I’ve been very slack lately in cooking in general, but especially in branching out and trying new things. It is definitely a season when I am leaning towards my comfort foods (tonight for dinner: macaroni and cheese with peas–the way my mom has always made it–and garlic mashed potatoes), and not very excited about dishes that make me think. However, with a bag of slowly wilting carrots in the refrigerator and and inkling to eat some meat, I pulled this Persian pilaf out of my main cookbook, Ms. Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. (Maybe I never mentioned it before, but when we moved to the Middle East I only brought two cookbooks with me. Two. I realized that perhaps this was not normal when I read A Crafty Lass‘s account of paring down her cookbook collection before moving internationally.) Anyway, this pared with some roasted vegetables was good as a main dish, and could easily be made according to vegan or vegetarian standards.
Havij Polow (serves 6)
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/3-1/2 cup butter or vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 pounds carrots, coarsely grated or cut into little sticks
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar, or more (optional) (but good, in my opinion)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional) (again, you should add this)
- 1 tablespoon rose water
Wash the rice in warm water and rinse ina colander under the cold water tap.
Fry the onion in 2-3 tablespoons of the butter or oil until soft and golden. Add the grated carrots and saute gently for 10 minutes. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook 3-4 minutes longer.
Boil the rice in salted water in a alrge (9-10 inch), heavy-bottomed, preferably non-stick saucepan for about 10 minutes, until not quite tender and still a little underdone. Drain and mix with the remaining butter or oil, keeping aside 2 tablespoons. Heat the 2 tablespoons butter or oil in the bottom of the pan, then spread alternate layers of rice and sauteed carrots, starting and ending with a layer of rice. Sprinkle rose water over the top and cook over very low heat for about 30 minutes. The rose water, a relic of early-medieval times, gives a subtle perfume to the dish. (Note from me: I always panic at around minute 25 of cooking the rice, thinking that it must be burning, and turn it off then. Big mistake…the end result is supposed to be a layer of crusty golden rice, but if you remove it from the heat too soon it’s more like greasy golden rice, and not so pleasant to eat.)
Note: for meatballs, season 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (I used beef) with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix well and knead until smooth and pasty. Shape into marble-sized balls and fry in a little oil for about 8-10 minutes, turning them over, until browned all over but still pink and juicy inside.
To serve: Turn the pot of rice upside down onto a platter on top of the meatballs, so that the meatballs are buried. If you have achieved a good crusty golden layer of rice, that would traditionally be removed and served separately, as a delicacy. Then the remaining rice and carrots would be stirred together. (Clearly, I did not follow any of these steps myself. Just telling you how it’s supposed to be done.)