Adas Polo (Persian Rice with Lentils, Dates and Raisins)

The first time that I ever made Adas Polo was on Christmas Eve about six years ago. My (non-Persian) in-laws asked if I could bring something to add to their traditional Christmas Eve dinner of Tourtiere and baked beans. They requested Albaloo Polo (Rice with Sour Cherries) as that was one of their favourite Persian dishes. I had made it a few times so I happily agreed. Unfortunately, I burned the sour cherries and my Albaloo Polo was ruined. I was not about to venture out on December 24th to the grocery store, so in a panic I looked in my cupboards and realized that I had all the components of Adas Polo. I called my mom and she gave me instructions over the phone. It was a hit at dinner……who knew that Adas Polo would go so well with Quebecois meat pie and baked beans!

Adas Polo is very simple to prepare and is extremely flavourful. Aromatic basmati rice with lentils, caramelized onions, sweet dates and raisins. A beautiful balance of sweet and savoury. Adas Polo is delicious served on its own as a vegetarian main dish but also pairs very well with a variety of meat dishes such as Lemon and Saffron Roasted Chicken.

Adas Polo
(serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1/2 large onion (or one small onion), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups chopped dates (preferably Medjool)
2/3 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces*
salt and pepper
canola oil

Put rinsed lentils in a small pot with 3 cups water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan heat 3 tbsp of canola oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry the onions for about 8-10 minutes until golden. If they start to brown too quickly, turn down the heat slightly. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute. Add the chopped dates and raisins and fry for another minute. Take off heat and set aside.

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is clear (about 4-5 times).

After the rice is washed, cover with 6 cups lukewarm water and 1 tbsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes (this step is optional, but the rice will be tastier and fluffier if you do it).

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water and 1 tbsp salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaked rice and add to the pot of boiling water.  Turn down the heat slightly to medium-high (it should still be boiling) and boil for 6 minutes stirring occasionally.

Drain the rice in a wire sieve.

Using a paper towel, dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil into your pot to just cover the bottom. Add the saffron water to the oil.

Using a spatula, add enough rice to form a layer to cover the bottom of the pot and form the ta-dig (the golden rice crust).

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the lentils on top. Then add 1/3 of the onion/date/raisin mixture.

Mix the cinnamon and the cumin and sprinkle about 1/3 over the mixture.

Repeat the layers forming sort of a pyramid and sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt over the top.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water mixed with 2 tbsp canola oil. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot.  Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Alternatively you can use a double layer of paper towel between the pot and lid. Let the rice steam for 40 minutes.

When rice is ready add the butter and very gently mix the rice with the lentils and date mixture. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Using a spatula transfer the rice to a serving dish. Loosen the ta-dig with your spatula or a wooden spoon and serve with the rice. Enjoy!

*vegans can substitute non-hydrogenated margarine


Kashk-e Bademjan (Creamy Persian Eggplant Dip)

I’m an eggplant fanatic. Fried, baked, grilled, barbequed, breaded……you name it, I love it. Fortunately, Persian cuisine is an eggplant lovers paradise. If I had to pick my favourite Persian eggplant dish it would be a tight race, but I think Kashk-e Bademjan would have to be the winner. Creamy and garlic-y with caramelized onion and tender, fried eggplant, this dip is ridiculously delicious. It has ruined many Persian restaurant lunches for me as I can not resist ordering it and eat so much that I have no room left for Kabab!

For those of you who don’t know, kashk is whey – the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained in the cheese-making process. In North America, most people’s familiarity with whey is in the form of whey protein for protein shakes. In the Middle East, whey (or kashk as we call it in Farsi), is used a great deal in cooking. It provides  a wonderful flavour and a creamy consistency to a lot of dishes. Kashk and eggplant are a wonderful complement to each other. The following is the Kashk-e Bademjan recipe my mother taught me, which I believe is superior to any restaurant version I’ve had!

