Havij Polo bah Morgh-e Ab Paz (Persian Carrot Rice and Braised Chicken)

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I have one culinary regret I have in my life…..I wish I had introduced Persian food to my daughter at an earlier age. I was a first time parent and so worried about strong flavours and exotic ingredients, that I don’t think I gave my little girl Persian food until after her second birthday. My poor daughter had a very bland (but healthy) diet up to that point….as a result, at five years old she still tends to prefer bland foods. Although she eats Persian food, she still sometimes asks if she can have her plain rice without “Farsi sauce”.

I vowed not to make the same mistake with my son and I’m proud to say that at 14 months he is a Persian food lover! I may go so far as to say that I think it’s his favourite cuisine. Havij Polo and Morgh-e Ab Pas was my son’s first taste of Persian food. Simple, delicious, aromatic and slightly sweet, I thought this dish was the perfect introduction to the spices that are common to Persian food. Since then, he has tried numerous Persian stew and rice dishes which he has happily gobbled up.

Havij Polo can be served on its own or as a side dish for any meat dish. Some people like to layer chicken within the rice during the cooking process, but I personally love serving Morgh-e Ab Pas (Persian Braised Chicken) on the side because I love pouring some of the flavourful braising liquid over my rice.

Havij Polo
(Serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice
4 tbsp butter
300 grams carrots (about 3-4), peeled and coarsely grated*
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
canola oil
salt
braised chicken (recipe to follow)

In a medium non-stick frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the grated carrots and fry for 3 minutes. Add sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 cup water, bring to a boil and cook for another two minutes (most of the water will evaporate). Turn off heat and set aside.

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Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in a 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 tsp 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 6-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Make sure to taste the rice as you go along. When it is ready it should be soft but not mushy and over-cooked. It should be the texture of al-dente pasta. For me, I find that 6 minutes usually is enough.

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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 1/3 of the rice to form a layer to cover the bottom of the pot and form the ta-dig (the golden rice crust).

Sprinkle half of the carrot mixture over the rice. Then layer another third of the rice on top and then the rest of the carrot mixture. Top with the last third of the rice. The layers should resemble sort of a pyramid.

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Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water. Top with two tbsp butter. 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.

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When the rice is ready, use a spatula to transfer the rice to a serving dish. Gently, mix the carrot and rice. Season with salt if necessary. Loosen the ta-dig with your spatula or a wooden spoon.

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Serve with Morgh-e Ab Paz (recipe to follow) or Persian Roasted Saffron and Lemon Chicken.

*I grate my carrots in the food processor using the grating attachment. You may also cut the carrots in small match sticks if you prefer.

Morgh-e Ab Paz (Braised Chicken)

6-8 chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on preferred)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric

Spread the onions on the bottom of a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid (I prefer a dutch oven). Put the chicken pieces on top of the onions. Sprinkle salt, pepper and turmeric on top and pour 1 cup of water over it. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the chicken over half way.

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Serve the chicken and braising liquid with the rice. Enjoy!

Loobia Polo (Persian Rice with Beef and Green Beans)

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In a cruel twist of fate, an adventurous food lover like myself gave birth to a  picky eater. Before I had kids, I would  see other children turn up their noses at food and watch their mothers turn into short order cooks and I would laugh and think that would never be my child. My child would NEVER eat noodles and butter or chicken fingers. I had images of my kids diving into bowls of curry and picking up salmon sashimi with chopsticks. They say that a parent’s eating habits are the biggest influence on children and since I eat pretty much everything on earth and love it, I assumed my children would too.  During my pregnancy with my daughter, I ate Indian, Thai, Korean, Persian, Japanese and I had a huge craving for spice. Every night I would eat a feta stuffed jalapeno pepper.

My daughter is not the typical picky eater. She LOVES fruits and vegetables. Getting her to eat her greens has never been a problem……she happily eats broccoli, green beans, avocados, cherries, grapes (her favourite), apples, you name it. She’s a natural healthy eater. Getting her to eat “meals” has always been a struggle. She is one of those kids that  likes everything separate. In fact, until recently, all her meals were in TV dinner style plates where all the components of her meal had to be in different compartments. So therefore dinners where things were mixed such as lasagna, stews,  pasta with sauce and even pizza were a no-go. Lily prefers everything plain (or as she calls it “clean”).

That was until she had Loobia Polo.  Loobia Polo was the first dish that she did not complain that her rice was not “clean”. She loved every bite and what’s not to love – a delicious and aromatic mix of rice, tender beef, green beans, mushrooms, tomato, cinnamon and other spices. Loobia Polo is a fabulous family meal – nutritious and balanced, it is a guaranteed hit for adults and kids – even the most picky!

