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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Defrost the bean (if using frozen). Pop the beans out of their shells with a gentle squeeze. Set aside for an hour.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave oven.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!