Kashk-e Bademjan
Serves 4-6

6 Japanese eggplant (or two large regular eggplant)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
canola oil
1 tsp turmeric
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp kashk (whey)*
salt and pepper

Cut the top off the eggplant, peel them, slice them in half lengthwise and cut them into three-inch pieces. Put them in a colander and liberally sprinkle salt on them to remove any bitterness. Leave them for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

In a large frying pan, heat 4-5 tablespoons of canola oil over medium-high heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until golden (about 10 minutes). Add the turmeric and fry for another minute. Remove from heat.

In another pan (or you may temporarily remove the onions and use the same pan), heat about 1/2 cup of canola oil over medium-high heat. Rinse the eggplant and pat completely dry. Fry the eggplant in batches until golden on each side (2-3 minutes).  You may need to add more oil as you go.

When done, add all the eggplant back in the pan along with the fried onions and garlic. Add 1/2 cup water and fry the mixture for 1 minute.

Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and continue cooking (stirring occasionally) until eggplant is very tender (15-20 minutes). When tender, use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the eggplant. It does not need to be completely smooth.

Turn off the heat and stir in the kashk until well incorporated and creamy. If you would like it creamier, add more kashk. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

You may garnish with walnuts, fried onions and drizzled kashk if you wish. Serve with toasted barbarry bread, pita or lavash. Enjoy!

*You may purchase kashk at Iranian supermarkets and specialty stores. If you can not find kashk, you can try substituting full fat sour cream. It will not have exactly the same flavour but it will still be delicious!

Khorest-e Fesenjoon (Persian Chicken Stew with Pomegranate and Walnut)

My darling Fesenjoon….how I love thee. Poems have been dedicated to this Persian gastronomical delight. Sweet and sour, the flavours of toasted walnuts and pomegranate marry to create one of the most unique and delicious stews to ever exist.

Fesenjoon is all about balance. In the West, when we talk about “balance” in cooking, we refer to flavour. In Eastern cultures it is much more complex. In the Far East, there exists the philosophy of yin and yang when it comes to food. Persian culture has a similar philosophy but our contrary forces are “warm” and “cold”. Walnuts are considered a “warm” food, while pomegranates are considered a “cold” food. The key to Persian cooking is to balance out “warm” and “cold”. In fact, eating too much of either is considered to contribute to many ailments. For instance, if your face has broken out into pimples, a Persian grandmother might accuse you of having eaten too many “warm” foods.

Besides being absolutely delicious, Festenjoon is a nutritionist’s dream come true. Packed with vitamins, fibre and antioxidants from the pomegranates, walnuts and butternut squash, Fesenjoon is a nutritional powerhouse that I’m sure would gain Dr. Oz’s praise. Fesenjoon is also a dish that can easily be adapted for vegetarians and vegans. Simply substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the chicken for a vegetarian substitute such as Gardein “chicken cutlets” or my personal favourite Seitan (“wheat meat”) which can be purchased at most health food stores.

Korest-e Fesenjoon
(Serves 4)

2 tbsp canola oil
2 small onions (or one large), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp turmeric
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs (if they are small use 10)
4 cups toasted* walnut halves
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/8 tsp ground saffron
3/4 cup pomegranate paste
2 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Heat canola oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Add the turmeric and saute for another minute.

Add the chicken pieces and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat.

Meanwhile, finely grind the walnuts in a food processor.

Remove the walnuts from the food processor (you don’t need to wash it out) and add the butternut squash. Process the butternut squash until finely ground as well.

Add the ground walnuts, the butternut squash, pomegranate paste, sugar, salt and saffron to the chicken mixture and gently stir until well combined.

When it comes to a simmer turn down heat to low, cover and cook for 2 hours. Make sure to stir occasionally and scrape the bottom so that it does not burn.

Taste the stew and adjust seasonings. It should be a balance of sweet and sour to your liking. You may add more pomegranate paste if you feel it needs more sour flavour and you can add more sugar if you feel it needs more sweet.

Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

*Toast the walnuts by spreading them on a baking dish and baking for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Turning them over halfway.