After work yesterday, I went over to my friend Nazi’s house and we cooked a Persian meal together. What a fun time! I learned some of those tips that never show up in cookbooks, we spent some time cooking three Persian dishes, and then we shared the delicious meal and some good conversation.
The first dish we made (because it takes the longest to cook) was called Adas Polow. I’ve seen polow described as similar to pilaf – rice mixed with other ingredients to cook in the same pot. We started by cooking a rice and lentil mixture to an al dente texture, then layered thinly-sliced potatoes on the bottom of the cooking pot, topped with the rice mixture, raisins and dates. This was then cooked on very low heat for about 30 minutes while we prepared the other dishes. In the end, the dates and raisins were nicely plumped and the potato layer at the bottom got nice and crispy. (recipe below)
The crispy crust is called tah dig, and can be achieved with just rice, or a layer of potatoes or bread at the bottom of the pan with a little bit of oil while the rice steams above. Nazi said she likes to use flour tortillas or one layer of pita bread, which fits nicely in a round pan. At the time of plating, we mixed a bit of the rice with saffron and created the decorative platter you see in the picture above. So festive and delicious!
The second dish we made is called Kotlet. It is a meat patty made of ground beef, potato, eggs and spices. Sometimes it is covered with bread crumbs before frying, but Nazi doesn’t usually do that step. The kofte didn’t turn out to her complete satisfaction (partly because we used a mini-blender to ‘mash’ the potatoes and it made them very gummy/sticky – which is not typical), but I thought they tasted great and were a good addition the meal. This recipe is the one we used, except we didn’t add the advieh spice mixture or breadcrumbs. Because of the problem already mentioned, I would recommend mashing the potatoes by hand. Also, be sure to cook the kotlet on a relatively low heat so that they get fully cooked and nicely browned, like these. Nazi recommends making a big batch and then freezing them for a quick meal – add some tomato and cucumber in a pita they make a great sandwich!
And the final dish was a simple salad called Salad-e Shirazi, tomato, cucumber and onion tossed with olive oil, lemon juice (or vinegar, if preferred), mint, salt and pepper. Simple, but a fresh and crunchy complement to the other dishes.
1 1/2 c. lentils
2 c. basmati rice
12 pitted dates, halved
1/2 c. raisins (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp. saffron
1 potato, peeled and thinly sliced (optional, or pita or flour tortilla)
Soak rice in one bowl of water and lentils in another bowl – minimum 4 hours or overnight. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then drain and add soaked rice to the pot. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until it is starting to get soft and a brighter white color. Then drain lentils, rinse and add them to the pot and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so – until both rice and lentils are just al dente, almost cooked completely. [note: this process of soaking and draining the lentils first not only speeds up the cooking time, but also keeps them from turning the rice grey]
Drain the rice and lentil and rinse with a little bit of cold water to remove any extra salt. Drain well. In a deep non-stick pan or pot, heat a good amount of oil over low heat. Layer the potato slices (or bread) to cover the bottom of the pan. Gently add 1/3 of the rice mixture, sprinkle in some raisins, and then repeat the layers, ending with remaining rice. Place the dates over the top. Mix together 1/2 c. water with a couple Tbsp. oil and pour around on top of the layered rice.
Cover tightly with a paper towel or dish towel wrapped around the pot lid to absorb any moisture as it steams. Cook over VERY low heat for about 20-30 minutes. The trickiest part is knowing when it is done, that comes with experience. If you’ve left it as plain rice, or potato or bread on the bottom, you want that to make a nicely browned and crispy tah dig without burning.
Dissolve saffron in 1/3 cup of hot water and mix into a small portion of the rice. Prepare the plate to look like the photo above. Remove dates and set aside. Spoon out the rice, lentil and raisin polow onto a serving platter. Gently peel off the browned crusty potatoes and arrange around the platter. Then add the saffron rice mixture on top and arrange dates on top of that. Nush-e Jan! (that’s Persian for bon apetit!)