the vanilla and a tablespoon of boiling water (or more if the icing is too thick). Mix well until smooth and set aside.
  8. Once the cake is done take it out of the oven and check to make sure it’s properly sticking to the sides of the tin. If it doesn’t it’s best not to bother with the upside-down cooling process. If it does properly cling to the tin stick the neck of a bottle or funnel in the hole in the middle of the tin and invert on a board and let cool completely.
  9. If you are using a proper chiffon tin run a palette knife around the cake and the middle hole. Put a plate on top of the tin and invert, then give a gentle push to the bottom of the tin (now facing upward) to release the base. Remove the tin and lift the bottom piece using the palette knife.
  10. Put the cake on a serving dish and drizzle with the chocolate icing. Arrange the orange slices on top and drizzle with a little syrup from cooking the orange slices. Let stand for a couple of hours at least for flavours to develop. Enjoy!