Another classic Persian recipe I thought you would enjoy is one of my family’s favorite rice dishes- Kalam Polo. A hearty, flavorful dish with caramelized cabbage and onions submersed with chunks of beef in a bed of aromatic basmati rice.
Literal translation being ‘cabbage rice’, you must love cabbage to appreciate this recipe, as it is not for all gastronomist due to its odoriferous nature. However, if you enjoy cabbage and have an understanding for its nutrients, I am certain you will take delight in this comfort food recipe. Even if you shy away from cabbage, give this recipe a try. Like me, you might be surprised how sweet and delicious caramelized cabbage can taste. Velvety caramelized slivers of cabbage and onion cuddled in embrace with fluffy basmati rice and flavored with turmeric, saffron and tangy dried lime powder (found in most Mediterranean stores) is a perfect marriage of flavors to seduce your taste buds. Kalam polo can be made with or without beef which makes it a wonderful vegetarian option.
Even if you are not a huge fan of cabbage, consider all the nutritional and medicinal advantages of it. Cabbage is loaded with vitamin C, K and fiber. It is a good source of folate, potassium and calcium and thought to be a cancer preventing super food with powerful antioxidants. As an epicurean, I believe having awareness of nutritional benefits of what I consume assists in the pleasure of feeding my hunger, taste buds and healthier body.
Try my mother’s recipe for Kalam polo knowing that your body and taste buds will be happy that you did! Noushe Jan
3 cups of Basmati rice
7 cups of water + 1 teaspoon of salt for the rice
1 lb cubed size beef chunks
2 medium size green cabbage- chopped into small bite size slivers
1 large onion chopped finely
4 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon finely ground saffron dissolved in ½ cup of hot water
1/2 tablespoon powdered dried lime (if your local Mediterranean store has only whole dried limes, simply make your own by grinding 2 limes in a food processor)
Canola Oil (I generally prefer olive oil, yet traditionally canola oil is used)
Salt and pepper
In a large bowl, gently rinse rice under cold water.
In a large non-stick pot, bring to boil 3 cups of rice, 3/4 of a tablespoon salt and 7 cups of water. Turn the heat down low; stir occasionally for the rice to not clump together and simmer until rice is ‘al-dente’. Immediately remove rice from heat. In the sink, using a rice appropriate strainer (with small holes to prevent rice from escaping), strain rice from hot water and shower it with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside. Preparation of the rice can also be done while cabbage and onions are caramelizing (below instructions) to save time.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep frying pan over medium heat warm ½ cup of oil. Add half of chopped cabbage, saute and stir frequently to render evenly cooked, caramelized golden slivers. Take your time as the cabbage will cook down slowly to caramelize. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper; stir and remove from pan and set aside. Repeat with second batch of chopped cabbage- add more oil if needed; add more salt and pepper and remove golden slivers of cabbage (add to first batch). Set aside.
In the same frying pan over medium heat, warm ¼ cup of oil and sauté onions until golden brown. Add tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in turmeric, ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper until well blended. Slightly increase heat; add beef chunks and sauté meat for 3-4 minutes stirring consistently so that onion does not burn but a nice sear is achieved on the beef (if you wish to have the vegetarian option, simply omit adding the beef). Lower heat to medium and add caramelized cabbage, lime powder and half of saffron water to beef mixture and stir in all ingredients to blend. Sauté and stir for an additional 3-4 minutes and turn heat off.
In a large non-stick pot with a matching lid, pour in ¼ cup of oil and ½ cup of water. Place ¼ of al-dente rice on the bottom of the pot (spread rice to cover evenly the bottom of the pot without crushing rice). Add ¼ of the cabbage mixture over the top of the rice and with a spoon gently and evenly spread over the rice. Repeat again with the rice followed by the cabbage mix until all ingredients are incorporated. With a wooden spoon, puncture 3-4 holes from the top of the rice to the bottom of the pot to create vents to cook rice throughout evenly. Place a large kitchen towel over the pot and cover with lid. Make certain sides of the towel are brought to the top of the lid securely to prevent towel from catching fire. Turn heat on to medium high until you hear rice, water and oil crackling (usually 3-5 minutes); then turn heat down low and cook rice for 45 minutes.
Serve in a large platter using a large spoon to transfer rice mix from pot. Gently fluff rice mixture for an even delicate distribution of rice and cabbage mix. Spoon remaining saffron mix over the top of the rice. In another serving dish, share the best part of this recipe, the tahdeeg- the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot!