loobia {green bean} polow {rice}: the reliable crowd pleaser!

how often have i eaten-cooked-enjoyed-served-reheated-savored-relied upon-dreamed of (you get the picture) loobia polow in my life? too many to count. i’m not alone in this-once you’ve had loobia polow, you will always go back for more-you will crave it, dream of it when you are really hungry, and enjoy it (along with the wonderful tah-deeg or crusty rice) each and every time. it can be easily  made vegetarian by leaving the beef out and adding extra chopped tomatoes. some people enjoy it with yogurt or pickled vegetables(torshi) on the side, but i can’t have mine without a good salad shirazi. loobia polow is the reliable dish you go to when you have to feed a crowd and would like to please them all {or most}.
ingredients for 6-8 servings:

  • about 2 pounds cut organic green beans (can be frozen)
  • 1 pound organic stew beef, cut in small cubes (size of a sugar cube)
  • 1 medium onion, diced-( or 2-3 tbs “piaz dagh” or fried onions)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 4 cups long grain basmati rice (or brown basmati rice)
  • sea salt, cracked pepper
  • kosher salt for boiling rice
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3-4 tbs good tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup  tomato puree or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp “advieh”: combine toasted cumin, cinnamon, crushed rose petals (rose buds)
  • about 6 tbs vegetable oil (safflower or grape seed)
  • 2 tsp saffron strands (or finely ground saffron)

for the mixture: cut the beef in cubes, add to a heavy pot with thinly sliced onions, 1 tbs oil, sea salt & cracked pepper, 1-2 tsp cinnamon, and 2 tsp turmeric. sautee for 4-5 minutes, then add 1/2 cup water, cover and simmer for about an hour on medium to low heat.

heat 1-2 tbp oil in a sautee pan, add the cut green beans, and sautee on medium for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. when the beef is almost cooked and softened (after about 30 minutes), and most of the liquid absorbed, add the tomato paste and puree, stir in completely and allow it to simmer for another 15-30 minutes. turn off the heat and add the beans and 1 tsp saffron. combine well, taste for and adjust salt, set aside.

for the rice:

1. boil about 8 cups of water with 2 tbs kosher salt. clean and wash your rice about 4-5 times until the water is clear then add to the boiling water. now the tricky part-keep a close eye on the rice while it boils briskly (on high) for about 6-10 minutes, and gently stir a few times (not too much). 2. when the rice looks like it has softened (at about 7 minutes), drain it in a large fine mesh colander. rinse with warm water.
3. heat  2 tbs oil in a deep heavy pot, add a teaspoon or two of saffron water (diluted), then start with a layer of the rice at the bottom, followed by 3-4 spoonfuls of the mixture (carefully combine slightly with the rice), a sprinkle of the “advieh”, and then another layer of rice.
4. keep layering in the same order until you have created a rounded pyramid and your ingredients are finished. sprinkle the top with another teaspoon of saffron (or saffron water), pour 1/4 cup water and the remaining oil (i use a slotted spatula to evenly distribute) over the top.
5. cover the top of the pot with a clean dish towel (or you can use paper towels) , then place the lid firmly on. cook on medium high for about 10 minutes *(don’t move away from the pot or you’ll forget-set a timer if you have to)*-then reduce heat to medium/low and cook for 50-60 minutes more without lifting the lid (lets the steam escape).

to serve: when serving the rice let the pot rest for a (2-3) few minutes, then remove the very top saffron(y) rice and set aside. serve the rest of the rice carefully (do not crush the rice) in the platter, top with the saffron flavored rice you had set aside. without scraping the bottom of your pot, remove the crispy rice {aka BEST PART or tah deeg} and serve in a separate dish. dont forget the salad shirazi!

