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.
500gfrozen runner beans(defrosted and sliced into 1 inch pieces)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 200 ml of water)
Salt and Pepper(to taste)
For the rice
500gwhite 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)
1white tortilla wraps cut into heart shapes using a cookie-cutter or any other shape you prefer
Water(as directed below)
2 tbsp vegetable oil(plus extra if you are making flatbread tahdig as pictured)
1/4tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
2tbspmelted butter or ghee
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.
Commonly served during Norooz, rice is layered and steamed with fresh herbs, saffron and garlic butter to create a delightfully aromatic dish. Grilled salmon, marinated in saffron, lemon, garlic and honey, is served alongside the Sabzi Polo to create the ultimate Persian meal.
A Special Dish
This dish is synonymous with Norooz – Persian New Year. Rice is steamed with saffron, garlic and chopped herbs. It is usually served with fish and Kuku Sabzi (a herb and egg frittata).
In Persian, ‘Sabzi‘ refers to herbs or vegetables; ‘Polo‘ refers 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 inhabits the Caspian Sea). It’s usually served with pickled garlic, other traditional pickles, 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 also stock Naranj (bitter Seville marmalade oranges) during the season. Kuku Sabziis also served alongside the rice on the day, a great alternative should fish not be your thing.
What are the Ingredients?
Below is my family recipe for Sabzi Polo. We tend to use a greater amount of fresh herbs compared to others. The herbs use in this recipe are fresh coriander, parsley and dill. In Iran chives are also used but the chives available in the UK are not as spicy so we replace these with the green ends of spring onions. The herbs and greens are mixed in while the rice is parboiling. After draining the rice, it is steamed with garlic butter drizzled over with a little saffron to add further aromatics to this dish.
The accompanying fish is grilled salmon marinated in a simple saffron, honey, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil infusion and smoked sea salt. 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, BBQ, grill, oven bake, poach or steam your fish if you prefer.
Your Choice of Tahdig
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 first picture so do not panic when you flip the crispy stuff out – it’s meant to be that dark!
However, should you prefer you can prepare the dish with a saffron layer of Tahdig as you can see in the pictures above and below. All you need to do is parboil the rice without adding the herbs, drain it and then take 2 cups of rice and add to a little saffron water (1/4 teaspoon ground saffron bloomed in 3 tablespoons water). Mix the rice until fully coated and then line the bottom of the pan, following the addition of the oil/butter, as set out at the step entitled ‘Preapre the Tahdig Layer’ below. Then pat it down and layer the cooked rice with the fresh herbs and the garlic butter layer by layer on top.
You can also have potato or bread tahdig as an alternative. Just replace the rice layer with slices of potato or flatbread.
Serving and Storing Sabzi Polo Ba Mahi
Serve this dish alongside all or one of the following.
Salad Shirazi (Persian chopped tomato, cucmber and red onion salad dressed with lime, olive oil and mint).
Store in an airtight container, once cooled down, and in the firdge. The rice will last up to 5 days. The salmon will last up to 3 days. you can reheat the rice and salmon in a microwave. Or you can reheat the rice in a saucepan. Remember to add a tablepoon or so of water to rehydrate the rice if reheating. The salmon can also be reaheated in a medium oven.
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. 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.’
The festivities and rituals we observe are focussed on letting go of the winter and all the negativity that may be associated with it. We look forward to new life, prosperity and have great optimism which is brought by 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).’ See my post about Chaharshanbeh Soori and the dish we eat on that day here.
On the day of New Year we will go to one family member’s house and gather together for the turn of the New Year. We gather around the Sofreh Haft-Seen, a table or other surface, which is set with the symbols of Perisan New Year and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year (even if it happens at 3 am in the morning for some Persian families).
Traditionally, the Haft-Seen (seven things beginning with the letter ‘س‘ pronounced ‘seen’) are:
Sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish) – symbolising rebirth and growth.
Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ) – symbolising strength and power.
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.
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.
2tbspmelted butter mixed with 3 crushed or minced cloves of garlic
For the mahi (salmon)
4salmon fillets(or 1 side of salmon circa 600g to 800g)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8Smallpinch of ground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
2clovesgarlic(minced or crushed)
Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper(to taste - you can use normal salt)
Marinade the Salmon
Mix olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, honey, smoked sea salt, pepper and garlic and pour it over fish. Massage the marinade into the fish. then pleace fish flesh side down into marinade. Cover and place in fridge for a minimum of 12 hrs. I find the best results are to marinade the salmon for 2 nights.
Wash and Soak the Rice
Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Then place with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover with 2 inches clear above the rice. Soak overnight.
Prepare the Herbs & Greens
Wash all the herbs and spring onions. Remove tough woody stems from the herbs and cut the spring onions to remove the green ends. In batches, pulse the herbs and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place in a bowl until ready to use.
Make the Garlic butter
Melt butter mixed with 3 crushed or minced cloves of garlic over medium heat in small pan. Put to one side until ready to use.
Parboil the Rice
Fill a large non-stick saucepan with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to boil. Drain rice and add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. cook rice until al-dente.
Stir in herbs and greens, turn heat off and immediately drain 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.
Prepare Tahdig Layer
Place the empty saucepan on 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 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. Pat down flat with spoon.
Layer and Steam the Rice
Reserve 5 tbsp of rice and layer rest into a gentle sloping pyramid shape in the saucepan, drizzling garlic butter on each layer of rice spooned in. Mix reserved rice with remaining saffron water and then spread on top of the rice. 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 glass lid on saucepan over high heat. Once steam rises from rice lower heat to the minimum flame or equivalent. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and place on saucepan. Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy and thick layer of tahdig.
Cook the Salmon
Remove salmon from fridge to come 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.
Serve the Sabzi Polo Ba Mahi
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.
A simple and comforting vegetarian dish made by steaming rice layered with an aromatic tomato, onion and potato mixture. A great mid-week meal option when served with fried eggs and yoghurt.
What is Kateh-e Estamboli?
This recipe is an adaptation of the dish ‘Estamboli Polo.’ A rice dish that comes in many different iterations. Some do a vegetarian version. Others include meat. Some include green beans. Some don’t use potatoes. My version is a vegetarian version with onions, potatoes and tomatoes layered through the rice. In addition, as found in most Persian cooking, turmeric and saffron provide the rich flavour to this rice dish. I have added some extras to my version including garlic, parsley and coriander for extra flavour.
I wanted a quick version of this dish for my family. Instead of using the traditional method of cooking Estamboli Polo by draining the rice after par-boiling, I used the kateh method. Simply boiling and steaming the rice without draining the water. The resulting rice is delicious, quick and involves less washing up. Also it still creates tahdig – the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot.
An easy-cook vegetarian rice with potatoes, tomatoes, onions
Prep Time15 minutesmins
Cook Time1 hourhr15 minutesmins
Total Time1 hourhr30 minutesmins
Course: Side Dish, Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Author: Mersedeh Prewer
200gpotatoes(peeled and diced into small cubes)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
15geach of fresh chopped parsley and coriander(optional)
Salt and pepper(to season potato and tomato mixture)
2cupswhite long grain basmati rice(approximately 400g of rice)
1tspsalt(for the rice)
1tbspbutter / ghee / vegetable oil
Gently wash rice in cold water until water runs clear. Place in a bowl and fill with cold water to 2 inches above the rice. Let the rice soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
Take a saucepan and add 2 tbsp vegetable oil and place on a medium / high heat. Add diced potatoes and fry until they turn golden and a little crispy. Then add onions and fry until they soften and turn translucent.
Then add the garlic, turmeric and tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed in the mixture. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, the bloomed saffron, fresh herbs and seasoning. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Turn heat off and leave mixture until you are ready to add to rice.
