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: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: basmati rice, comfort food, Green beans, Lubia Polo, rice, tahdig
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.

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.

Growing up in the UK my maman would cook two types of fish to serve alongside the Sabzi Polo: the first being a fried white fish (like grey mullet) in a light batter; or grilled salmon for the health conscious. As a kid, the smell of fish frying from the early hours in the morning used to torment me. I hated fish until I made myself overcome my fear when I was seventeen. When my maman would fry the fish, I would lock myself away in my bedroom slowly accustomising myself to the smell with the windows wide open until I could find the courage to open the door and step outside. Now, I love fish but those years of fish fear were character building.

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 and olive oil infusion. To emulate the smoked fish flavour, I use a smoked sea salt to season my fish before serving. 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: Fish Dish, Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: coriander, dill, parsley, 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

  • 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.
  • Marinade the salmon by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, 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.
  • 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. Add your smoked sea salt (or normal salt if not using) and 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.

Kateh-e Estamboli

This recipe is an adaptation of the dish ‘Estamboli Polo.’ In my family this dish is vegetarian and is cooked by steaming rice layered with a tomato, onion and potato mixture with saffron and turmeric as the aromatics.

Every Iranian household is likely to have their own variation, with some layering their versions with lamb, beef or chicken. In fact other Iranians may call my family’s version ‘Dami-e-Gojeh Farangi’ but that is the beauty of food – there are no hard and fast rules and it is the recipes we grew up with that are often the dearest.

I wanted a quick version of this dish for my family, one that I could cook up during the week with the last pathetic looking onions, potatoes and tomatoes in my vegetable drawer before my weekly trip to the supermarket. So instead of using the traditional method of cooking Estamboli Polo by draining the rice after par-boiling, I used the kateh method by boiling and steaming the rice without draining the water. The resulting rice is not as elegant as our traditional polo recipes but it is delicious, quick and involves less washing up. Also it still creates tahdig – the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot, which I guess is what most people want to hear!

I have, as always, added a few tweaks to my version including some garlic to the vegetable mix and some chopped parsley and coriander (because they were also the last pathetic looking items at the bottom of my vegetable drawer). The resulting dish from my hodgepodge experiment is delicious. You can, of course, leave out the garlic and fresh herbs which is the traditional version of this recipe.

Perfect when accompanied with a salad like Salad Shirazi, or Maast-o-khiar (Persian yoghurt, mint and cucumber dip), or Torshi and/or fried eggs.


Kateh-e Estamboli

An easy-cook vegetarian rice with potatoes, tomatoes, onions
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Accompaniment, Rice Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: vegan option, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 200 g potatoes (peeled and diced into small cubes)
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed) (optional)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 350 g fresh tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 15 g each of fresh chopped parsley and coriander (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to season potato and tomato mixture)
  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 650 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp salt (for the rice)
  • 1 tbsp butter / ghee / vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Gently wash the rice in cold water until the 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 of vegetable oil and place on a medium / high heat,
  • Add the diced potatoes and fry until they turn golden and a little crispy. Then add the 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 the chopped fresh tomatoes, the bloomed saffron, fresh herbs and seasoning. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the mixture until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Drain and put the rice in a saucepan and add the vegetable stock and 1 tsp of salt (I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
  • Put the saucepan on a high heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat to medium and add the 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 the potato and tomato mixture and pour into the rice. Gently stir into the rice mix whilst trying to avoid breaking the rice grains.
  • Then 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 the 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.

Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry rice and saffron 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.

Zereshk polo is Persian steamed rice, layered and/or topped with barberries. Some also scatter fresh pistachio slivers as a garnish on top of 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 Farsi and are bought and used in their dried form. You can buy zereshk from most Middle-Eastern food shops or, as I often do, online.

Zereshk polo is a sweet and sour dish, where the barberries are gently sautéed on a low heat with sugar and bloomed saffron water before being added to 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 mother and other members of our family would always poach the chicken and as a child I would search for the breast meat layered throughout my mother’s zereshk polo but I appreciate now that, when cooked for too long, this cut of meat can be quite dry. My recipe below uses chicken breast but with a few changes to preparation and cooking to ensure it remains juicy. I generally source chicken for all my cooking 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 and then I pan fry the chicken and finish it off in the oven as per the recipe instructions below. You can also eat this rice with saffron stewed chicken and 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 and loved. The recipe below will also result in the delicious crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot called tahdig  which adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.

Out of all our polo dishes this is probably the easiest to knock-up (relative to other Persian dishes which tend to be more involved in preparation and cooking time).  The recipe below looks daunting with all the steps but after you have done it once, and created a ridiculous amount of washing up, I promise the second time will be easier. And this dish is so delicious you will want to make and eat it a second, third, fourth…time!

As with most Persian dishes, I cook this on a weekend for my family and serve it with a mix of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and Thai basil), torshi and/or Shirazi salad.


Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: chicken, family recipes, saffron
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Saffron Chicken

  • 4 Chicken Breasts (with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
  • 1 medium Onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (for the marinade)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1/2 lemon (juice squeezed)
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 25 g butter (to cook the chicken)
  • 2 tbsp olive (to cook the chicken)

For the Rice

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (approx. 400g)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)

For the Barberries

  • 5 tbsp barberries (washed)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

Instructions

Preparation

  • Chicken – take the chicken breasts and place in a large bowl and add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, olive oil, turmeric, saffron and fresh lemon juice to the chicken and mix until evenly coated. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 8 hrs (preferably overnight).
  • Rice – gently 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 the rice up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave the rice to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
  • Barberries – take a small saucepan, place it on a low heat and add 1 tbsp of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the barberries, the sugar and the bloomed saffron water and stir for 30 seconds. The barberries should only be cooked gently for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and set them aside for later (I prepare the barberries the morning of the day I am cooking this dish as it one less thing to manage later and it allows for the sugary saffron syrup to infuse further).

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 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, 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 to the pan. Add your bloomed saffron (1/8 tsp bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water) 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 the rice down flat with the spoon.
  • Then layer the rest of the rice, reserving 5 tbsp of rice, into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Take the bloomed saffron (1/4 tsp of saffron bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water) and add the 5 tbsp of rice to it and mix gently. Then spoon this rice on top of the rice in the saucepan to one side of the pot.  Do not mix this into the rest of the rice. This saffron coloured rice will be your garnish, but it is steamed with the rest of the rice to cook to the correct texture but also to add saffron and rose notes to the rest of the rice while cooking.
  • Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice and drizzle the 2 tbsp of melted ghee or butter over the rice. Place the glass lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once the steam starts to rise from the rice lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent. 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 layer of tahdig – the longer you steam your 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 the chicken from the 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 the chicken breast and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Discard the rest of the marinade including the onion.
  • Place a non-stick pan over a high heat, once smoking add a drizzle of olive oil and place the chicken breasts skin down in the pan. Cook on this side for about 5 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crisp.
  • Flip over and add the 25 grams of butter split into small knobs. Once melted, baste the chicken with the foaming butter for a minute. Then flip so they are skin side up again.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes. 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 the rice has completed its cooking time, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Spoon the saffron-coloured rice out first into a separate bowl and reserve until you are ready to garnish. Spoon the rest of your 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.
  • Serve the rice with the chicken, tahdig, a side of fresh herbs and / or salad shirazi and / or torshi.

 

Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice – the expert way

Chelow is the name given to the white fluffy grains of rice either served with our kababs or khoresh (stews). 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 meals and due to the sticky texture you wouldn’t generally see it served at a dinner party or restaurant.

Chelow has a 6 step process to follow, summarised below:

  1. Washing the rice;
  2. Soaking the rice – not all consider this stage is necessary anymore 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 center of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible;
  3. Par boiling the rice until al dente;
  4. Draining the rice;
  5. Preparing the tahdig layer and then layering the remaining rice on top; and finally
  6. Steaming the rice.

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, kind of like roast potatoes or chips to the British. I don’t think I have ever met someone who dislikes tahdig. In fact, I think I would have serious trust issues with someone who was dubious about 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. I have been doing this for a fair while and I can honestly say I still get a teeny bit of anxiety when I check my rice texture at the end of cooking and then flip the pot to reveal my tahdig! In fact you can see variations in the tahdig pictures on this post and no doubt in future posts – just as long as it isn’t burnt to a cinder, we Iranians love our tahdig golden all the way through to well-done!

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 collage 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. Also there are people presenting elaborately designed tahdig with intricate patterns cut into their potatoes or their flatbread, creating a work of art. I am a traditionalist with my tahdig (this is mostly down to the time I have) so my recipe below is to assist you to cook tahdig like the best of the Persian Mamans (mums) or Babas (dads) out there, but if you do get the chance go and check out ‘#tahdig’ on social media platforms and enter the world of beautiful tahdig designs.

As advised in previous posts, you will need to get your hands on white long grain basmati rice if you want to cook authentic Persian style rice. You can buy this from your local supermarket or, as I do, from my local Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops. A little saffron is recommended, a good quality non-stick saucepan with a glass lid and a small-hole colander or sieve. A clean tea towel is also 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.

Try not to balk 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. Also, while I have you engaged with the concept of pushing salt boundaries, let me talk to you about drizzling your rice pre-steaming stage with butter, ghee or vegan equivalent. It sounds punchy and it is, but the resulting chelow is so delicious it would be a shame to omit this stage. Some literally layer their rice with knobs of butter, I melt a few tablespoons and drizzle it over my rice as set out below (see step 12).

As with chips and roast potatoes, the more oil you use for your tahdig at the bottom of your pot the better the tahdig as you are effectively deep frying the base of the rice (potatoes or flatbread) and it avoids burning. However, I don’t always use lots of oil in family meals as it is more about the taste of the dish and the overall healthiness rather than presentation so I reduce the oil content. The tahdig is still delicious but as you can see from the some of the pictures the colour of the tahdig can be patchy. The amount of oil stated in the recipe below is the minimum I would recommend. As you fine tune your chelow and tahdig skills, feel free to increase the oil incrementally (say a tablespoon at a time) to conclude the best oil ratio for you, your family and your trusted saucepan.

There are two ways of presenting your chelow and tahdig. If you have a small quantity of rice (as in the recipe below) you should be able to flip your pot after cooking and the rice and tahdig should come out like a cake 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.

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. 


Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice - the expert way
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Accompaniment, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (standard UK measuring cup capacity 250 ml - approx 400 grams of rice)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahgdig
  • A further small pinch of ground saffron if serving your rice with a saffron garnish bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of hot water (optional)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil plus extra if you are making potato or flatbread tahdig as per 'Alternative Step' sections below
  • 2 to 3 tbsp ghee / butter / vegan equivalent

Instructions

  • Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Be gentle with the rice, otherwise you will damage and break the grains.
  • Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover the rice up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave the rice to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (I leave mine overnight and cook the rice during the afternoon of the day after).
  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • To make a cake style rice and tahdig, layer your rice and gently pat down to the shape of the saucepan. Once you have layered the rice, take the end of a tablespoon and gently poke about 5 small holes in the rice to allow steam to escape while cooking. Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice.
  • Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of melted ghee / butter / vegan equivalent over the rice. 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. 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.
  • If you want to serve the rice with a sprinkle of saffron garnish and the tahdig separately then at step 11, instead of layering your rice and patting it down, layer the rice into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Then follow steps 12 and 13. When cooking has finished, instead of flipping the rice, spoon it out on to your dish and plate up your tahdig separately. For the saffron garnish, take a small pinch of saffron and place in a small bowl then add the rose water and hot water and let it bloom for a few minutes. Mix 4 tbsp of the cooked rice with the bloomed saffron and gently stir so it takes on a golden colour. Then sprinkle as a garnish on top of your rice.

Alternative Step 10 - 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.
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, 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 Step 10 - Flatbread Tahdig

  • If you are making flatbread tahdig, you will need 1 medium Middle-Eastern style flatbread like lavash or 1 medium white tortilla. 
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, you can 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 at step 13 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.

Kateh

Persian rice cooked the easy way

Kateh was a regular feature in my early childhood. My mum would cook it for any ailment I had and serve it with yoghurt (maast). Not sure how it was meant to help. However, given its low maintenance method of cooking and the comforting nature, I can see why my mother would whip it up for me.

