This is a classic Persian meal and one of my all time favourites. Perfectly cooked basmati rice that is flecked with lots of fragrant dill and broad beans. It’s a fantastic combination of flavours and textures which only gets better when paired with slow braised lamb. Some people like to add rose water and other spices to baghali polow but I don’t think it needs any further embellishment. The lamb can also be braised in a variety of different ways and whilst you could certainly use leg or shoulder of lamb, the more traditional cut is lamb shanks. I like to simmer them very simply in just water, salt and lots of whole garlic cloves (not traditional but it tastes wonderful). The end result after four hours of gentle simmering is incredibly tender meat, gorgeous mellow cloves of garlic and a rich jus. I also add a large bunch of coriander, tied up in string for easy removal, which along with the garlic gives the meat a lovely aroma. One thing to note is that baghali polow needs a lot of dill, about two large bunches per cup of rice. Even if you are not a fan of dill I urge you to try this recipe as the fragrance and flavour of the dill becomes very subtle after the long steaming time.
Note: The pictures of the rice above and below are made with only half the dill that is noted in the recipe as that is all I had on hand. If you follow the recipe below, which you should for optional results, your rice will have a lot more dill through it.
Ingredients – Serves 4
2 heaped cups basmati rice
4 large bunches dill
1.2kg frozen broad beans, defrosted – this is the unpodded weight. Once they are skinned the weight will be roughly half
Ghee or neutral flavoured vegetable oil
2 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ cm slices
½ teaspoon saffron
For the Lamb
4-6 lamb shanks – depending on size. I like to use French trimmed lamb shanks
20 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
1 large bunch coriander, washed well and tied up with cooking string
For the rice: Wash the rice well in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with enough cold water to cover by an inch. Stir in a heaped tablespoon of salt. Leave the rice to soak for about 3 hours. This is an important step and shouldn’t be missed. Whilst the rice is soaking de-pod the broad beans and set aside. Wash the dill well, remove the dill sprigs from the stem and finely chop, set aside. Place the saffron in a small jar with a screw top lid and cover with about ½ a cup of boiling water. Stir and screw on the lid and set aside to infuse.
Once the rice has soaked, fill a very large saucepan with water (I like to use a stock pot and it helps enormously if it’s non- stick). Salt the water as you would for pasta and bring to the boil. When the water is boiling rapidly, drain the rice and add it to the saucepan. Using a large slotted spoon gently stir the rice around. You need to be very gentle to avoid the rice breaking. Bring back to the boil as soon as possible and cook uncovered for about 10-12 minutes or until the rice is almost cooked through but still has a little resistance. When the rice is a few minutes away from reaching this stage add the chopped dill and the broad beans and stir them through the rice. When the rice is ready, drain it in a very fine mesh colander. If your colander is not fine enough you risk losing a lot of the dill. Again be gentle when you are draining the rice. Fill the saucepan up with some tepid water, just a few cupfuls is enough, and gently pour this water over the rice in the colander.
Place the saucepan back on the heat and when it is hot add a few tablespoons of ghee or oil and a couple of tablespoons of the infused saffron liquid (if your pot is not non-stick you will need to be more generous with the oil). Swirl the two together and add a single layer of potatoes over the base of the pan. These will cook and become golden and crunchy and are absolutely delicious and much fought over, so fit in as many as you can. If you have any potato slices leftover that won’t fit on the bottom I like to put them around the edges of the pan once the rice has been added – they won’t get crunchy but they will be nice and soft and fragrant. Gently spoon the rice into the pan on top of the potatoes, shaping the rice up into a pyramid. Take a chop stick and poke about 6 holes in the rice, going almost to the bottom, this will help the rice to steam.
Drizzle another couple of tablespoons of ghee or oil over the rice – I like to do it through the holes of a large slotted spoon so as it distributes evenly. Pour the rest of the saffron infused water in a small section at the top of the rice. Turn the heat to medium and place a lid on the pot. Leave to cook for 10 minutes then take the lid off and cover with a clean tea cloth and place the lid back on and reduce the heat to low. Cook the rice for 1½ hours turning the pan around every 20 minutes or so to ensure the bottom of the pan gets evenly heated. If your stove is very fierce, use a simmer pad. When the rice has finished cooking remove the lid and gently remove the section that has the saffron on it and set aside. Spoon the rice onto a platter and surround it with the golden potato slices (tah dig). Scatter the saffron coloured rice over the rest of the rice on the platter and serve with the lamb shanks.
For the lamb: Trim the lamb shanks well of any excess fat and wash throughly. Place in a large saucepan with 2 teaspoons of salt, the garlic cloves and the coriander. Cover with enough cold water to just cover the meat. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil uncovered. You will need to constantly skim any impurities that rise to the surface. When it comes to a boil lower the heat to a gentle simmer and place the lid on slightly askew and cook until all but about ¾ of a cup of the water has evaporated by which time the shanks will be falling off the bone.
This normally takes around 4 hours but it will depend on how high your heat is and how much water is in your pan. You don’t want the water to evaporate too quickly though so moderate your heat accordingly. Half way through the cooking time you can remove the coriander and discard. When the lamb is ready place it on a platter (if the meat has fallen away from the bones, just discard the bones and place the meat on the platter) and pour over the pan juices and garlic cloves, which will be very tender.