Drain and put rice in a saucepan and add vegetable stock and 1 tsp salt (I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
Put the saucepan on high heat until water starts to boil. Once water comes up to the boil, turn heat to medium and add butter /ghee / oil and stir gently to mix.
Once you start to see holes forming in the rice (as the water is evaporating), take the temperature down to the lowest setting. Take potato and tomato mixture and pour into the rice. Gently stir into the rice mix whilst trying to avoid breaking the rice grains.
Take a clean tea towel and wrap the lid of the saucepan, making sure it is not a fire hazard. Place the lid on the saucepan. The tea towel will help the steaming process and soak up the water, preventing it from falling back into the rice and making it mushy. Leave the rice cooking for 45 mins or more. The longer you leave it, the better the crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot (tahdig).
Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (45 mins or more with the lid on), turn off heat and dish up the rice on to your plates or serving dish. Plate up your tahdig as well. Serve with salad or yoghurt, and / or eggs.
Steamed rice with a layer of sweetened barberries served with a saffron roasted chicken. This dish is a real Persian classic and one that most Iranians cherish!
It definitely tops my list of Persian comfort foods, reminding me of my childhood and the big family gatherings my mother would host.
What is Zereshk Polo ba Morgh?
Zereshk polo is Persian steamed rice, layered and/or topped with barberries. It is a sweet and sour dish. The barberries are gently sautéed on a low heat with sugar and bloomed saffron water before being added to the rice.
Where rice dishes are referred to as ‘polo’ (pronounced ‘pawlaw’) it usually indicates that the rice has been mixed with some other ingredient. Our plain white rice, served with our kebabs and khoresh (stews) is referred to as ‘chelow.‘ In the case of this dish, barberries are the additional ingredient.
Barberries are edible red berries which grow in the wild in Europe and West Asia. They are rich in vitamin C and tart in flavour. They are called ‘zereshk’ in Persian and are bought and used in their dried form. You can buy zereshk from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online.
‘Morgh’ means ‘chicken’ in Persian and refers to the accompanying protein served with the rice. It is commonly served with poached saffron chicken or chicken stewed in a saffron sauce and either layered through the rice or on the side. Some Persian restaurants serve it with Jujeh Kabab (grilled chunks of chicken, marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron). Either way, you must be getting a sense that some kind of saffron flavoured chicken complements this sweet and sour rice dish!
My Version of Zereshk Polo ba Morgh
My mother and other members of our family would always poach chicken breast and layer it in the zereshk polo. I appreciate now that, when cooked for too long, this cut of meat can be quite dry. My recipe below uses chicken breast but the cooking method ensures it remains juicy. I generally source chicken from a butcher (online or the old-fashioned method of dropping into a local establishment).
For this recipe I bought chicken breasts with the skin left on and a partial wing (the drumette) in tact. I marinate the chicken overnight, pan fry them and then finish it off in the oven as per the recipe instructions below.
You can also eat this rice with saffron stewed chicken (see picture below). I will post a recipe for this in due course, but for now the recipe below is a homage to the dish I grew up with. The recipe below will also result in the delicious crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot (tahdig). Tahdig adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.
How to Serve Zereshk Polo ba Morgh
Because of the layer of barberries and saffron rice, the key to serving this dish is to spoon the rice out on to a platter (as seen in the pics). The tahdig is usually served separately as a side dish.
Serve this dish with:
A mix of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and Thai basil).
4Chicken Breasts(with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
2tbspolive oil(for the marinade)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
Salt and Pepper(to season)
25gbutter(to cook the chicken)
2tbspolive oil(to cook the chicken)
For the Rice
2cupswhite long grain Basmati rice(approx. 400g)
2tbspghee or butter
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
1/4tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)
For the Barberries
2tbspcaster sugar(feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
Chicken – take chicken breasts and place in large bowl. Add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, olive oil, turmeric, saffron and fresh lemon juice. Mix until evenly coated. Cover and leave in fridge to marinate for minimum 8 hrs (preferably overnight).
