My Mother's Shirazi Polo

by Marjan
This post and title is a bit controversial! Therefore,  I will choose my words carefully to avoid similar misunderstanding as my Fesenjoon post.
As you may already know, Basmati Rice is the standard in Persian cuisine. Whether it is speciality rice dishes such as tahcheen (saffron and yogurt rice cake), lubia polo (green bean and rice), kalam polo (caramelized cabbage and rice), adas polo (lentil rice), albaloo polo (sour cherry rice) or dam pokh tak (golden turmeric rice), the name clearly distinguishes one dish from the other. However, my mother's recipe for Shirazi Polo (named after the great city of Shiraz famous for wine, poetry, romantic gardens and Persepolis) is very different from the citie's original rice dish.


My mother's recipe is a combination of khoreshte gheymeh and Persian sweet rice. Cooks from Shiraz will argue reverently that their recipe contains herbs such as tarragon and dill with tiny bite-size spiced meatballs laced with caramelized kohlrabi cabbage; whereas my mother's version contains yellow split beans, barberries, raisins, minced meat, and spices such as saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin. Evidently, two very different delicious dishes with one name. If someone can suggest a better name for my mother's recipe, we will gladly re-name ours.


So which is my favorite? They are both delicious, yet polar opposite dishes. For me however, of course my mother's recipe wins in my book! She takes no credit for the name or recipe as it was given to her by my Aunt Farah (my father's eldest sister) who now has passed and unfortunately I cannot inquire as of the name, Shirazi Polo. Controversy set aside, this sweet and tangy aromatic rice dish is delicious and jam-packed with flavor. A must try in my book! Several ingredients required therefore, careful planning and a visit to your local Persian market to purchase barberries, saffron, turmeric, yellow split beans, petite raisins, cumin, cinnamon, and of course basmati rice is required. I promise you, with some patience, this recipe is well worth it.

Serves 6-8
Ingredients:
4 cups basmati rice
10 cups water
1 tablespoon sea salt

1 lb. beef stew; minced into tiny bite size pieces
1 large onion ( or 2 medium size onions); finely chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup yellow split peas (soak in water with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 24 hours prior to preparing recipe)
1 cup washed barberries
1 cup washed golden raisins or any small size raisins preferred

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon cumin

Vegetable oil
1 cup of quality organic butter
1/2 teaspoon of crushed saffron in 1/4 cup of hot water

If split peas were not soaked ahead of schedule, you can also cook them: wash and rinse yellow split peas. In a medium size pot, add peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover top by 2 inches. Over medium low heat, cook split peas until al-dente (usually 10-13 minutes). Occasionally gently stir for uniform cooking and check frequently peas as boiling; if over cooked, it will quickly crumble and turn into soup and if under cooked it will be hard to eat. Peas should not fall apart or be crushed; therefore handle them gently to remain whole. Strain cooked peas in colander and rinse with cold water to halt cooking.

In a large, stainless steel deep pan over medium low heat, sauté onions in 3/4 cup vegetable oil until golden brown; stir frequently preventing edges from burning, delivering uniform caramelized onion. Add turmeric, salt, pepper and tomato paste; stir together all ingredients and cook for 5 minutes. Increase temperature to high, add beef, stir until brown for 7-8 minutes. Turn heat off.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick pot, bring to boil rice, salt and water. Immediately, turn the heat down low; stir occasionally and cook until grains are ‘al-dente’. In the sink, using a rice appropriate strainer (small holes to not allow the rice to rinse out), strain the rice from the hot water and shower it with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

In a small dish or bowl, combine together cinnamon and cumin. In another bowl, combine raisins and barberries.

On the bottom of a large size non-stick pot with matching top cover, pour 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 1/4 cup of water. Spoon 3-4 spatulas of rice; sprinkle with fingers 2-3 pinches of cinnamon/cumin mix over the rice. Top with 3-4 tablespoons of minced meat mix followed by 3-4 tablespoons of yellow split peas. Again spoon 3-4 spatulas of rice and top with 3-4 tablespoons of raisins and barberry mix. Each layer should be delicately topped on one another to make certain rice and contents do not stick together, rather creating fluffy layers of rice mix.
Start all over again with adding rice, spice mix, meat mix, split peas, rice again and raisins with berries. Continue layering until all ingredients have been used up. With the handle of a kitchen spatula, penetrate 3-4 holes from the top of the rice mix to the bottom of the pot. This will vent up moisture created from the heat.


 Place a large kitchen towel over the pot followed by cover. Bring up sides of the towel to the handle of the lid and secure. The towel will capture excess moisture preventing the rice and contents from sticking together. Use caution to secure sides of towel on top of lid, preventing it from burning. If kitchen towel is unavailable, hefty paper towels can also be used.


Place pot over medium high heat for 7-8 minutes; bring heat down to low and cook for one hour until a crispy rice on the bottom of the pot (tahdeeg) is rendered.
In a medium size sauce pan, melt butter over low. Add saffron water and 4-5 tablespoons of rice from the top of the pot. Gently mix to cover rice with saffron and butter mix.
Using a large spatula, transfer rice mix from pot to a larger serving platter. Top with saffron rice mix and serve while hot.
The crunchy rice (tahdeeg) should be served in a smaller dish to be enjoyed!


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