Before I launch into the finer details of cooking Kateh, the type of rice you require for Persian dishes is very important. It must be long grain basmati white rice, which you can buy from most local supermarkets and Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops ranging from 500 gram to 10 kilogram bags.

Kateh is a great introduction to mastering the art of cooking rice like Iranians. Once you have this skill under your belt, learning the more complicated technique (Chelow) will be less daunting. The difference between the two ways of cooking rice is essentially that, for Kateh, you boil and steam it in your saucepan by letting the water evaporate, whereas Chelow requires you to parboil the rice, drain the water and then steam. Also, timing of the draining of the rice prior to steaming is key for Chelow.   

The more forgiving timing and low maintenance method for Kateh results in a stickier rice compared to the delicate separated fluffy grains Chelow produces. The bonus of the simple way of cooking Persian rice is that you can still get the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot – ‘Tahdig’ which is cherished by Iranians. If you have clicked onto this site searching for tahdig then you already know about this delightful creation unique to Iranians. If you are new to the concept then let me explain.

Tahdig translated into English means ‘bottom of the pot.’ Iranians cook their rice for longer than most cultures in order to create a crispy layer of rice, which is everyone’s favourite part of the meal. A bit like the potatoes in your Sunday Roast. It’s always the first dish to disappear at our dinner parties with the crispy texture perfectly complementing the softer textures of many of our dishes (the rice, stews and kababs). There is a disclaimer to Kateh tahdig and that is it is not as superior as the tahdig created by the Chelow method. It comes out paler but it is still crunchy. If you are in this for the long game, then eventually you will be cooking rice and creating tahdig like a Persian Maman (or Baba) with golden tahdig made with potatoes, bread or anything else you fancy experimenting with. For now, my advice is to get Kateh under your belt. 

The best way to master cooking rice the Persian way is to have a trusted cup measurement and understand the portions it yields. I use the measuring cup pictured below (standard UK measuring cup – 250 ml), which holds approximately 200 grams of rice.

Each cup holds a generous 2 portions of rice. I use 2 cups (400 grams of rice) which feeds 4 of us comfortably with leftovers on occasion. I cook this in a standard UK saucepan with a glass lid 20 cm diameter, with a 2.5 litre capacity. The reason I refer to mastering cup measurements is because of the corresponding water measurement. For every cup of rice, you add 1 cup of water plus 1/2 cup for every cup of rice.

To unscramble the brain I set out a table below with the rice to water ratio and the amount of salt and oil you will also require.

ServesCups of RiceCups of WaterOil/ButterSalt
211.51 Tbsp0.5 - 1 tsp
4232 Tbsp1 - 2 tsp
8464 Tbsp2 - 4 tsp

As a further note, in order to master the art of Persian rice you have to learn how your stove works, whether it is a ceramic, induction or gas hob. 

The lowest setting on ceramic, induction and other solid plate type cookers tend to produce a lower temperature than the equivalent on a gas hob, therefore to go to the lowest heat may result in your rice not being cooked within the specified time below. Don’t worry – just leave it on for longer and the next time go up a gauge and a further one if needed until you master the right temp and time for your Kateh.

Kateh isn’t a dish you would traditionally serve at an Iranian party (mehmooni) and is more of a mid week or chilled family weekend rice accompaniment dish. For serving suggestions, I recommend having it with Kabab Tabei, Asian style dishes or just fried eggs, something green (for good measure) and Torshi.


Kateh

Persian rice cooked the easy way
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Accompaniment, Rice Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: vegan option, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter / ghee / vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Gently wash the rice in cold water until the 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).
  • Drain and then put the rice in a saucepan. Add water and salt (for the amount of rice set out above, I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
  • Put the saucepan on a high heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat to medium and add the butter/ghee/oil and stir gently to mix. 
  • Once you start to see holes in the rice as the water is evaporating, take the temperature down to the lowest setting. 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 no less than 30 mins. The longer you leave it, the better the tahdig.
  • Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (30 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and take a plate, which is bigger than your saucepan, and place it over the top of the saucepan. Flip the saucepan, while holding the plate, and your rice should come out as a nice looking rice cake in the shape of your pan with crispy tahdig encasing it.
  • Serve with your choice of stew, curry or kababs.
  • Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work the first time you do it.  It took me a few attempts before I got it!  Good luck.