Persian rice with broad beans and dill, mint and saffron is called baghali polo; a traditional side dish for lamb. I hereby declare Iranians to be the world champions of cooking rice.
East or West, where is rice the best?
Which nation is the top dog at cooking rice?
Who is the most skilled, the most inventive, has the most rice dishes and can cook it well with their eyes closed while tap-dancing to their national anthem?
Where can you confidently order just a rice dish of any kind and expect to be blown away? Where are the superior rice maestros?
Rice in the East is a feast
First thought: the Far East. The Chinese perhaps?
Who can beat special fried rice, with luck of the drawer bits of shrimp or chicken, the cheapest and the most satisfying takeaway option? Or sticky glutinous rice at dim sum, the steaming bundles swaddled in banana leaves like fat babies?
But maybe the prize will go to the Japanese, masters of sushi rice; cooked so perfectly that it holds a maki together even though each grain is superbly separated from another.
Or else it could be Vietnam where the best bò bún salads are thrown together over cold rice or noodles.
Let’s not forget Korea, worthy of mention for their bibimbap, gimbap, jumeokbap, yubuchobap, patbap or purely the variety and the fantastic names.
Plus Indonesia for nasi goreng.
And Thai pad khao and all the other khaos.
Does rice grow in Europe?
But of course there are some likely candidates closer to home: the Spanish for instance. Paella, arroz negro, arroz de marisco, those are not dishes – they are works of art.
And they use the locally grown rice as I was amazed to discover a couple of years ago.
Last but not least, Italia, the home of risotto, arancini and those amazing casseroles, timbale, where rice is layered with meat sauce and baked like a cake.
Rice around the world
I could also go to Mexico where they stuff tomato rice into burritos or mix it with refried beans; to Greece for dolmados wrapped in vine leaves; to Senegal for joloff but my personal award will go to Iran. Persians do it better!
The combination of saffron and staggering amounts of dill (dill! whoever else uses this wonderful herb with rice!) is peerless; they do it vegetarian and they do it with lamb or chicken.
And tahdig, the crusty, crunchy ‘bottom of the pot’ must be one of the best things you can ever eat.
Baghali polo, broad bean pilaf
This recipe is baghali polo, rice with dill and broad beans – baghali means broad beans and polo or polow is pilaf, a cooked rice dish.
My method is a result of trawl through various Iranian recipe sites and Samin Nosrat’s influence.
The rice for this dish needs to be rinsed several times, then soaked in cold water for at least half an hour; that’s to get rid of excess starch.
Then the rice is par-boiled ‘in big water’ as I call it, which means basically like pasta: in a pan of plenty salty boiling water, then drained. It ends up very al dente.
The broad beans should be double shelled but honestly, it’s a minor chore. When blanched, they will pop out of their skins almost on their own.
How to cook baghali polo?
Herbs added to the rice are all green: lots of chopped dill and mint. Spices are all yellow: turmeric added to boiling rice water, saffron, cinnamon and cardamom to the pan with foaming oil and butter, waiting for the rice.
I don’t mix rice with yoghurt or saffron water nor do I line the bottom of the pan with lavash bread for the crusty tahdig – I load all the rice in at once and leave the tahdig matter to fate. Tahdig is easier to achieve in baked rice; with this method here is more of a happenstance, but even without the crispy bits the rice is quite simply beyond tasty.
Once all the rice and bean mix is in, you need to poke some holes in it, all the way to the bottom, to make tunnels for escaping steam.
The lid goes on over medium heat until the steam starts to try and lift the lid, which is when we turn it down to absolute minimum and swaddle the lid with a clean tea towel, to absorb the vapour. It will cook like that for an hour, then rest off the flame for a few more minutes.
Baghali polo is usually served as a side to lamb or chicken but I say, those Persians, they wallow in excess. When you have a dish that tasty on your plate, you don’t really need any meat to go with it.
At least I don’t.
More rice recipes
Mushroom risotto made with dried, rehydrated porcini and masses of Parmesan and butter is a royal feast. I love it just with a green salad.
Easy dirty rice with minced pork and homemade Creole seasoning, a bomb of flavours and a healthy main course ready in about 40 minutes.
Chicken and prawn paella, an absolutely foolproof recipe. For best results use paella rice, Bomba or Calasparra and an ordinary large frying pan.
More Persian recipes
Fresh cucumbers with cumin tahini dressing, sprinkled with extra sesame seeds are crunchy, juicy and wonderfully refreshing. Try them as a side for beef burger patties.
Lavash bread, Turkish and Persian specialty flatbread, is cooked on the hob in ghee – so it comes off the pan already buttered.
Radish, cucumber and herb salad, the healthiest summer salad of cucumbers, radish and lots of fresh herbs with a simple dressing. Herb salad based on sabzi khordan, Persian fresh herb platter.