Loobia Polo
Serves 4-6

3 cups basmati rice
vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, 1/2 inch pieces
1 lb green beans trimmed, 1/2 inch
8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed, halved and sliced (optional)
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 cup drained canned diced tomato (you may also use fresh if you wish)
1/8 tsp ground saffron
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water (for the ta-dig)
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
salt and pepper

Wash rice and soak in warm water for at least 30 minutes. For detailed instructions on washing rice, please see the following link Persian Rice with Golden Crust.

While the rice is soaking, in a separate pot (or Dutch Oven), heat 2 tbsp canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute.

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Turn up the heat to medium-high and add another tbsp of oil and brown the beef for about 5 minutes.

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Add the green beans, the sliced mushrooms and another tbsp of oil and saute for about 2 minutes.

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Add the tomato paste and fry for one minute. Then add the tomatoes, 1 tbsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1/2 cup of water.    Bring to a boil, then turn down to low heat and simmer covered for about 15 minutes. Set aside when done.

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In a small bowl mix together the cinnamon, cumin and ground saffron. Set the spice mixture aside.

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 beef and green bean mixture on top. Then add 1/3 of the spice mixture.

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Repeat the layers (rice, meat mixture, spices) forming a sort of pyramid.

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Top with the butter pieces.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water mixed with 1 tbsp canola oil. Cover and cook over medium 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 40-50 minutes.

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When rice is ready very gently mix the rice. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Using a spatula transfer the rice to a serving dish.

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Loosen the ta-dig (the crispy rice) with your spatula or a wooden spoon and serve with the rice. Enjoy!

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

Sabzi Polo va Mahi (Herbed Persian Rice and Pan-fried White Fish)

Persian New Year (Nowruz) is celebrated every year to signify the beginning of spring. In our home, nothing says spring like Sabzi Polo va Mahi. This delicious traditional New Year dish is supposed to bring luck – the herbs in the rice represent rebirth and the fish represents life.

Like all Persian dishes everyone has their own version but I share with you my mother’s recipe. Fluffy rice perfumed with fragrant herbs and spices and delicious crispy golden fish. Spring is in the air!

Sabzi Polo va Mahi
(Serves 6)

3 cups basmati rice
1 cup dill, chopped
1 cup chives (or you have use the greens part of green onions), chopped
1 1/2  cup cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh fenugreek (optional)
4 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground saffron
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp chopped dill stems (optional)
4 tbsp butter
salt & pepper
canola oil
Fried Fish (recipe to follow)

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate it 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.

After the rice is washed cover with 8 cups lukewarm water and 1 1/2  tbsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes. The longer it soaks, the more flavourful and fluffy the rice will be.

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water with 1 tbsp salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaking 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.

Add the dill, chives, cilantro, flat leaf parsley and the fenugreek to the water and simmer for about 2 minutes and then drain in a wire sieve.

In a small bowl combine the cumin, cinnamon and the ground saffron.

Clean out and dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil in your pot to just cover the bottom. Add two tablespoons of water and the dill stems (optional).

Using a spatula add a layer of rice to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1 tsp of garlic and 1/4 of the spice mixture.

Add the rice in layers forming sort of a pyramid (about 4 layers total). In between each layer sprinkle some of the garlic and the spice mixture. You can also add an extra dash of ground saffron on the top if you desire. Pour 1/3 cup water over the top of the rice and the butter.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, poke three holes in the rice. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel (or a double layer of paper towel)  and cover the lid of the pot  Let the rice steam for 30-40 minutes.

When the rice is done, use a spatula to gently sprinkle the rice onto a serving dish. Invert the pot onto a plate to loosen the ta-dig.

Mahi (Pan-Fried White Fish)

3 large fillets of white fish cut into 12 pieces (skin on or off depending on your preference)
2 eggs
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
salt and pepper

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs with the saffron water. Marinate the fish pieces in the egg mixture for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Pour enough canola oil into a large frying pan so that there is a 1/4 inch of oil at the bottom.  Heat the pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (to check heat add a tiny splash  the egg marinade to the pan, it should sizzle right away). Add the fish pieces in batches (do not crowd the pan).

Cook the first side until golden and crispy (about 5-6 minutes). Flip over and cook the second side until golden (about 4 minutes). Drain on paper towel.

This fish is traditionally served with wedges of Seville Orange (use lemons or limes if you can’t find any)- squeeze some of the juice over the fish just before eating. Enjoy!

Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries and Saffron)

Iran is known for many of its exports …… oil, saffron, rugs, and of course Persian cats:) But one commodity that many in the West may not know of is zereshk. Iran is the biggest producer of zereshk in the world. Zereshk are dried barbarries –  small delicious tart berries that have been cultivated in Iran for over 200 years. They are used in jams, dried fruit leathers and candies. But one of the most popular dishes that features zereshk is Zereshk Polo.

Zereshk polo is one of the easiest and yet most elegant Persian dishes to prepare. This traditional rice dish has the perfect balance of tart and sweet. Zershk Polo is delicious on it’s own, but I find that it goes exceptionally well with Saffron and Lemon Roasted Chicken.

Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries & Saffron)
(serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice (preferably Indian)
canola oil
3/4 cup zereshk* (dried barbarries)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter**
1/8 tsp ground saffron disolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
salt and pepper

Follow instructions to make Persian Rice (click on link for recipe). You may omit the potato if you wish and the rice itself will form a crust.

When the rice is ready you can begin making the zereshk mixture.

Wash the zereshk by soaking them in cold water for a couple of minutes and then draining them in a sieve.  Melt the butter in a small frying pan under medium heat. Add the zeresk, 1/2 tsp salt and the sugar. Cook for about two minutes over medium-high heat. The barberries will get a bit fragrant and plump slightly. Turn the heat off and add the the saffron water.

There are a number of different ways that you can serve this dish. Some people add the zereshk mixture to the rice and let it steam together but I find that this turns the zereshk brown and not as appetizing. Some serve the rice and sprinkle the zereshk mixture on top. But I prefer to mix it in right before serving that way you get the sweet and tart in every bite.  Pour the zereshk mixture (reserving some for serving on top as well) on the rice and very gently mix in. Using a spatula, sprinkle the rice on serving dish and scatter the remaining zereshk mixture on top.

You may serve the Zereshk Polo on it’s own but it goes exceptionally well with Saffron & Lemon Roasted Chicken (click on link for recipe!)

*You can find zereshk in Iranian or Middle Eastern supermarkets

**You can substitute vegetable oil for the butter in order to make this a vegan dish.

Persian Rice and Golden Potato Crust (Ta-dig)

I feel I can’t go any farther without first including a recipe for basic Persian rice (Chelow). Rice, water, salt, simmer, done….If only it were so simple!

To Persians, making rice is an art form. There is a great deal of care and detail involved in making the perfect fluffy and delicate rice we are famous for. The crown jewel of Persian rice is the Ta-dig. The delicious, crunchy golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot during the cooking process.

Ta-dig is beloved by Iranians and it often disappears as soon as it hits the dining table. When I first started dating my husband, who is Canadian, my younger brother tried to convince him that non-Iranians were not allowed to eat the ta-dig in a desperate attempt to keep it all for himself.

Ta-dig comes in many forms. Some make it with simple saffron rice, others add lavash bread, yogurt, tomatoes, scallions or leeks…..the possibilities are endless. But my absolute favourite is ta-dig made with thinly sliced potatoes. The potatoes form a crispy crust that almost tastes like a cross between a french fry and a potato chip……can you think of anything better than that?

Persian Rice with Golden Potato Ta-dig
(Serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice (preferably Indian)
water
2 tbsp salt
canola oil
1 thinly sliced russet potato
1/4 tsp ground saffron* dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate it 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 – it will take about five or six times but can take up to ten 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 longer it soaks, the more flavourful and fluffy the rice will be.

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water with 1 tbsp salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaking 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 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally. You will notice that the rice will not only expand, it will rise to the top of the water when it is almost ready.

Make sure to taste the rice as you go along. When it is ready it should be soft but not mushy and over-cooked. Drain the rice and rinse very lightly with lukewarm water.

Clean out and dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil in your pot to just cover the bottom. Cover the bottom of your pot with a single layer of sliced potatoes. Pour the saffron water over the potatoes.

Using a spatula gently sprinkle the rice in the pot forming a bit of a pyramid over the potatoes. Using the back of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice. Pour a mixture of ¼ cup water with 2 tbsp of canola oil over the rice. Cover and turn the heat up to medium high for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot (tie the ends so they don’t burn). This is so the steam doesn’t go back into the rice.  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 30-40 minutes.

When the rice is done, use a spatula to gently sprinkle the rice onto a serving dish. This will help ensure that the grains of rice separate and are fluffy. Invert the pot onto a plate to loosen the delicious and crispy ta-dig. Enjoy!

*When you buy saffron it comes in strands. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind it into a powder.