Loobia Polo

Rice with green beans and beef

Loobia polo is an Iranian dish made with rice, green beans, and beef or lamb. Loobia means beans in Farsi and ‘polo’ indicates it is a rice-dish layered with meat and / or vegetables. Loobia polo can also be made by using chicken, turkey or without meat if you are vegetarian / vegan.

Think of that dish that represents the ultimate comfort food for you, Loobia Polo is the equivalent to that to most (if not all) Iranians. Even the fussiest of kids will love this dish and that stays with them through to adulthood. Everyone squeals with delight when Loobia Polo is served with its warming cinnamon notes, tomato flavour, chunks of meat and green beans. In light of the love for this dish, I felt it was apt to make tahdig (the crunchy bit at the bottom of the pot) with a tortilla wrap cut into the shape of hearts! 

The rice I use for Loobia Polo is Kamran Basmati Sella Rice as opposed to Tilda Basmati rice. Kamran rice is very forgiving as it is a thicker kernel and holds its integrity against the bean and tomato mixture, which releases liquid into the rice. For this reason, if you are using the more delicate Tilda grain you have to remove it from the parboiling stage a little earlier than you would with the normal Chelow recipe. Alternatively buy yourself a packet of Kamran rice and be less exact and turn out a perfect Loobia Polo each time you cook it.

The recipe below includes the steps to make flatbread tahdig (using a tortilla wrap) but you can make tahdig with rice or potato should you prefer. Just prepare a layer of saffron rice at the bottom of the pan at step 3 under the heading ‘For the rice’  below for rice tahdig; or layer your potato slices for potato tahdig.


Loobia Polo

Rice with green beans and beef
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 50 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig, Lubia Polo, Green beans, rice, comfort food
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the loobia mixture

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 500 g stewing steak (diced into 1 inch chunks)
  • 1 large onion (diced finely)
  • 1 large clove garlic (minced or crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée (heaped tablespoons)
  • 500 g frozen runner beans (defrosted and sliced into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 200 ml of water)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

For the rice

  • 500 g white basmati rice (rinsed until the water runs clear and soaked overnight in water plus 2 tbsp of salt - ensure the water covers the rice by a minimum of 2 inches)
  • 1 white tortilla wraps cut into heart shapes using a cookie-cutter or any other shape you prefer
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (plus extra if you are making flatbread tahdig as pictured)
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter or ghee

Instructions

For the loobia mixture

  • Place a large frying pan or equivalent on a medium / high heat and add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Seal the beef and them remove from the pan and set aside for now.
  • Add the remaining 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to the pan and add the onions. Cook until they turn golden. Then add the garlic, turmeric and cinnamon and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the beef back into the pan and the tomato purée and stir in. Add the green beans and bloomed saffron water and stir until everything is evenly distributed. Lower the heat and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has a stickier texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then turn the heat off and leave the mixture for when you are ready to mix with your rice.

For the rice

  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan with water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture – either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe. Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on the stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil and your bloomed saffron to the pan and give it a mix. Then arrange your oiled tortilla wrap shapes on the bottom of the pan making sure they do not overlap. Spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan.
  • Then layer your rice and loobia mixture and mix gently. Build up the layers into a pyramid shape away from the sides of the pot. Make 5 holes in the rice with the bottom of a spoon. Pour 2 tbsp of water and the melted butter / ghee over the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on a high heat until the rice starts steaming. Then lower the heat to the minimum flame, wrap the lid of the pan with a tea towel and place on the pan and steam for another 45 minutes.
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off. Gently fluff the rice a bit to combine the loobia mixture and rice and spoon out onto a serving dish. Place the heart-shaped tahdig and and rice tahdig around the rice or on a separate dish. Pairs well with Salad Shirazi, fresh herbs and / or yoghurt or Torshi.

Khoresh Karafs (Ghermez)

Chicken stew with celery & tomatoes

This stew is the lesser-known of the Persian celery stews. The famous one being Khoresh Karafs made with lamb, mint, parsley and celery. This version can be made with chicken, lamb or beef with the stew being tomato-based.

In my family, we distinguish between the two by referring to the colour: ‘Sabz,’ which translated means green in Farsi, for the herby version; and ‘Ghermez,’ which means red, for the tomato-based version. In fact, this version is probably the most popular among my mother’s side of the family, who primarily come from Mashhad in the Khorasan Province of Iran. I have recently asked other Iranians about this version and the majority were unaware of this alternative recipe, with all of them being connected to or from other provinces in Iran. I don’t know if this version originates from the Khorasan Province but currently the evidence seems to indicate that may be the case, but if anyone reading this knows about the origins then please get in contact with me. With tomatoes apparently only being introduced to Iran in the late 19th century, this stew is inevitably fairly young in the longstanding history of Iran and the Persian Empire.

I cannot recommend this recipe enough with it being so easy to prepare and cook, using only a handful of ingredients but maximising on flavour. It is a comforting yet light stew so I love eating this in the earlier part of Spring as we make the gentle transition away from eating the heartier dishes and move towards salads, BBQ’s and a Mediterranean feel to our dishes.

I usually serve this stew with Kateh (Persian rice cooked the easy way) which I flavour with a little saffron to get a golden rice and tahdig (as pictured). A simple salad with a citrus dressing, or fresh herbs, or pickle / olives also make complementary side dishes. See my Torshi recipes for Persian pickles, which complements this and many other recipes on this site.


Khoresh-Karafs (Ghermez)

Chicken stew with celery and tomatoes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: easy recipe, stew, slow cooked, comfort food
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 skinless chicken thighs on the bone
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 red chilli (minced - optional)
  • 1 medium leek (medium sliced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 650 ml water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 head celery (chopped in 2 inch chunks)
  • 5 small / medium tomatoes (halved)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Place a shallow casserole pan or equivalent on a medium / high heat and add 1 tbsp of oil. Seal the chicken thighs on both sides, remove from the pan and leave to one side until ready to add to the stew.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil to the pan and add the onions. Cook until the onion turns golden. Then add the garlic and chilli and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the leek to the pan and stir and cook until softened. Then add the turmeric and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the tomato purée and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the water, bay leaf, lemon juice, saffron water and stir.
  • Evenly arrange the chicken thighs in the pan so that they are just submerged in the liquid of the stew. Then add the chopped celery making sure they are in the liquid too so they can cook evenly. Place the tomato halves evenly in the stew.
  • Bring the stew to a boil and then lower the heat to allow the stew to simmer with a lid on the pan for about an hour or until the chicken is practically falling off the bone. If the stew is too watery, allow to simmer further without the lid on to thicken the sauce.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley before serving. Serve with saffron Kateh (just add a 1/8 tsp of ground saffron to the rice while cooking in accordance with the recipe link). This dish also pairs well with Torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.

Maast O’Moosir

Yoghurt & Persian shallot dip

Maast O’Moosir (or musir) is a yoghurt dip commonly served as an appetizer or accompaniment in Persian cuisine. You may have eaten this dip at a Persian restaurant as it is usually offered as part of our mezze-style appetiser platters.

Moosir is described in English as a Persian shallot and similar to a Solo or Elephant garlic and, like the Solo and Elephant varieties, has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. It adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. It is available in its dried form and needs to be rehydrated by soaking in water overnight.

You can serve this dip alongside main meals, it goes particularly well with kababs (Persian or other cuisines). Alternatively serve it as a dip with crudités, or crisps, or flatbread. I have served the one in the picture above with pitta chips (cooked by drizzling olive oil and toasting in a hot oven). We Iranians often just sit with a bowl of this dip and crisps, happily dunking away and it is loved by the young and the wise in our families.

If you are going to make this dip, remember that you will need to soak the moosir over night and also to leave the dip, once made, for no less than an hour for the flavours to fully infuse and intensify.


Maast O'Moosir

Yoghurt dip with Persian shallot
Prep Time10 mins
Resting time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: dip, musir
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 8 heaped tbsp Greek yoghurt (preferably 5% fat)
  • 8 discs dried moosir (rehydrated in water overnight)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste) (pepper is optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil, dried rose petals and dried mint (to garnish - optional)

Instructions

  • Drain the rehydrated moosir discs and rinse. Mince finely with a sharp knife, discarding any tough parts.
  • Take a bowl, add the yoghurt and the moosir. Stir and add salt and pepper (pepper is optional) to taste. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavour of the moosir to permeate through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour).
  • When you are ready to serve the Maast O'Moosir, decorate with dried rose petals, a sprinkle of dried mint and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pitta chips as pictured, crisps, vegetables or part of a mezze-style spread.

Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon

This dish is synonymous with Norooz – Persian New Year. Rice is steamed with saffron, garlic and chopped herbs, usually served with fish and Kuku Sabzi (a herb and egg frittata). In Persian, Sabzirefers to herbs or vegetables; ‘Polorefers to the fact that the rice is cooked with another element mixed in, in this case the fresh herbs. The herbs used in Sabzi Polo vary, but typically include dill, coriander, parsley, Persian chives or the green ends of spring onions and in some cases fenugreek.

Iranians traditionally eat Sabzi Polo with a fried or smoked ‘mahi sefid’ (‘white fish’, the Caspian kutum or Caspian white fish which, as the name suggests, inhabits the Caspian Sea). It’s usually served with pickled garlic, other traditional pickles (‘Torshi’), Salad Shirazi and ‘Naranj’ – a tart and slightly bitter orange, which we squeeze over the fish and rice like a lemon adding a citrus note to the dish. You can buy Naranj from your local Middle-Eastern supermarket. Sainsbury’s has also recently been stocking Naranj (bitter Seville marmalade oranges). Kuku Sabzi is also served alongside the rice on the day, a great alternative should fish not be your thing.

The recipe I have put together is my family recipe for Sabzi Polo and we tend to use a greater amount of fresh herbs compared to others. We also add our chopped herbs to the rice while it is cooking and mix it through before draining. Others add the herbs when layering the rice into their pan pre-steaming.

The accompanying fish is grilled salmon marinated in a simple saffron, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil infusion and smoke sea salt. It is a low key and simple version of cooking the fish accompaniment for the star of this meal, which is the herbed rice. You can make the Sabzi Polo with any fish you want, including smoked fish like many in Iran will eat on the day. You can pan fry, grill, oven bake, poach or steam your fish if you prefer. Ultimately the aromatics of this dish comes from the herbs in the rice so if you want to eat this rice with a simple breaded fish from your local supermarket’s frozen aisle then go for it – no judgment at all! I would recommend some fresh lemon or lime to squeeze over any fish you do serve with the polo, if you cannot get your hands on Naranj.

Due to the herbs, the tahdig (crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot) will come out a dark green-brown as you can see in the picture above so do not panic when you flip the crispy stuff out – it’s meant to be that dark! 

You can make this a vegan dish by serving it with roasted vegetables or smoked tofu fried in a turmeric batter with a saffron, maple syrup, lemon juice and olive oil drizzle (I will write a recipe up for the tofu alternative one of these days – maybe next Norooz – watch this space). During recipe testing I had a fair bit of the Sabzi Polo leftover, so I roasted some purple sprouting broccoli spears with a drizzle of olive oil and smoked sea salt and it was a delicious yet simple and easy accompaniment for the rice which I also served with a Salad Shirazi.

Norooz – Persian New Year and the First Day of Spring (Northern Hemisphere)

Norooz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month of the Iranian calendar (Farvardin). The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. Due to this calculation, the day Persian New Year falls upon can vary but generally it is either on the 20th or 21st March. The Persian name translated means ‘New Day.’

Other than eating food centred around fresh herbs (Ash Reshteh, Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, Kuku Sabzi), the festivities and rituals we observe are focussed on letting go of the winter and all the negativity that may be associated with it and looking forwards to new life, prosperity and the general optimism brought by the spring and then the summer months.

In the lead up to the the New Year celebrations, many Iranians will undertake a ritual familiar to many – the ‘Spring Clean.’ I always do a major spring clean and this year was no exception. By day 3 into my efforts my house was messier than when I started, but by the end of the process I felt physically and mentally lighter from the purge of the clutter and the deep clean of the house.

The evening of the last Tuesday before Norooz is the night we celebrate Chaharshanbeh Soori – a festival of fire where we gather together and jump over bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Haft-Seen

 
  1. Sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish) – symbolising rebirth and growth.
  2. Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ) – symbolising strength and power.
  3. Senjed (Persian Olive / oleaster) symbolising love.
  4. Serkeh (vinegar) symbolising patience.
  5. Sib (apple) – symbolising beauty.
  6. Seer (garlic) – symbolising health and medicine.
  7. Somagh (sumac) – symbolising sunrise.