Rice – gently wash rice in cold water until water runs clear. Then place rice with 1 tbsp salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above. Leave to soak for minimum 30 mins (preferably overnight).
Barberries – take a small saucepan, place it on low heat and add 1 tbsp butter. Once melted, add barberries, sugar and bloomed saffron water and stir for 30 secs. Turn heat off and set aside for later.
Cooking the Rice
No less than 1 hour before you want to serve this dish, fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres water and 1 tbsp salt. Bring water to boil.
Drain rice and then add to saucepan. Gently stir rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give it 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 a soft outer layer but still firm in the centre i.e. al dente. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
Once parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn heat off and drain in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse further with a little water.
Place empty saucepan on stove. Add 2 tbsp oil to pan. Add bloomed saffron (1/8 tsp bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp water) to saucepan and mix with oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
To make tahdig, spoon 1-inch layer of rice into saucepan and gently stir to mix with saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Then pat down flat with spoon. Then layer the rest of the rice, reserving 5 tbsp in a separate bowl, into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in it.
Take bloomed saffron (1/4 tsp of saffron bloomed in 2 tsp rose water and 2 tbsp water) and add to the bowl with the reserved rice. Mix gently to create a golden coloured rice. Then spoon the golden rice into the saucepan to one side of the white rice. Do not mix it. This saffron coloured rice will be your garnish.
Pour 2 tbsp cold water evenly over and drizzle 2 tbsp melted ghee or butter over rice. Place glass lid on saucepan and turn heat to highest setting. Once steam starts to rise, lower heat to lowest setting. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace on saucepan.
Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy layer of tahdig – the longer you steam the rice the thicker the tahdig.
Cooking the Chicken
Approximately an hour before you want to serve this dish and just before you launch into cooking your rice, remove chicken from fridge and bring up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C (fan) / 200˚C (conventional) / Gas mark 6.
Approximately 30 mins before the rice has completed the cooking process, take chicken and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Discard the rest of the marinade including the onion.
Place a non-stick pan over high heat. Once smoking add a drizzle of olive oil and place chicken breasts skin down in pan. Cook on this side for 5 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crisp.
Flip over and add 25 grams of butter split into small knobs. Once melted, baste the chicken with the foaming butter for 1 min. Then flip so they are skin side up again.
Place in oven and cook for 15–20 mins. The flesh should be firm and white (not pink) and the juices should run clear. A temperature probe should read 75˚C when it is safe to eat. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving the Dish
Once rice has completed its cooking time, turn off heat and remove lid from saucepan. Spoon the saffron-coloured rice out first into a separate bowl and reserve until you are ready to garnish. Spoon the rest of the rice onto a serving dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Then sprinkle the saffron rice over the white rice.
Reheat your barberries for 30 seconds on low heat, remove from and turn off the heat, and then spoon over the rice.
Create rice with perfectly tender, separate and fluffy grains with a crunchy layer of crispy rice called Tahdig. This is the beloved way Iranians make rice. Once you master the skill, you are unlikely to make rice any other way!
What is Chelow?
Chelow is the name given to the white fluffy grains of rice either served with our kebabs or khoresh (stews) in Iranian cuisine. We also have Kateh, which refers to our version of easy-cook sticky rice, and polo, which refers to our rice cooked with vegetables, herbs and/or meat (similar to the Asian biryani).
Polo follows the same cooking procedure as chelow but has the added stage of preparing and cooking the ingredients to be mixed in to the rice. Kateh is simple as you boil and steam the rice without draining the water by letting it evaporate in the saucepan. Kateh tends to be reserved for family weekday meals.
What is Tahdig?
