Shirazi baked saffron polow with spinach

by Stevie on April 14, 2010

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Recently Hegui took up this book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Among other things, it says that the words “polow,” “pilau,” “paella,” and “pilaf” all essentially mean the same thing: a dish made of rice mixed with other ingredients. That’s interesting.

Shirazi baked saffron polow with spinach

Today’s polow comes from my favorite, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey! I’ve been wanting to make this for a while, but have met with some resistance at home. Hegui wasn’t excited by the Madras mustard seed and yogurt pullao, apparently because he doesn’t like yogurt that much. But my friend, Heather, has been going on and on about how great some of these unmolded Persian rice dishes taste. Plus the tiny photo in the cookbook itself enticed me. Finally, we had a dinner party for six, and the time had come.

I didn’t have crystallized orange peel. The recipe calls for a quarter cup. Instead, I substituted orange zest. That likely made the final dish less sweet, which is another thing that bothers H about some of these Silk Road rice dishes. He doesn’t like them sweet. Too bad for me. I loved Susa polow with lentils, currants and dates.

Since it was a party, I went ahead and used butter and the whole egg (instead of the whites only). Cholesterol be damned! I used a cinnamon stick instead of powdered cinnamon and mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts. I had the seeds already and hate to spend so much for pine nuts.

This dish looks stunning served on a buffet. I really enjoyed it at the time and for the next couple of days, the leftovers were wonderful, too. Next time, I might cut the recipe in half and prepare it in a smaller casserole. Najmieh Batmanglij says it makes six servings, but that must be if you’re not eating anything else besides. It was a lot of food!

The final dish really didn’t taste that yogurt-y or sweet. The outer layer is sort of spongy which was fun.

some key ingredients for Shirazi baked saffron polow with spinach

Shirazi Baked Saffron Polow with Spinach

2/3 cups melted butter or oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. cumin
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 lb. baby spinach
1½ cups pitted prunes
1 cup raw sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 cups basmati rice
3 eggs
2 cups plain yogurt
½ cup milk
½ tsp. ground saffron in 2 tbsp. hot water
Zest of an orange
Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Heat two tbsp. butter in a large skillet and sauté onion for about fifteen minutes on medium until golden. Add garlic and cumin and fry for a minute more. Add cinnamon stick, nutmeg and spinach. Cover and cook until spinach wilts, about five minutes. Add prunes and seeds. Set aside.

Wash basmati rice thoroughly. Boil eight cups of water with two tablespoons of salt. Add rice and boil for six minutes. Drain and rinse rice with three cups of cold water. It will not be completely coked but will finish in the oven.

Preheat oven to 420F.

Combine eggs, yogurt, milk, saffron water, orange zest, two tsp. salt and black pepper in a large bowl. Beat. Fold half of cooked rice into yogurt mixture.

Pour ¼ cup melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking dish and coat bottoms and sides well. Pour rice and yogurt mixture into bottom of dish. Spread it evenly. Spread spinach filling over yogurt rice. Finally cover with remaining basmati rice. Press everything firmly into baking dish. Drizzle with remaining butter.

Butter one side of a sheet of aluminum foil and then cover casserole tightly. Bake for 1½ hours until crust becomes browned.

Remove from oven and place on a damp cloth. Let dish rest, covered, for fifteen minutes. Then, to unmold, remove foil and with a knife, gently separate edges of polow from sides of dish. Then invert a serving platter over casserole and flip it into the platter. I was worried about this step but it was a breeze!

Garnish with herbs and serve in slices.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

heather April 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

so visually stunning, I’m sure it was delicious!

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