The Haft-Seen may also include a mirror (self-reflection), candles (enlightenment), eggs (fertility),  goldfish (progress), coins (wealth), hyacinth (spring’s arrival), and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Quran (religious text of Islam), or the Book of Kings – the Shanameh of Ferdowsi (an epic and long poem on the Persian Empire), or the Divān of Hafez (an anthology of the famous Iranian poet Hafez’s poems) may also be included.

Music will play and we will eat Sabzi Polo ba Mahi and Kuku Sabzi. Many of us continue the celebrations by having a separate organised event for the wider family and friends at a hotel or restaurant where we dress up and dance the night away.

During the Norooz holidays, we make short visits to the homes of family and friends. Typically, young people will visit their elders first. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Gifts are given from the elders to the younger members of the family (predominantly any person of non-working age i.e. up to 21 years gets a gift and it is usually money).

On the 13th day of the Norooz celebrations we celebrate Sizdah Bedar. Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park. Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh into a nearby river or stream marking the end the Persian New Year celebrations.


Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish, Fish Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: coriander, parsley, dill, salmon
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Sabzi Polo (herbed rice)

  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 100mls of water)
  • 400 g white long grain basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 80 g fresh coriander
  • 80 g fresh dill
  • 80 g fresh parsley
  • The green ends of 5 spring onions
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp melted butter mixed with 3 crushed or minced cloves of garlic

For the mahi (salmon)

  • 4 salmon fillets
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Small pinch of ground saffron (bloomed in 1 tbsp of water)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced or crushed)
  • Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper (to taste - you can use normal salt)

Instructions

  • Marinade the salmon by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, smoked sea salt, pepper and garlic and pouring it over the fish. Massage the marinade into the fillets. Cover and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hr. I find the best results are to marinade the salmon for 2 nights.
  • The night before, wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave to soak overnight.
  • Wash all the herbs and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the polo. In batches, pulse the herbs and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture - either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
  • Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, stir in the chopped greens, turn the heat off and immediately drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice - if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on your stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil. Add 1 tbsp of the bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly. To make your rice tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat the rice down flat with the spoon.
  • Reserve about 5 tbsp of rice and layer the rest into a gentle sloping pyramid shape in the saucepan, drizzling the garlic butter on each layer of rice spooned in. Mix the reserved rice with the remaining saffron water and then spread on top of the rice in the saucepan. Pour any remaining saffron water over the rice. Poke 5 holes, evenly distributed, into the rice to the bottom of the pan with the end of a spoon.
  • Place your glass lid on the sauce pan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once you start to see steam rise from the rice (your glass lid will start to get clear from the steam and droplets of water will start to form on the lid - it is perfectly fine to have a little look under the lid now and again to check the steam situation) lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent on your cooker. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan. Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy and thick layer of tahdig.
  • Take the salmon out of the fridge to come up to room temperature prior to cooking.
  • Heat grill to high. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish, then grill for 5 to 7 mins until cooked through, but still a little pink in the centre, cover and set aside.
  • When the rice is cooked, spoon the saffron coloured rice separately in a bowl and reserve for the garnish. Spoon the rest of the Sabzi Polo on to your chosen dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Garnish with the saffron-coloured rice and serve with the grilled salmon, fresh naranj (or lemons or limes) to squeeze over the fish and rice, Salad Shirazi and Torshi.

Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup with herbs & beans

Although we have translated this dish to be described as a soup, Persian ash (pronounced ‘aash’) recipes tend to be a hearty bowl of goodness and are more of a main meal unless eaten in small portions, as many Persians do when offered as a precursor to the main event.

Ash Reshteh is no exception to the rule. A wholesome bowl packed full of Persian noodles (‘reshteh’), kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, cooked with fresh herbs and greens and flavoured with kashk (a fermented / preserved food made with the whey left over from cheese-making). The texture of this ash is less soup and more like a chilli and it is not a soup that we eat bread with.

