Tuesday 12 June 2012

Istanbolli Polow and A simple equation.

Simple equation:  muddy boots in the hall = happy mama

H came home for a couple days on her way back from a Festival last night. She was very tired, very muddy and  very happy...food, shower and then bed...   I think she'd hardly slept for the past six days...

I  cooked Istanbolli Polow also called Loobya Polow.  Rice with minced meat, french beans and tomato sauce.  Persian comfort food that I used to cook all the time when she was at home and 'A' loves too. It's a great way to feed a family very cheaply using the best organic meat because you only need a little bit. I used £3 -£4 worth to make enough for four or five people and the ingredients are inexpensive. The rice makes it go a long way and the tomatoey/garlicky/french bean and onion sauce make it very tasty. It's a one pot meal so there's very little washing up and served with thick yoghurt and salad Tehrani  which is a kind of salsa made with very finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onion that is dressing with salt, pepper, fresh lime juice and olive oil is a well balanced meal.  

I learned to make this from my Danish/Persian sister in-law. It's slightly different from recipes that I've seen using advieh a traditional mixture of spices. 

Ingredients for four to five people :

  • One medium sized onion chopped finely
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • Minced or chopped very finely meat. Traditionally lamb but beef will do. About 400 -500gms
  • French beans, topped and tailed and cut into small pieces. Frozen ones will do if they aren't in season
  • Three or four fresh ripe tomatoes chopped finely or canned if not in season.  One can will do
  • Four cups of rice, my favourite is Tilda Basmati
  • Tomato puree
  • Ground turmeric or a few saffron strands
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper 
  • Oil to cook.  I use olive oil

There are two ways to make polow but I think that this way is the easiest. It's all done in one pan with a few simple steps. 

One Pot Method:

  1. Fry the onions in a little olive oil in a saucepan until caramelised. 
  2. Then add the garlic and cook.
  3. Add the meat and brown. 
  4. If using turmeric add a little at this point combining all the ingredients and cook it out for a few minutes to remove the powdery flavour. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the the tomato puree and mix well
  6. Then the tomatoes and a little water. If using saffron strands instead of turmeric add at now after first beating in a pestle and mortar. You may like to infuse them first in a little hot water. 
  7. Bring all the ingredients in the saucepan to the boil and then leave everything to simmer until the beans are tender.
  8. Meanwhile wash four cups of rice.  Rinse about five or six times until the water runs completely clear.
  9. Drain the rice and then add to the other ingredients in the saucepan and combine well. 
  10. Top up with enough hot water to cover everything by about an inch and a half.  
  11. Seal with a lid that has been covered in a clean tea-towel and cook for about 30 to 45 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Try not to open the lid too often.

Two Pot Method:
  1. Complete stages 1 through to 7 using a frying pan.
  2. Complete stage 8 then cook the rice in a salted water in a saucepan until it is al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water in a sieve or colander.
  3. Add a little water and oil into the pan (as above).
  4. Then begin to alternatively layer the rice and the meat sauce, beginning and ending with rice. Draw the rice away from the sides and form a dome in the centre of the pan. Use the handle of a wooden spoon or something similar to make holes in the rice. This will aid cooking evenly.
  5. Seal with a tea-towwl in the same way as the one pot method.  Then put on the hob on a high heat for a few minutes until you hear the water and oil sizzeling. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and leave to cook for a similar time as above. If you have a heat diffuser it's good to use one so that the rice can cook slowly. 
  6. When you think the rice is cooked...you should begin to smell the lovely sweet rice...splash the pan with a little cold water if it sizzles it should be cooked. 

Both methods should produce moist rice. The grains should be separate and infused with lots of flavour. The best bit is the tadig or crunchy rice that forms a circle covering the bottom of the pan.  You can also layer with lovely thin Persian bread or thinly sliced potatoes. If done correctly this should easily be removed from the pan bottom in one piece.  

NB You can leave the meat out altogether for a vegetarian or vegan option or substitute with potatoes. Chopped green or white cabbage is also traditionally used when French beans aren't in season.


  1. My mom used to make something similar to this. So glad H is home for a bit. Enjoy your day

  2. That's a coincidence Heather. Thanks we did yoga together this morning before I went to work...it was lovely...a perfect start to the day.


  3. Yummy yummy - I'll definitely try this one Deb.