salad shirazi components: persian cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, lemons & limes, fresh herbs
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spinach and dry plum stew (khoresh-e-aloo esfenaj) to welcome the new season

let’s make stew: sweet & sour braised beef with spinach and dry plums

{ خورش اسفناج و آلو }

aloo esfenaj stew

for some reason i had spinach stew on my mind when i woke up this morning. this is worrisome on many levels. to be thinking of food (not of the breakfast category) first thing in the morning can be a little dangerous, particularly when you are (almost constantly) trying (notice i said t-r-y-i-n-g) to restrict and control your intake of said food (while dreaming of the elusive delicious kind that is not only good for you but completely calorie free). beyond that, i have never been a fan of spinach stew (aka khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj), or even tasted it. the idea of it has always appealed to me, but i strictly avoided it as a kid (not exactly the perfect meal choice for a picky eater), and never really came across it much as i grew up and developed a (much needed) more advanced and sophisticated palate. i  have loved dry plums ever since i sneaked them out of my grandmother’s pantry as a kid and slowly savored their naturally sweet and sour flavor while they soaked in a corner of my mouth. nowadays, i like to soak them in a bowl of water and watch them soften and plump up to their original size. i think the bag of aloo that’s been sitting on my pantry shelf may have had a little something to do with my early morning inspiration. either way,  i’m so glad i’ve officially added this delicious stew to my favorite recipes list. not having ever cooked aloo esfenaj before, i decided to use the general method for making most persian stews, which begins by braising  your meat of choice (in this case chunks of grass fed organic stew beef) with onions and turmeric. once your meat (this will work really well with lamb or veal shanks) is nicely braised the remainder of the dish comes together surprisingly easily. i can’t believe i’ve been missing out on khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj all these years! depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding the dry plums which are sold in most middle eastern grocery stores. If you have to substitute, i’m pretty sure prunes (omit the sugar in this case) will work just as well.


braised beef (and aloo esfenaj) for 6-8:

braised beef with turmeric

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds lean organic (grass fed) stew beef (or lamb or veal shanks)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach (frozen can be used-2 pounds-defrost and drain excess water)
  • 15-20 dry plums (aloo bokhara) or prunes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbs raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup avocado (or olive) oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs fresh lime juice

cooking spinach

  1. in a dutch oven (or deep skillet) brown 1 onion with your meat of choice in about  3 tbs oil. add turmeric, and salt & pepper to taste. pour 1.5-2 cups water over the browned meat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour (30 minutes more for shanks) until meat is tender.
  2. in a skillet, brown the remaining onion in oil until golden brown (piaz dagh), then and add the spinach (roughly chopped) with a touch of sea salt and stir fry carefully until spinach has reduced and all the liquid is absorbed.
  3. add fried spinach and onions to the beef in the dutch oven (and prunes if using) and allow stew to simmer covered for about 45 minutes. add dry plums, sugar, and lime juice. taste and adjust seasoning. cover and simmer for another 40 minutes to an hour.
  4. serve with saffron steamed rice (leave out the spices except for saffron).

persian esfenaj aloo stew

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baghali polow: steamed basmati rice with dill and fava beans served with saffron braised veal

last year my special someone chose steak and fries (with entrecote wannabe sauce) for his birthday dinner. that was a good dinner, and we were all happyhappy afterwards. boy did the year go by in a flash! he just had another birthday, and this time, he chose baghali polow { باقلا پلو } for his special dinner, served with saffron braised veal shanks as a must, no less! i called the butcher right away, and they actually had some beautiful fresh ones available-oh joy! baghali polow is the perfect (special) meal for the spring and early summer months when the ingredients are abundantly available. i’ve already shared a {brown rice} “mock” baghali polow recipe, but this time we’re making the traditional version-the one my grandma used to cook for us often with so much love and care. there’s nothing like the smell of chopped fresh dill (combined with the garlicky warm aroma of slowly cooking veal) traveling through the house with the promise of a most delicious meal to follow. every time i chop herbs for my persian dishes i literally see my grandma’s (mammaan) hands in my mind’s eye as she held a huge bunch of clean herbs together tightly and slicechopslicechopsliced away at the ends with a sharp knife and an unbelievable combination of intensity and grace. she would often caution: “pull you fingers in like this so that you won’t cut yourself by mistake…” i’m reminded of a funny story: years ago i was buying  mounds of herbs (we’re talking bunches and bunches of parsley and mint) for a persian celery stew (khoresh-e-karafs)  (for a dinner party) and the woman at the check out asked me if i  had a bunny i was feeding!! i told her i has several :-) you will need plenty of fresh dill weed for this dish-some people use dry dill and insist that it works just as well (it does NOT)! if you have the patience and time necessary to double peel (see here for how) the broad (fava) beans, fresh is always best, if not, the frozen ones are a good substitute. get ready to be surrounded by the heavenly aroma this dish creates as it braises (veal shanks) and steams (rice) away! Continue reading
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