persian rice with broad beans
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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.
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?
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.
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.
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. This recipe is baghali polo, rice with dill and broad beans and again, the combination is unmatched. You have to double shell the beans but honestly, it’s a minor chore; and when blanched, they will pop out of their skins almost on their own.
Tahdig is easier to achieve in baked rice; this method here is more of a happenstance, but even without the crispy bits the rice is quite simply beyond tasty.
persian rice with broad beansServings: 4Time: 2 hours
- 250g (1¼ cup) brown, basmati and wild rice mix
- fine sea salt
- 1½ kg (3 pounds) fresh broad beans in the pods, shelled (about 350g)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 bunches of fresh dill
- ½ bunch fresh mint, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- 30ml (3 tbsp.) olive oil
- 55g (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
- a pinch of saffron ground in pestle and mortar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- plain natural yogurt, for serving
1. Rinse the rice several times until the water runs clear. Place it in a bowl, cover with cold water, stir in a tablespoon of salt and leave to soak for up to 1 hour.
2. The beans need to be blanched briefly in order to peel the skins Fill a large non-stick casserole pan with a tight fitting lid with water and bring it to the boil. Add the shelled broad beans and blanch for a few seconds. Drain and rinse them with cold water. Pop the beans from the skins and set aside.
3. Pre-boil the rice: refill the pan with water and add 3 tablespoons of salt and the turmeric; bring to the boil. Drain the rice and add to the boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat – the grains should end up al dente.
4. While the rice is cooking, strip the dill leaves from the thickest stems and finely chop the stems and the leaves. Add the stems to the boiling rice.
5. Drain the rice through a sieve, place it in a bowl and stir in the broad beans, most of the dill leaves and the chopped mint. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
6. Place your pan back on the hob, add the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Turn the heat to medium. Sprinkle the cinnamon and cardamom into the pan and when the oil and water mix is sizzling, add the rice mixture. Poke several holes in the rice to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon handle, to let the steam out. Cover with the lid and cook for 9-10 minutes on medium heat until steam is visible around the lid.
7. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel tying the ends up around the handle. Cover the pan and turn the heat to minimum. Cook without lifting the lid for 1 hour.
8. Without lifting the lid remove the pan off the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Take off the lid, spoon the rice onto a serving bowl and carefully scrape out the crispy bits at the bottom – these are the nicest even if they don’t form a proper cake (tahdig).
9. Serve as a side for meat or a main vegetarian dish.