The common feature in the various Persian rice options is that they all yield the crispy rice, which forms at the bottom of the cooking pot, called ‘Tahdig’. Tahdig literally translated means ‘bottom of the pot’ and is the most cherished part of our meals. I don’t think I have ever met someone who dislikes tahdig!
Although kateh is the easiest way of cooking Persian-style rice it does not yield a tahdig as superior as chelow or polo. Therefore you are rewarded for going the extra mile with the slightly more complicated way of cooking rice.
To achieve the perfect fluffy rice and golden tahdig is a commitment. Despite this, even the veteran chelow and tahdig cooker sometimes has an off day with rice coming out a bit mushy and the tahdig burnt. So don’t be hard on yourself if you commit to this journey and it takes a while to master it.
Now while chelow has a standard set of preparation and cooking steps, tahdig has a number of different options available. The most common are rice, potato or flatbread options. See the pictures above for examples.
As with the evolution of many cuisines, experiments have been undertaken to explore new ways of reinventing a classic. In the case of tahdig people have experimented with ingredients to see if they can create a new type of tahdig as good as the originals. I’ve seen tahdigs made with lettuce, fish and chicken.
Ingredients and Equipment to Make Chelow & Tahdig
White long grain basmati rice – if you want to cook authentic Persian style rice this is the perfect rice to use. You can buy this from your local supermarket or local Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops. I recommend Tilda.
Saffron – is needed for the Tahdig layer and potentially for serving it (see ‘How to serve Chelo & Tahdig’ below). Always grind your saffron strands into a fine powder after purchasing. For utilisation in Persian cooking, always bloom in water as directed in recipe.
Salt – try not to baulk at the amount of salt used. Rice needs a lot of salt as it can be quite bland and the boiling stage washes a lot away. Taste a grain or two of your rice at step 6 of the recipe below. If it tastes too salty just pour a little cold water over your parboiled rice to wash some away.
Neutral flavoured oil – used to create the Tahdig layer.
Butter / ghee / or vegan equivalent – used for the Tahdig layer but also to drizzle over the rice pre steaming to create fluffy separate grains.
A good quality non-stick saucepan with a glass lid – essential kit to make the perfect chelow and tahdig, particularly if you want to flip the rice out as a contained cake-style rice encased in tahdig.
A small-hole colander or sieve – to drain the rice.
A clean tea towel – an absolute must as it aids the steaming of the rice by absorbing the water droplets, which would otherwise form on the lid of your saucepan and fall back on to the rice making it mushy.
Steps to Make Chelow
Chelow has a 6-step-process to follow, summarised below:
Wash the rice. Removes the starch from the rice in order to assist in producing a tender fluffy grain. It also assists in the rice being more nutritious.
Soak the rice. Not all consider this stage is necessary any more in light of the quality of long grain basmati rice available, however it is of note that some famous brands recommend soaking their rice for 30 minutes pre cooking. Soaking the rice promotes more thorough cooking by allowing moisture to reach the centre of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible.
Par boil the rice until al dente. The first stage of the cooking process, which partially cooks the rice.
Drain the rice. The rice does not continue to cook in the cooking liquid but is steamed with the water already absorbed into the rice from step 3 and an additional small amount of water.
Prepare the Tahdig layer and then layer remaining rice on top. The tahdig layer is placed at the bottom of the pot on a little saffron water and oil and / or butter before the rest of the rice is layered on top. A little water and melted butter is poured over the rice to assist with the final cooking stage.
Steam the rice. The rice is steamed with a lid covered in a tea-towel to create our beloved chelow and tahdig.
How to Serve Chelow & Tahdig
The recipe below sets out steps to serve the chelow and tahdig as a cake-style, tahdig encased rice as seen in the first set of pictures above.
For larger quantities, once the rice has cooked, I recommend spooning the rice out and serving it on one plate and then serving your tahdig separately on another dish. The latter is usually garnished with saffron coloured rice sprinkled on top (see picture). In my family we use a little rose water when blooming the saffron for the rice garnish as it adds a delicate floral note to the chelow, so if you want to present your rice this way then it is worth getting your hands on some rose water from your local Middle-Eastern food shop.
Simply mix a little cooked rice with saffron bloomed in a little water and rose water until it takes on a golden hue. Then sprinkle the saffron rice on top of the plain white rice and then serve.
As a final note, the primary recipe below is to make chelow with rice tahdig. Refer to the ‘Alternative Step’ sections below for guidance on how to make potato or flatbread tahdig.
Check out my Reel on How to Cook Chelow and Tahdig
2cupswhite long grain Basmati rice(standard UK measuring cup capacity 250 ml - approx 400 grams of rice)
Water(as directed below)
1/8tspground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig
2tbsp vegetable oil plus extra if you are making potato or flatbread tahdig as per 'Alternative Step' sections below
2 to 3tbspghee / butter / vegan equivalent
Wash and Soak the Rice
Wash rice in cold water until water runs clear. Be gentle, otherwise you will damage and break the grains.
Place rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above the top. Leave to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (I leave mine overnight and cook the rice during the afternoon of the day after).
Parboil the Rice
Fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Place over high heat and bring water to a boil.
Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir to make sure it does not stick to the pan.
Stay with the saucepan and do not leave it at this stage. It is crucial that you remove the rice and drain it at the right time. Every minute give it a gentle stir and take a grain and check the texture - either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the grain 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 in this recipe.
Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice - if it is very salty then rinse it further with a little water.
Prepare the Tahdig Layer
Place the empty saucepan on your stove.
Add 2 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter / ghee / vegan equivalent to the pan and place on a low heat to melt. Then turn the heat off. (See * below for alternative tahdig layers - potato or flatbread).
Add your bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
To make your 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 down flat with the back of a spoon.
Then layer the remaining rice and gently pat down to the shape of the saucepan. Take the end of a tablespoon and gently poke about 5 small holes in the rice to allow steam to escape while cooking. Then pour over 2 tbsp of cold water.
Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of melted ghee / butter / vegan equivalent over the rice.
Steam the Rice
Place your glass lid on the saucepan 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.
Serve the Chelow & Tahdig
When the cooking time is over turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Take a serving dish that covers the opening of the saucepan and place it on top. Flip the rice out onto the dish and serve with either a khoresh, kabab, curry or any other dish.
*Alternative Tahdig - Potato Tahdig
If you are making potato tahdig, you will need 1 medium-sized potato peeled and sliced into 1.5 cm thick discs. Place the sliced potatoes into a bowl of water to wash off excess starch - this will help during the crisping process while the rice steams. It will also stop the potatoes turning brown as you get the rice ready to steam.
For preparing a potato Tahdig layer - add an extra tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bottom of your pot then layer your potatoes at the bottom of the pan on top of the saffron oil (try not to overlap them so they all cook through evenly and crisp up) and then layer your rice on top and pat down to fill any gaps between the potatoes. Then follow subsequent steps of the recipe.
*Alternative Tahdig - Flatbread Tahdig
If you are making flatbread tahdig, you will need 1 medium Middle-Eastern style flatbread like lavash or 1 medium white tortilla.
For preparing a flatbread Tahdig - use the flatbread to cover the bottom of the pan or you can cut shapes into it and layer the bottom surface of the saucepan only. Either way, before layering your flatbread, take a pastry brush and coat your flatbread generously with vegetable oil and then lay it on the saffron oil. Then layer your rice on top and follow the subsequent steps of the recipe. If you are using the whole flatbread to cover the bottom of the saucepan, without cutting shapes, be a little cautious with the timing on lowering the heat to steam the rice as the flatbread can burn quite quickly. As soon as you see steam creeping round the edges of the bread, then turn down the heat and place the lid wrapped with a tea towel on the saucepan. Follow the subsequent steps of the recipe.