Persian Turmeric Rice with Split Fava Beans (dampokhtak)
I wasn’t a big fan of dampkhtak when I was a child probably because it didn’t have meat in it or come with a stew as most other Persian rice dishes do. Grown-ups had it with sharp, vinegary pickles (torshi) which are not a child’s thing. The more I grew, the more I came to appreciate the earthy flavour of dampokhtak. I like it even better now because it’s one of the easiest, most flavourful meatless rice dishes I know.
Many Iranians will remember their mums or grandmas making this golden rice dish when they were too busy to make elaborate stews but have never made it themselves. It’s one of those nostalgic, almost forgotten dishes from the depths of the memory lane. But you don’t have to be Iranian, or nostalgic about something you never knew, to enjoy this simple, nutritious and healthy dish!
The ingredients for making dampokhtak are usually found in every Iranian kitchen: rice, onions, turmeric, oil and split fava beans. Now, this last item may be something you don’t normally see in supermarkets in Britain or other countries. But split fava beans aren’t that hard to find. They are used in many ethnic groceries including Middle Eastern, Turkish, North African, Italian and Greek groceries so your problem is most probably solved if you have any of those near you. Try online or check healthfood stores where they are sold for their high protein content if there aren’t any of these ethnic groceries where you live.
Split fava beans are known as lappeh baghali (لپه باقالی ) in Persian, fool majroosh (فول مجروش) in Arabic, fave in Italian and koukia in Greek. These rather unattractive beans are a good source of protein (25 grams of protein in every 100 grams) for those who don’t eat animal protein.
Turmeric is what really makes this dish. All the flavour and colour of the dish comes from turmeric and a rather copious amount is used. Turmeric is probably the most used spice in Persian cookery. We always add Turmeric to meat and chicken but not just for its colour or earthy flavour. Iranian cooks believe turmeric will also absorb the undesirable “raw” smell of meats.
I had always used powdered turmeric and never seen it fresh before I came to live in Britain. It was in London’s many Asian and African groceries and food markets that I discovered fresh turmeric. And what a discovery! I loved it and soon incorporated this amazing new ingredient into my Persian recipes. In the recipe below I have given the option of using fresh turmeric too in case you can find it as easily as I do here.
Fresh turmeric works in almost everything but is particularly good in dampokhtak. Dried turmeric is stronger in flavour and aroma so one heaped teaspoon of dried turmeric is almost equal to one tablespoon of grated fresh turmeric. I find that in a dish like dampokhtak it’s best to use both fresh and dried turmeric for better flavour, if possible.
Dampkhtak, like other Persian rice dishes, comes with a delectable golden brown crust from the bottom of the pan (you can see that in the picture above) and is usually eaten with a fried egg on top and one or more types of torshi (vinegary pickles). Most torshis are quite sharp and unlike Persian food that’s usually not spicy, they can be quite hot with chillies. These pickles usually need a month or two for the flavours of the spices, herbs and vegetables to meld together but my Spicy Persian Pickles (Torshi Bandari) can be enjoyed right away (although it does benefit from a week or two of “ripening”).
The following recipe (with one or two fried eggs per person) will feed 3-4 people.
- 210g (1 cup) basmati rice
- 480ml (about 2 cups) water
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 130g split fava beans
- 5 tbsp rapeseed or other vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp turmeric powder (or 2 tbsp grated fresh turmeric and 1 tbsp turmeric powder)
- 1-2 fried eggs per person
- Chopped tomato, onion and cucumber salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar (salad shirazi)
- Torshi (vinegary pickles)
- Put the rice in a bowl and cover with water. Gently rub the rice between palms to remove some of the starch. Drain the water and repeat once or twice more so that water is clear. Drain well in a sieve and return to the pot. Cover with the measured water, add the salt then stir gently and set aside to soak.
- Pick through the split fava beans to remove any brown skins or foreign material. Put in a rather large pot and cover with water. Swirl around and drain. Cover with water again then add a big pinch of salt and bring to a gentle boil. Keep an eye on it because while boiling there will form rather a lot of white foam which will easily overflow if the pot is small. Use a big spoon to remove the foam and continue to cook gently until they are soft but still have a bite in the centre. Don’t boil too long or they may turn mushy. Drain in a sieve and set aside.
- While the split fava beans are cooking put half of the oil in a lidded non-stick pot (about 20cm in diameter) and cook the chopped onion until it’s golden brown. Add the turmeric powder and cook while stirring for 2 minutes. If you are using fresh grated turmeric you will need to add it to the pot when the onion begins to take colour and once it’s browned you can add the dried turmeric and cook for a further two minutes.
- Add the soaked rice and its soaking liquid to the pot, stir and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Add the cooked split fava beans and stir gently. Cook until all the water is evaporated. Then turn the heat down to very low. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the rice, wrap the pot lid in a clean kitchen towel and tightly cover the pot. Steam the rice for about 40 minutes on very low heat or until the sides of the rice begin to take colour. The time required for steaming the rice largely depends on the size of your burner so to get the perfect golden brown crust (tahdig) it’s important to keep the heat as low as you can (or use a heat diffuser) so it doesn’t burn.
- Fry the eggs when you are almost ready to serve. To flip the rice out of the pot cover it with a large plate. Holding tightly with both hands flip the pot and the plate to release the rice onto the plate. This should be quite easy if your pot is non-stick. Alternatively, use a silicon spoon to transfer the rice to a plate then carefully remove the tahdig and place around the rice. Serve with fried eggs, salad, yoghurt and torshi. You can also sprinkle the fried eggs with chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper (pul biber in Turkish) and/or black pepper. Enjoy!