Don’t be fooled by the English translation of this dish. It does it zero justice. Doesn’t it sound boring? Yeah. And pretty lame? Uh, yeah. Loobia polo, as we say in Farsi, is a modest dish. But believe me, it’s anything but modest in flavor. In fact, it’s supercalafajalistickespeealadojus! Mary Poppins probably thought that up after having a delicious plate of loobia polo.
Well, she could have!
OK, so every few years, my favorite Persian dishes rotate. And I actually associate each favorite with a period from my life. Baaghaali polo baa morgh (dill and fava bean rice with braised chicken) was my favorite dish during my childhood. So whenever I smell it, I’m instantly hit with the sensations and memories of being a little girl again. A little girl who actually believed making up words was her job. No wonder Mary Poppins is my favorite Disney “princess!”
Then my favorite Persian dish became ghormeh sabzi, which is a stew of lamb or beef, greens, and either kidney beans or black-eyed peas that’s served alongside Persian white rice. Again, the translation is weak in conveying how special and delicious this dish is. FYI, if you’re lucky enough to taste the marrow from the bones that came out of a pot of ghormeh sabzi… a taste of heaven! Ghormeh sabzi may easily top the list as the most favorite dish for a good majority of Persians. I’d be willing to bet the big bucks that I don’t have on that one.
Well anyway, for the past few years while I’ve been away from my home base in California and while I’ve been in grad school in Chicago, my favorite Persian food has definitely been loobia polo (or beef and green bean rice). It was actually my sister’s favorite meal growing up, and when she’d ask my mom to make it I’d secretly get mad because I usually wanted something different. Looking back, I really should’ve been ashamed of myself because loobia polo is only the best thing ever!
Sister, you had it right all along…
This is our family recipe for loobia polo. To put it very simply, it’s made up of a mixture of ground beef, onions, green beans, and tomato paste, along with a couple spices and then layered with cooked basmati rice and saffron. This is set to steam in order to marry the flavors together, finish cooking the rice, and also create a crispy rice crust (called tahdig) at the bottom of the pot, which anyone in the world who has tried it, loves it dearly. Oh yes, I know this fact.
I just love this meal for this time of year. It’s really comforting and has such gorgeously rich and developed flavors. There’s a secret ingredient that boosts the flavors in this dish by a whole lot and that’s CINNAMON!
I actually didn’t know there was cinnamon in this dish until a couple years back. But now that I think about it, although the cinnamon itself is super subtle, it makes all the difference and probably is the reason why this dish is so cozy and perfect for Fall.
Given a multitude of reasons, some of which include its profuse history, nutritionally sound and balanced recipes using simple and honestly beautiful flavors, exquisite and incomparable preparation of fragrant basmati rice, and its significant contribution and importance to the rich Persian culture, it’s funny that Persian cuisine isn’t as widely popular as other cuisines in the States. But for those who know, oh do they know… it’s good stuff.
I’d love to know if you try this recipe out and how you like it! And also, if you’ve had Persian food before, what’s your favorite dish? If you haven’t tried it before, or even if you have, why not check out some fall-time Persian recipes, posted by some of my lovely fellow food bloggers—links are found below the recipe for loobia polo!
Enjoy and nooshe-jaan (nourishment for your soul)!
Beef and Green Bean Rice (Loobia Polo)
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 ½ tbsp turmeric
- 2 large onions 1 should be pureed using a food processor or box grater, and 1 should be chopped
- 8 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 lbs fresh or frozen green beans Sometimes the fresh ones have the stringy fibrous bit that should be removed. Also, if you’re using fresh green beans, wash and cut them into thirds.
- 4 tbsp ghee plus enough to cover the bottom of a large pot for the tahdig (crispy rice), plus enough to cover the bottom of a pan for onions
- 1 heaping tbsp cinnamon
- 3 cups of uncooked basmati rice
- ½ tsp ground saffron mixed into ⅓ cup hot water
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
FOR THE BEEF AND GREEN BEAN MIXTURE:
Add ground beef to a large pot and thoroughly mix in the pureed onion. Mix in salt, pepper, and turmeric. Don’t be shy with the seasoning. Put the pot on medium heat. Using a spatula, break up the beef into small pieces. The beef will release some of its own liquid as it’s cooking. When this liquid has evaporated, cook for 2 more minutes, mixing around to give the beef a bit of a sauté. Add tomato paste to beef mixture and mix for another 2 minutes before removing from the heat.
Place green beans on stovetop in another pan on medium-low with lid on. After 10 min, add 2 tbsp ghee and mix them around for a couple minutes until the color deepens just a bit to give a light sauté. Remove from heat. Add the green beans to the pot containing the beef.
Add enough ghee to cover the bottom of the pan used to cook the green beans. Turn heat to high and add the chopped onion. Mix around to fry the onion until it browns (about 5-10 min). Turn off the heat and tilt the pan to drain away the excess ghee to one side of the pan. This oil can then be discarded.
Mix together beef mixture, fried onion, green beans, and cinnamon in the large pot on medium heat. Add more salt and/or pepper if needed.
FOR THE RICE:
Rinse uncooked rice about 5 times to get rid of excess starch and impurities. Boil a large non-stick pot of water and add salt just as you would when cooking pasta. Put stove on medium-high heat. Add rice and don’t let it over-boil. When the rice is hard in the middle and soft on the outside (al dente rice!), turn off the burner and rinse the rice using cold water and a colander so that the rice stops cooking.
Add enough ghee to that rice pot to cover the bottom for making crispy rice (tahdig) and layer the rice, saffron-water mixture, and meat-green bean mixture into the pot to combine everything. You can mix the contents very gently.
Poke about 6 holes all the way down the rice to the bottom of the pot using the handle of a spatula or the back of a butter knife. Place the lid on top of the pot and put burner on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. This step will help to start forming the crispy rice (tahdig) at the bottom of the pot.
When steam rises to the lid (this is easy to tell with a clear lid, otherwise wait about 5 minutes) remove the lid and add 2 tbsp ghee all over the top of the rice. Place a dish towel underneath the lid to catch the steam and keep it from dripping back onto the rice. Leave covered like this for about 25-30 minutes on low heat to finish cooking the rice properly and form the tahdig (crispy rice).
Turn off heat and serve. Using the wooden spatula, you can get to the bottom of the pot to break the crispy rice (tahdig) into large pieces and serve alongside the dish for a crunchy treat. If you like, this meal may be accompanied by salad, pickled vegetables (torshi), yogurt, and/or herbs (sabzi khordan) such as radish, green onion, cilantro, basil, etc. Enjoy!
In the spirit of Fall, harvest season, and fun Fall festivities (including the Persian Fall festival AKA Mehregan) here’s some great Persian recipes for the season from some awesome and friendly food bloggers:
Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto Style
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal
Parisa’s Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh
Simi’s Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy Aubergine Pickle
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh