Persian ‘baghali polow’ with borlotti beans & dill

Persian ‘baghali polow’ with borlotti beans & dill

New Feast
Alan Benson

Our travels around Iran throughout 2009 and 2010 gave us a deep love and respect for Persian cooking – and especially for their impressive repertoire of rice dishes, which ranges from buttery saffron chelow to complex layered polows, incorporating meat, vegetables, nuts, herbs and all manner of exotic spices. Baghali polow is one of our favourites, as it showcases the marvellous affinity between broad beans and dill. Some versions include a final drizzle of melted saffron butter, but this is one rare occasion where we prefer to hold back on the saffron and keep the flavour focus on the vegetables and herbs. The borlotti beans are not strictly traditional, but they add interesting extra texture and flavour.

Persian rice is generally cooked by a parboil-rinse-steam absorption method and it’s a technique, once mastered, that results in glorious light, fluffy and fragrant rice. Most important of all is the crunchy golden crust (the tah deeg) that this method creates on the bottom of the pot. In the recipe, below, we go into some detail about the way to prepare it and we recommend that you follow it quite carefully. In our experience, it can take a few attempts to really get the hang of the technique, but it’s well worth persevering.


Quantity Ingredient
650g broad beans in the pod
or 200g frozen broad beans
400g fresh borlotti beans in the pod
200g basmati rice
1 tablespoon sea salt
50ml vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped dill sprigs
1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
30g unsalted butter, melted
1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
1 long strip lemon peel
greek-style yoghurt, to serve


  1. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Pod the broad beans and borlotti beans, then blanch them briefly, separately, in boiling water and peel the broad beans. If using frozen broad beans, slip them out of their skins and set aside.
  2. Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Drain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  3. Bring 1 1/2 litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the drained rice. Return to the boil and cook, uncovered, for 4 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Drain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  4. Return the rice saucepan to a medium heat and add the oil and 2 tablespoons of water. As soon as the oil begins to sizzle, spoon in enough rice to cover the base of the saucepan in a thin layer. Gently toss the remaining rice with the beans, dill and mint and spoon it into the pan, building it up into a pyramid. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke 5 or 6 holes down through the rice to the base of the pan to help it steam. Mix 2 tablespoons of warm water with the melted butter and drizzle this over the rice. Sit the garlic clove and lemon peel on top of the rice. Wrap the saucepan lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pan as tightly as you can.
  5. Leave the pan over a medium-high heat for 2–3 minutes until the rice is visibly steaming (you’ll see puffs of steam escaping from the edges of the pan). Turn the heat down to low and leave the pan completely alone for 40 minutes. Resist the temptation to peek, as this releases the steam and affects the cooking time. The rice can actually sit quite happily over the lowest possible heat for up to a further 20 minutes or so.
  6. When ready to serve, plunge the saucepan into a sink of very cold water; the sudden change of temperature creates a surge of steam that ‘shocks’ the rice and makes it shrink from the sides and loosens the crusty bottom. All going well, when you invert the pan onto a serving platter, the rice will plop out obligingly in one go, topped with a triumphant crunchy golden crown.
  7. If things don’t go to plan, or if the tah deeg breaks, it isn’t the end of the world. Simply spoon the rice into a warm serving dish and shape it into an appealing mound. Loosen the tah deeg from the bottom of the pan and drape it artfully over the top; the only really crucial thing is to distribute it in equal portions. Serve with lots of creamy yoghurt.
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