My version of this recipe differs to my maman’s recipe – I don’t use flour to thicken my ash and also I use slightly more herbs than her. The resulting ash feels fresher and lighter than the traditional recipe / method. If you cannot get your hands on Persian noodles, the closest alternative are udon noodles. You can also use spaghetti or linguine. If you are vegan, leave the kashk out and add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to taste. You can also use a dairy-free yoghurt  in addition to the fresh citrus. 

This dish is served during the winter time and at special Iranian events like Chaharshanbeh Soori (the eve of the last Wednesday before Norooz – Persian New Year); and Sizdah Bedar (a festival held marking the end of the Norooz holidays in Iran). The noodles in the ash are supposed to symbolize good fortune for the new year. My next post will cover more details about Norooz and the dish Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (rice layered with herbs and served with fish) which we Persians eat on the day. This post focusses on Chaharshanbeh Soori and Sizdah Bedar, when my family come together to celebrate and eat Ash Reshteh.

Chaharshanbeh Soori

The first event in our Norooz festivities takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday before Persian New Year. It is a Festival of Fire. People in all parts of Iran and those of us who live outside of Iran celebrate this festival by setting up bonfires in almost all the public places in Iran – in our gardens or at organised events for the diaspora community.

We eat Ash Reshteh and other Persian delights cooked by our host and jump over the bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. Therefore, jumping over fire on Chaharshanbeh Soori night is like a purification rite or a phrase familiar to the West  ‘out with old, in with the new.’

As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Another tradition is to bang on pots and pans with spoons that are named as ‘Ghashogh Zani,’ with the objective of beating out the last Wednesday of the year.

It is a celebration of good health and light – the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. It is believed that the ritual guarantees the dissipation of the misfortunes and evils and the materialization of hopes and desires for the next year.

Sizdah Bedar

Sizdah Bedar is considered the final day of the Persian new year celebration. It is celebrated on the thirteenth day of Norooz. The festival’s name translated means ‘getting rid of the thirteenth.’ As with many cultures, the number 13 was considered bad luck by Iranians and so they believed that by being outside with nature the bad luck would dissipate. Therefore, on Sizdah Bedar, Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park where one family member will be entrusted with bringing a pot of Ash Reshteh and the rest of us the sandwiches and other Persian treats!

Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh (sprouted lentils or wheat and one of the symbols of Norooz representing rejuvenation and new life) into a nearby river or stream. Other than eating, another ritual for the day is knotting greens. Usually, the young unmarried people knot the green of the sabzeh to find their soulmate prior to throwing it into the water.


Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 50 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: spinach, coriander, parsley, dill, ashe reshteh, legumes
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the ash

  • 125 g chickpeas (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g red kidney beans (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g green lentils (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 bunch spring onions (green ends only)
  • 200 g fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 litres vegetable stock (you can use water which is traditionally used but I like the extra depth of flavour stock brings to the dish)
  • 150 g Persian noodles - reshteh (you can use udon noodles, spaghetti or linguine as an alternative)
  • 3 tbsp kashk (mine are heaped tablespoons - add 1 tbsp at a time and mix and taste each time to see what amount suits your tastes)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the garnish

  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 large onions (finely sliced)
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp kashk (diluted with some water to make it runny for drizzling on the ash)

Instructions

For the Ash

  • Soak your beans, lentils and chickpeas in a bowl of salted water overnight. The morning after, cook the beans and lentils in water by bringing to the boil and then simmering for 30 mins (this aids with making them digestible). Drain and leave to one side until you are ready to cook the Ash Reshteh.
  • Wash all the herbs, spinach and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and spinach. Cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the Ash.
  • In batches, pulse the herbs, spinach and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the Ash.
  • Take a large stockpot or equivalent and place on a medium / high heat. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil. After a minute or so add the finely diced onion and fry until it is tender and turning golden brown.
  • Add the garlic and turmeric and stir until evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma.
  • Drain the bean and lentil mixture and add to the stockpot. Cook for about a minute, stirring gently to coat with the onions, oil and spice.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to allow the beans to simmer. Place the lid on the pot and cook for approximately 30 mins to 1 hr. Skim off any foam which may rise to the top and stir now and again. To check if the bean mixture is cooked test a chickpea, as they take the longest to cook. The chickpea should be tender with no grainy or chalky texture to it.
  • Once the bean mixture is cooked, add the chopped greens and allow the Ash to simmer for about 30 mins for the greens to wilt. If the Ash is too thick after the greens have wilted, add some water. The texture of the Ash should be thicker than soup like a chilli but not so thick it feels like there is no liquid in it.
  • Then add the noodles - you can snap these to the length you desire. I like mine fairly long so I snap mine in half, if at all. Allow the Ash to cook with the noodles for about 20 to 30 mins. Test a noodle to see if cooked to you preferred texture - we tend to have ours very soft.
  • Then add the kashk 1 spoonful at a time and mix it fully into the Ash. Taste as you go along. Some put less kashk into their Ash and add more to their liking by way of a garnish.
  • As kashk is salty, add any extra salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Then give the Ash a gentle stir and simmer on a low heat until it is evenly heated through.

