(Persian aromatic rice and noodle pilaf layered with meat)
Reshteh polo is a pilaf made with a mixture of rice and toasted noodles that is traditionally served in many Iranian homes on the night before the spring festival of Nowruz. Parcooked rice and noodles are layered with an bewitchingly aromatic meat mixture and gently steamed in the traditional polo manner. The result is fluffy, fragrant and incomparably delicious.
- Basmati rice -- 2 cups
- Oil -- 2 or 3 tablespoons
- Reshteh or other noodles (see variations) -- 4 ounces
- Lamb or beef cut into chunks -- 1 1/2 pounds
- Onion, minced -- 1
- Cinnamon -- 2 teaspoons
- Turmeric -- 1 teaspoon
- Orange Peel -- 1 piece
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Dates -- 1/4 cup
- Raisins - 1/4 cup
- Warm water -- 1/2 cup
- Saffron (optional) -- pinch
- Butter, melted -- 3 tablespoons
- Place the rice in a large bowl and add water to cover. Stir the rice and pour out the water. Rinse the rice this way two or three more times to remove the excess starch. Add water to cover by about 1 inch and set aside to soak for at least 2 to 3 hours.
- While the rice is soaking, add the oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium flame. Break the reshteh or other noodles into pieces about 2 inches long. Toss the noodles into the oil and saute, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Add more oil the the pot if needed, and then stir in the chunks of meat and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions, cinnamon and turmeric and saute until the onions are translucent and lightly browned. Add back the browned meat, 1 cup of water, the orange peel, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and tender. Stir in the raisins and dates and simmer for another minute or two. Remove the meat mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
- Clean out the pot you cooked the meat in. Add a large amount of water to the pot, along with a big pinch of salt. Bring the salted water to a boil. Stir in the rice and let it cook for 2 minutes. Next stir in the toasted reshteh or other noodles and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Drain the rice and noodles in a colander lined with a clean towel and immediately rinse with cool water. Drain well.
- Soak the saffron in the warm water. Rinse out the pot you cooked the rice in and add the melted butter to cover the bottom of the pot. Pour half of the rice and noodles into the pot and spread it evenly over the bottom. Spread the meat mixture evenly over the layer of rice. Then spread the remaining rice evenly over the meat. Pour the saffron-scented water over the top layer of rice.
- Use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke 5 or 6 holes down into the rice all the way to the bottom of the pot (this allows steam to penetrate the rice). Cover the pot with a clean dish towel and then tightly with a lid. Wrap the sides of the towel up over the top of the lid. The towel keeps condensed steam from dripping back down into the rice.
- Place the pot on high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to low and steam for about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Carefully invert the pot onto a large serving dish to pour out the rice. Serve any crusty rice from the bottom of the pot — the tahdig — crumbled over the top.
Reshteh Polo Variations
- Noodles: Homemade noodles called reshteh are traditional for this dish. Premade, pretoasted reshteh are available these days at many Middle Eastern markets. If you can't find them, try substituting Italian pasta like vermicelli, spaghetti or fettuccine. Another option is dried Chinese or udon noodles.
- Filling Options: The filling for reshteh polo is not set in stone and can be varied to your taste. Use ground lamb or beef. Substitute chicken breast. Add ground coriander and cumin. Stir in some peeled, diced potatoes or toasted pistachios. Eliminate the dates or raisins.