I don’t drive to work but these days the traffic in the city is a “daymare”/nightmare. It takes more than an hour to get to work and back home. The only advantage to this is taking naps or reading a book on the D.C. Circulator bus, provided I get a seat. I wish I could do something more fruitful with these wasted hours traveling, though naps are most welcome.
During these long bus trips, I’ve been hankering a craving for Persian food. It is a nice change from all the Holiday themed meals around me. Part of my craving, lies in a new cookbook that I am reading while killing time on the bus and the other half of it lies in the basmati rice dishes that are served at the Persian restaurants I’ve eaten at. Basmati rice is one of the most fragrant and long-grained rice of the rice family. A staple of Indian cooking for centuries, this Indian grain is widely used in several Middle Eastern and sometimes Mediterranean dishes. There aren’t too many Persian restaurants in D.C. that I am aware of but I have tried some delicious offerings at Shamshiry in Tyson’s Corner in Virginia. Another interesting fact about basmati rice relative to other rice grains is its low glycemic index that ranges from 43 to 60 whereas other varieties of rice are generally between 72 to 98, make this a healthy option for diabetics. I would recommend buying Basmati rice at an Indian grocery store or a brand that has a made in India label on it, simply because the difference in taste and quality is striking.
To soothe my cravings, I figured that a foray into Persian cooking might just be what the doctor ordered. This particular rice dish, Adas polo, I think is deliciously fruity yet wholesome. Sweet and tangy flavors complement the basmati rice making this a wholesome vegetarian meal by itself. This dish reminded me of the Indian pilafs that are so equally hearty and flavorful.Quite a few ingredients could be potentially substituted in this dish, craisins for the raisins or even beluga lentils for the green lentils. This recipe was adapted from New Persian Cooking by Jila Dana -Haeri with Shahrzad Ghorashian. A side note with this dish, a crust might form at the bottom of the dish when the rice is being fluffed at the final stage of cooking. This crispy layer is a highly prized crust or tahdig that many Persians love. This dish can be accompanied by a light salad and or cold Greek yogurt.
persian rice with green lentils, raisins and dates
1 cup green lentils/lentils du puy
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 cup packed raisins or sultanas
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 cup dates, pitted and chopped
3 cups basmati rice (soaked in cold water for at least 2 hours)
3 tablespoons salt
1 liter water
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons butter
In a saucepan, add 2 cups of water and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the lentils cook till al dente. Drain the lentils and keep aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions till golden brown. Reduce the flame, and saute the raisins and the dates. Add the lentils to the skillet along with 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Add salt to taste and keep aside.
Bring the water to boil, add salt and oil. Drain the rice and add the rice to the boiling water. Leave to simmer, uncovered on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes. Drain any excess water from the rice. In a separate shallow dish (flame proof dish, as this will be put back on the stove), add all the rice and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooked rice. Gently fold the lentil mixture into the rice, taking care that none of the rice grains break during this process. The rice will pick up the turmeric color and turn yellow. Layer the reserved white rice grains on top of the lentil rice mixture in the dish. Cover the dish with a tight lid and let the rice steam on a medium flame for about 50 minutes till the rice fluffs up. The tahdig or crust will form at the bottom of the dish. To release it easily immerse the bottom of your dish in cold water. Remove the top rice and lentil mixture into a serving bowl, fluffing it while you remove the rice. Detach and break the plain rice tahdig from the bottom of the pan and serve it with the rice. Serve the rice warm or hot and fluff the rice before serving.