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Sabzi Polo

April 5, 2017

APRIL 2nd, 2017 — Persian food. Because it’s a cuisine I have so often due to the graces of my Persian-Armenian friend’s mother’s kitchen, I’ve felt intimidated to try my own hand at it.

But last week I was making kofte with a friend and we bought an obscene amount of fresh herbs from the local Israeli market. I took home said herbs, and then realized that there is only one good way to use all of these herbs.

Anyway, dill is my favorite herb. So I detected it immediately the first time I had sabzi polo (literally “herb rice”). Me: “Wow, they must just throw in a whole handful of the stuff fresh.”

So what did you do?
I scoured a few recipes for the dish, and I found many advising me to soak my long-grain rice (I used brown basmati) for at least 2 hours. What? asks the Chinese person. I guess, if they say so. And apparently the longer it soaks, the fluffier it will become in its next life. So I soaked 2 cups (dry) brown basmati rice in a bowl of water. I swished around in there with my hand so all the excess starches would come out.

Meanwhile, I finely, FINELY diced the following fresh herbs:

  • 1/3 cup scallions
  • 1/3 cup cilantro (also known as coriander)
  • 1/3 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup dill

Extra emphasis on the finely dicing here. You want the herbaceousness of these greens to penetrate the rice on a molecular level and exude from the entire surface of each grain. No one wants to bite into an acrid chunk of cilantro and be done with it.

After the rice soaked for long enough, I brought 4 cups of water to a boil in a large pot and added 1 tsp salt. I then drained the rice and added the damp grains to the boiling pot. This is also strange and counter-intuitive to me as a Chinese person, but instead of bringing the water down to a simmer, I left the rice boiling for about 12-15 minutes, until it was just about fully cooked. I then drained the rice and rinsed it with cold water. I let it sit in the colander for a few minutes to drain extra moisture.

I then heated 3 tbsp olive oil in that same pot, and added the just-about cooked rice back into the pot. I folded in the herb mixture. Recipes at this point call for butter, so I obliged, just a little bit, and added about 1/2 tbsp butter, really just for flavor. I added some more salt and herbs, to taste, as well as a squeeze of lime juice.

Apparently let it steam there on very low heat for another 45 minutes or so, then you’ll finish the rice, but I was at the end of my patience, (guests were arriving,) and I thought the sabzi polo was quite good by now. (I also added probably about 1.5x the amount of herbs that recipes tend to call for.)

But—so lovely. Heart-warming as most Persian rice dishes are, but with a verdant sharpness from the herbs. You know what would go well with this? Salmon. But also a shirazi salad (also known as Israeli salad) and mast-o-khiar (the cucumber yogurt dip that is also known as tzatziki).

For the shirazi salad, I simply diced some Persian cucumbers, tomatoes, some red onion, and parsley, salted them, and dressed them in some lime juice and some olive oil. Top with ground black pepper and sumac if you can nab it.

For the mast-o-khiar, I added 3 finely diced cloves of garlic, ~1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, pepper, ~1/2 tbsp fresh dill, and thinly diced cucumber chunks to about 1.5 cups plain Greek yogurt. The earlier you make this, the more the yogurt will absorb all the flavors.

Lessons learned?
There are many ways to please and prepare rice.


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