Iranian-style herb rice, sabzi polo, is an art form. The rice recipe is the product of practice and preparation, and it’s filled with history and culture which can be smelled as it swirls and wafts around the kitchen. The saffron adds a sweet honey-like quality to the rice which plays across the tongue until finishing with a slight twinge of spice. This is a staple of Iranian cuisine and comes with a simple and quick recipe that can be added to any meal plan. Separate from the aromatic herbs and warming saffron in this rice recipe, the other special part of this recipe is the unique and important practice of using a damkoni. A damkoni is a fitted circle of fabric that grips the rice pot like a shower cap and goes under the lid of the rice pot to absorb the steam. (Shafia sells them on her site, feastbylouisa.com.)
Serves 4 to 6
1 large pinch of saffron threads
2 cups white basmati rice, soaked in cold water for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours
1 stalk spring garlic or 1 leek, thoroughly cleaned
4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
¼ cup olive oil
2 bunches of scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts separated
1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
Damkoni (rice bonnet) or kitchen towel, heat diffuser
1. Using a mortar and pestle, or in a round jar using the bottom of a wooden spoon handle, grind saffron into powder. Add a pinch of salt to help it grind. Add 1 tablespoon of warm water and let the saffron steep.
2. Drain the rice and rinse it under cold water. In a stockpot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil with a dash of salt. Add rice, return to a boil, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Add garlic to one side of pot.
3. Fit a damkoni around the lid of the pot, or carefully place a clean kitchen towel over pot so it’s well above the burner. Cover with lid. Place a heat diffuser under the pot. Steam rice for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for 5 minutes, then remove the garlic. Dot rice with butter and fluff with a fork. Rice should be dry and fluffy.
4. While rice steams, sauté herbs. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add the white part of scallions and stir until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add a green part of scallions and fresh herbs. Cook, stirring often, until everything is bright and tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt.
5. Gently transfer rice to a large bowl, pre-serving its airy quality. Fold in herbs. Take your time. The mixture should still be light and fluffy after the herbs are mixed in. Transfer to a serving platter. Take a heaping cup of rice and put it in a small bowl. Mix in saffron until the rice takes on an orange-gold color. Spoon saffron rice over herb rice, and garnish with garlic.
Recipes adapted fromThe New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random house, Inc.