Polo (pronounced po-LOH) is a traditional Persian rice dish that has a lot going for it — it presents beautifully at the table, it is versatile, most everyone likes it, it’s vegan and it’s economical.
The downside is that it is has several steps and is not a “throw it in the pot and walk away” dish. But even for me, a cook that prioritizes simplicity and minimal mess, this is worth the effort on occasion.
The prize part of the dish is the “tah dig” or “bottom of the pot,” the crispy bits that form as the dish cooks. This can be made from the rice on the bottom, a layer of potatoes or, in the case of my version last Sunday, bread.
Traditionally, the bread would be laffa or a tortilla, both of which are thin and round, so ideal for the skillet. But I had a hunk of anadama bread, a whole grain loaf from High Street on Market, that was starting to go stale, so I thought this would work. While non-traditional, it worked just fine!
We served it with a roasted chicken, but it can go with virtually anything — or by itself as a vegan meal. As to lima beans and dill, this is “bagali polo,” my daughter’s favorite, but you can layer it with whatever you like. A Persian friend loves keshmesh polo, which is layered with raisins and seasoned with saffron.
Polo would be great with black or green olives, peas, dried fruit and nuts, roasted or dried tomatoes. The only constants are the technique and proportions.
A note on the pan: It is best to use a large, nonstick skillet with a cover. A second choice would be a Dutch oven or other wide pan with a well-fitting lid. Wrapping the lid in a dishtowel for the final phase of cooking is an essential step — it absorbs the steam so the rice, vegetables and tah dig don’t get soggy.
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed well
1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning
2-3 tablespoons canola oil
Bread to cover the bottom of the pot (laffa, tortilla, baguette, whole grain, etc.)
1 large onion, chopped
1 20-ounce bag lima beans, thawed
1 bunch fresh dill, rinsed well and chopped
Place the rice in a large pot with 10 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover, bring it to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Test a grain using one or both of the following methods: a) Crush it between your fingers — if it breaks into four pieces, it’s ready to go, or b) Take a bite. If it is cooked to al dente with a teeny crunch in the middle, it’s ready. If not, cook it a few more minutes, checking regularly. Drain it thoroughly in a colander and then set it aside.
In a large, nonstick skillet, brown the onions in a tablespoon of oil. This will take about 10-15 minutes; you want them truly browned. When done, place the onions in a small bowl, and leave as much oil and drippings in the pan as possible. If needed, add more oil so the pan is coated.
Prepare the bread — tear or slice it into pieces to fit the size of the oiled pan, and arrange the pieces so they will cover the bottom of the pan like a jigsaw puzzle.
Assemble the dish on top of the bread base: Heap a layer of rice, then a layer of onions, then lima beans, then dill, (or whatever ingredients you have chosen to use) repeating until all ingredients are used. Wrap the pot lid in a kitchen towel, cover and cook on low for 35-45 minutes.
When done, heap the rice into a large serving bowl and carefully lift the bread out of bottom, placing it decoratively around the top of the dish, browned side up.