For the Garnish

  • You can prepare the mint oil and fried onions in advance of / or during the cooking of the Ash.
  • For the mint oil - place a frying pan on a low heat and add 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tsp of dried mint and let the mixture heat through for only 1 minute. Then pour it out into a bowl and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • For the fried onions - wipe the frying pan used to make the mint oil and place it on a medium heat. Add the remaining oil and let it heat through for about 1 minute. Then add the finely sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly until it turns golden brown and caramelized - about 20 mins. Place the onions on a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • When you are ready to serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with some of the diluted kashk, the mint oil and a sprinkling of onions.

Notes

*You can use pre cooked tinned beans and lentils. Use 1 x 400 gram tin of each.

Zeytoon Parvardeh

Olives marinated in a herb, walnut & pomegranate paste

This delightful appetiser heralds from Gilan Province in the North of Iran, a region I visited in my mid twenties and one my family has become more familiar with over the last 20 years. Gilan Province lies along the Caspian Sea bordering Russia. The Province is lush and green with many delicious dishes, particularly vegetarian, originating from the Province, including Mirza Ghasemi (smoked aubergines and eggs) and Baghali Ghatogh (eggs with broad beans and dill). 

The North of Iran loves walnuts and pomegranates and a number of their dishes use this combination including Zeytoon Parvardeh. The ingredients are olives; pomegranate juice, molasses and arils; walnuts; garlic; and a herb called chuchagh. Chuchagh is a rare herb and is found in certain areas In Iran. In order to emulate its flavour for this dish we replace it with mint in the UK. I have also added a bit of coriander and parsley to my recipe. I use large pitted green olives like gordal olives. By using pitted olives, it allows for the marinade to seep into the olives and also makes it easier to eat them. The flavour profile of this dish is sweet and sour and incredibly moreish.

It is an easy and quick dish to prepare and ideally made the night before so that the flavours blend and intensify. I often make a small bowl of this appetiser and slowly work my way through it with cheese and crackers – I hasten to add that eating it as an accompaniment with cheese is not authentically Iranian but it works!

Zeytoon Parvardeh can be eaten with pre-dinner drinks (wine, cocktails or hard liquor – whatever you fancy), as part of a mezze-style platter or array of dishes, or with cheese and crackers which is my favourite way to eat it.


Zeytoon Parvardeh

Prep Time15 mins
Course: Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 7 whole walnuts (or 14 halves)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 g fresh mint
  • 10 g fresh coriander
  • 10 g fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin preferably)
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate juice (squeeze this out of the pomegranate or use 2 tbsp of the arils)
  • 350 g large pitted green olives (drained weight approx 160g)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp pomegranate arils (to stir through and garnish)
  • Ground walnuts (to sprinkle as a garnish)

Instructions

  • Add the walnuts and garlic to a food processor and blitz until the walnuts are finely ground.
  • Remove the mint leaves from the stems. Remove the tougher parts of the stems from the coriander and parsley. Then add the herbs to the walnut and garlic and pulse in the food processor until finely chopped.
  • Add the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and the pomegranate juice. Pulse in the food processor until it is a coarse paste.
  • Mix the paste with the olives in a bowl. Stir through some pomegranate arils, reserving some for a garnish. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate (preferably overnight).
  • Serve with ground walnuts and pomegranate arils sprinkled on top.