Many Persian foods are defined by the way rice is incorporated in the dish. Pilaf-style dishes of rice cooked together with other ingredients are known as polos . When plain boiled rice is served with a topping, it's called chelo ; kebab served with plain rice, for instance, is called chelo kebab.
Chelo is traditionally brought to the table piled into a mound on a large platter. The topping may be a khoresh (a thick, opulent stew-sauce) or one of many varieties of kebab.
Some cooks like to accompany \o7 chelo \f7 with \o7 tah dig\f7 , the crunchy rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot. \o7 Tah dig \f7 has become so popular that cooks have perfected several ways to ensure there will be lots of it. One method that works--even when you're using a rice cooker--is to mix a portion of cooked rice with a little egg yolk and butter, spread it into a 1/2-inch-thick layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake it until it crisps.
A popular way to garnish \o7 chelo \f7 is to toss a small portion of it with saffron-flavored butter and sprinkle the golden grains onto the mound of plain rice.
The Iranian \o7 polos\f7 are the forebears of Indian pilaf and \o7 biryani \f7 rice. These can be fairly plain, with just a few herbs or spices flavoring the rice, or they may be opulent productions of rice studded with meat, assorted dried fruits and onions all perfumed with orange-flower water.
The most popular \o7 polos \f7 among Iran's hundreds of varieties include \o7 sabzi polo\f7 , loaded with fresh herbs; \o7 zereshk polo\f7 , with tart red barberries flavoring the rice; \o7 albalu polo\f7 , cooked with sour cherries and chicken; and \o7 shirin polo\f7 , a pilaf studded with syrup-sweetened orange peel, nuts and saffron-flavored meat.
\o7 This stew for chelo isn't strictly authentic, but many Persian cooks here in the United States have started using ingredients that they wouldn't normally find in Iran. Turkey, for instance, is a big seller in many of our Persian markets--in large part for its relatively low cholesterol content. In the following recipes, I've adapted two fruit stew recipes from Najmieh Batmanglij's "Food of Life," using turkey. These dishes are wonderful for entertaining from a practical point of view because they can be cooked a few days in advance and need only be reheated at serving time. The dishes may even pique your Iranian guests' curiosity.
Here are two recipes in one. Adjust the sugar, lemon juice and split peas, as indicated, according to the fruit you have chosen. Serve the dish with chelo and torshi (Iranian vinegar pickles).
QUINCE STEW OR APPLE STEW WITH TURKEY MEAT
2 large quinces or 5 tart cooking apples such as Granny Smith
1/3 cup oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 pound turkey thigh meat cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
Yellow split peas
Persian Style Steamed Rice
Using apple corer, remove quince seeds, or peel and core apples. In skillet saute fruit in 2 tablespoons oil. Remove fruit and place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Heat remaining oil in Dutch oven and brown onions. Push onions to side of pan, add turkey and cook, turning until browned. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon and 3 cups water. Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
If using quince, add 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, dissolved saffron, 1/3 cup yellow split peas and reserved fruit. Cover and simmer additional 35 minutes. If using apples, add 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, dissolved saffron and 1/4 cup yellow split peas. Cover and simmer 30 minutes longer or until meat is tender. Add apples to pan and simmer 5 minutes longer or until apples are tender but not mushy.
Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice, if necessary. Serve over Persian-Style Steamed Rice. Makes 6 servings.
Each serving, made with quince, excluding rice, contains about:
287 calories; 446 mg sodium; 45 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 1.29 grams fiber.
PERSIAN-STYLE STEAMED RICE (Chelo)
3 cups basmati rice
3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons yogurt, optional
Rinse rice in cool running water until water runs clear. In bowl soak rice in 8 cups water with 2 tablespoons salt 2 hours. Drain rice, emptying water in large non-stick pot. Bring water to boil. Add rice and boil briskly 6 minutes, stirring twice. Drain rice and rinse in lukewarm water.
In same pot, heat half of butter, dissolved saffron plus 2 tablespoons hot water and yogurt. Take 1 spatula full of drained rice at time and gently place in pot, mounding into pyramid shape.
Combine remaining butter with 2 tablespoons hot water and pour over rice pyramid. Place clean dish towel or paper towel over pot and cover firmly with lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook 10 minutes over medium heat and then 50 minutes over very low heat. Remove from heat.
Allow to cool 5 minutes on damp surface without opening lid. Put 2 tablespoons cooked rice in dish, mix with remaining saffron and set aside for garnish.
Gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at time, place on oval serving platter without disturbing crust. Mound rice in shape of cone. Sprinkle saffron-flavored rice over top. With wooden spatula, detach bottom layer of rice in pot. Unmold onto small platter and serve on side. Makes 6 large servings.
Each serving contains about:
539 calories; 433 mg sodium; 62 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 74 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.28 gram fiber.