Albalou Polou. A layered Iranian rice dish
Combining sweet’n sour with meat and serving it as main course for dinner is not a new concept. Germans have been doing it with game and lingonberries (see my beef-stew-lingonberry-homemade-spatzle recipe) since forever. But cooking this particular dish that calls for sour cherries and lamb was a new for me. Though it is Iranian and very popular.
I think Albalou Polou is just not very common in the region I stem from hence my mother never cooked it for me. I do remember that as children we would put some sour cherry jam on our plate on the rare occasion she would cook rice with plain chicken for us and that it was a taste I liked and always wanted to repeat.
The thing is that I am a little intimidated by layered rice dishes where a crispy crust the tahdig or gazmakh like we say in Azeri is essential. Sometimes, I just ruin the tahdig and nobody wants a flabby, chewy crust.
But as it seems when we had our girls dinner last Friday, we were on a flow. Everything, including the Albalou Polou which I was responsible for, turned out perfectly. I didn’t intend to share my version of the recipe at the beginning but the taste level was insane. This dish needs to make it rounds beyond Iranian households.
Here is the recipe. It is actually very easy and you don’t need much ingredients. I just recommend organizing an Iranian rice cooker pot. Not the Asian ones, they are different. Borrow one or go to a Persian super. In case you can’t find one, use a non-stick pot and control the heat manually. (First a little on medium high, then 15 minutes on medium to low).
Albalou Polo (sour cherry rice with lamb)
Ingredients for 4:
- 3 cups Basmati rice (I literally used a coffee cup)
- 50-100 gram butter
- 2 onions
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 400 grams of lamb (I used already diced stew quality, German call that Gulaschfleisch. You can substitute with chicken, beef or pork or ditch it altogether and make the dish vegetarian though then it wouldn’t be as filling)
- saffron according to taste (I use a lot, around half teaspoon)
- 1 jar of sour cherries (approx. 400 grams, use the good ones with additives and low sugar)
- tiny pinch of cinnamon
- salt & pepper
Wash the rice and let it sit covered in water and put it aside while you prepare the meat. Sauté onions, add turmeric, add lamb. After 5 minutes add 2 coffee cups water, reduce heat and let simmer until water is mostly reduced. Add salt, pepper, saffron, cinnamon. Be careful not to reduce too much, just until it is thickened. This took me around 1 hour.
In the meantime you heat the cherries within their juice in another pot. Simmer, don’t boil and reduce the liquid. Took me half an hour.
At the end everything should be ready to layer at the same time so start preparing the rice and the rice cooker 5 minutes before these other two components finish. Cook the rice in lots of salted, boiling water 3 to 4 minutes until al dente. Drain.
Improvising. There was only a towel and it served me good. Of course a proper Iranian housewife has the perfect self-made cloth lid covers!
The rice cooker pot should then already be heated on medium high heat and the bottom completely covered with a layer of melted butter. Now layer half of rice. You should hear it sizzle. Add a little saffron diluted in hot water. Wait a few seconds. Add drained cherries, then lamb. Put remaining rice on top. Cover with the lid. Don’t forget to use a cloth or something similar under the lid to prevent that steam drips back onto the rice and a perfect tahdig will be your reward. The secret to a nice crispy crust is to have the rice wet but not dripping, good heat in the beginning and about 20 minutes to half an hour cooking in the rice pot. Rice cooker usually regulate heat themselves.
That’s it! Enjoy a deliciously flavored dinner.