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Mastering Persian Cooking

I’m always asked for an easier and faster version of traditional Persian dishes. One of my family’s favorite dishes is kalam polo (cabbage rice) which is prepared just like estamboli polo. You just use cabbage instead of the green beans, but the cooking process is the same. In order to make this dish easier and faster, I used ground beef in this recipe and instead of adding ingredients in stages, I added them in fewer steps. I also eliminated the step for sautéing the cabbage. The resulting dish was as delicious as the original recipe.

Kalam Polo (Cabbage Rice) With Ground Beef

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 1 hour
Ready in: 1 hour 10 min
Yields: 3 to 4 servings


For meat mixture:

1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ pound ground beef
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Persian Advieh polo (rice seasoning)*
Pinch of saffron (optional)
½ cup water
½ head small green cabbage chopped into ½-inch pieces

For rice:

1½ cups long grain basmati rice washed and drained
2½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil divided
1 tablespoon butter


Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 to 7 minutes or until onion is slightly golden. Add meat, tomato paste, salt, pepper, turmeric, advieh and saffron. Cook the meat over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until it’s cooked through. Add chopped cabbage and ½ cup water. Cover and continue cooking over medium heat for 10 to 15 more minutes or until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat and stir to combine the ingredients. If there is too much liquid in the mixture, cook uncovered for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

While the meat mixture is cooking, add all the rice ingredients with 1 tablespoon of oil to a medium pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until all the water is absorbed by rice, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

To cook the rice in a rice cooker, add all the ingredients and start the cycle. Half way through the cycle, when all the water is absorbed by rice, transfer the rice to another bowl and follow with the rest of the recipe.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the bottom of the same pot used for the rice. Place 1/3 of the rice on the bottom of the pot followed by 1/3 of the meat mixture. Continue layering until you use all the ingredients. Place few layers of paper towel over the pot and cover with a lid. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes for the crust to start developing. Lower the heat to medium low. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes.

Use the same procedure for the rice cooker and continue the cooking cycle.

To unmold the rice, if using a non-stick pot, place a round serving platter on top of the pot. Using pot holders, firmly grab the serving platter and the pot flipping them over together, as you would invert a cake pan.

Tips for making rice – There is a substantial variation from one type of rice to another and from one brand to another within a given type, and of course the age of the rice is a factor. Experiment with the water to rice ratio to obtain the desired texture. More water results in softer and stickier rice, and less water results in firmer and more separate grains. When adding any stew of meat and vegetables to your rice, always take the water content of the stew into account and adjust the amount of water you add to your rice accordingly. For best results and until you learn exactly how much water to add for your specific batch of rice, use a 1 to 1 ratio, one cup of rice to one cup of water, as your starting point. You can always add more water if the rice is undercooked, but there are no fixes for overcooked rice.

*Advieh is a spice blend made of cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, ginger, cloves and rose bud petals. It can be found in the Persian or specialty stores.