Kalam polo – Persian fragrant pilaf with cabbage & lamb

Kalam polo is a type of delicious Persian rice pilaf originating from Shiraz.  Kalam means cabbage and polo is rice in Farsi hence the title “Kalam Polo” however it often contains meat of some kind. Like many Persian recipes there are many different versions of this dish which are all equally as tasty. Sometimes even different techniques are used but the basic ingredients of cabbage, meat, and rice are used in all versions. You can make this a vegetarian dish by simply excluding the meat and whilst there is a little bit of prep and a few steps it’s a simple dish to make.

I have chosen lamb mince in this dish for extra flavour and I have used baby cabbage here but large cabbage will do nicely. I love this dish just as much without the meat so if you are vegetarian please don’t be put off and go ahead and make it with just the onions and cabbage.

This is such a fantastic “feed the 5000” dish and whilst it uses simple ingredients is a real visual feast and taste sensation. I love the fact that it is one dish and has EVERYTHING in it and it typifies the way Persian food is always made for sharing. Click on the video link after the recipe to see how it’s made!

Ingredients – serves 8 as a main course

1 finely sliced onion

1 onion finely chopped

2 heads of baby green cabbage or half a medium cabbage shredded

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp cardamom & Cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

2 Cups Rice – washed soaked in salted water for 1-5 hours.

2 cloves garlic chopped

500g lamb mince

4 small potatoes for tahdigh

2 tbsp saffron brew (take a pinch of saffron and grind in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of sugar till powder. Add 3 tbsp warm water and leave to steep)

6 tbsp Ghee/Butter for cooking

1 tbsp oil

1 tbsp yogurt

Some barberries for garnish (optional)

1.  First prepare the crispy onions – heat 2 tbsp ghee – add the onions and sprinkle the 1/2 tsp turmeric on them for colour. Fry them down till caramelised and golden on a moderate heat for 20 mins.

2. Using a large fry pan heat 1 tbs ghee/oil and fry down the mince till cooked through and browned on the outside – set aside.

3. Wipe the large fry pan and heat up 2 tbsp oil/ghee, fry the finely chopped onion till translucent and browned slightly. Add the garlic and cumin seeds fry for 2 more mins.

4. Next add your ground spices and salt to the onion mixture and add the cooked mince in and combine thoroughly.

5. Add your shredded cabbage and cook for 4 minutes till the cabbage is wilted down but still retains a bite and some colour.

6. Bring a large saucepan filled with water and 2 tbsp salt to a rolling boil and add your washed, soaked and drained rice. Set a timer for 5 minutes from the time you plunge the rice in. Once the time Is up drain and place to one side.

6. If making the potato tahdigh layer – slice the new potatoes into relatively thin slices – not paper thin or they will burn.

7. Heat 2 tbsp tbsp oil/ghee in your large sauce pan and lay your potato slices down to cover the base.

8. Take a cup of your par-cooked rice and mix with a tbsp yogurt and 2 tbsp saffron brew– lay this over the potato layer and press down with a potato masher.

9. In a large bowl fold in gently the remaining rice with the lamb mince, cabbage and caramelised onions until thoroughly combined.

10. Add the rice mix over the tahdigh layer and sprinkle the last of the saffron brew over the rice.

11. place the sauce pan on a medium high heat until you hear the bottom layer start to crackle – time for 3 minutes and then cover the lid with a dishcloth and seal shut. Turn the heat to low heat and leave for 35-40 mins depending on the base of your saucepan. This is not an exacting science but rather than burn your tahdigh err on the side of caution. If you don’t have a decent quality heavy based sauce pan then perhaps you might need less time.

12. Once cooking time is over you can turn the rice out. If you have a decent quality non-stick saucepan, then it should come out easily. If not scoop the rice out first on a plate and then release the tahdigh and pace it over the rice.

13. I like to serve my rice on a large platter with a crunchy side salad of tomatoes, cucumber, mint, feta and onion with a simple olive oil, lemon and salt dressing and some natural yogurt with sumac sprinkled on top.

If you only wanted to make this for 4 pax you can use the same recipe but just freeze the left-overs for another meal – it freezes well!