Baghali Polo

What a busy day yesterday was! The toddler has been waking up early thanks to all the sunshine sneaking past his curtains so I had an extra-long day to pack in more kitchen time. I made apple-walnut-oatmeal muffins for breakfasts and a huge batch of sourdough bread after feeding Oscar (which is getting ready for the oven now); I soaked lima beans and rice and broke down a chicken for dinner; and while the food slowly cooked on the stovetop, I roasted the remains of the carcass to put in my slow-cooker for stock at the end of the night.

Dinner was our introduction to baghali polo, a layered Persian dish centering around fava or lima beans, dill, and rice cooked in a way to promote a crispy brown layer on the bottom of the pan. The recipe I chose also nestles chicken pieces into the rice, where it gently steams into a state of fall-off-the-bone tenderness. I used jasmine rice and small dried lima beans, which I pre-soaked and then cooked for two hours earlier in the day. The resulting beans had absolutely nothing in common with the lima beans I remembered hating as a child, which were usually stuck in with a mixed bag of frozen veggies and had tough skins and mealy centers. These beans were lusciously creamy and provided a perfect counterpoint to the crispy rice, or tahdig. Finally, I used dark meat chicken, leaving the leg and thigh attached to save myself the trouble of separating them.

We all loved this meal. Rice and chicken are some of Nolan’s favorite foods, and Jeremy came back for seconds. I cut the recipe down, just using two leg/thigh pieces and one and a half cups of rice, but I should have gone ahead and made a full batch, because it would have made excellent leftovers and we weren’t able to save a bite. I think we also would have appreciated a larger ratio of fluffy to crispy rice, since I used a wide saute pan that gave us a 10″ circle of crust. I will definitely be making this recipe again: Not only did it make me truly enjoy lima beans for the first time in my life, it is composed of just a few basic ingredients and is good for us to boot!

Persian Lima Bean Rice (Baghali Polo)

3 C basmati rice
1 whole chicken, cut into parts with skin on
3 T olive oil
1 bunch dill, minced or snipped
2 1/2 C cooked lima beans
1 T butter
2 T water
kosher salt to taste

Rinse the rice in a bowl until the water runs off clear; cover the rice with fresh water in the same bowl, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and set aside for an hour.

Wash and dry the chicken pieces; also bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and place a 10″ saute pan on medium heat with one tablespoon of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook in the oil (skin-side down first) until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and drain off any excess fat. Meanwhile, drain the rice from its soaking water and pour into the boiling water. Boil until it is parcooked and still chewy, approximately 6 minutes. Reserve about 1/3 C of the cooking liquid and drain the rice; gently stir in the lima beans. (If desired, add a pinch of saffron threads to the reserved cooking liquid and allow it to steep for several minutes.)

Place half of the reserved rice-water into the bottom of the saute pan with 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a bit of kosher salt. Layer about a third of the rice and beans across the bottom of the prepared pot; sprinkle with a bit of salt and 1/3 of the snipped dill. Now place 1/2 the chicken pieces over the seasoned rice. Repeat once more with rice, salt, dill and chicken and then add a top layer of rice, salt and dill only. Pour any chicken juices from pan over the top of the rice, along with the remaining rice-water. Wrap a thin kitchen towel around the lid of the saute pan to form a seal. Set the pan over low heat and cook for about an hour, until the chicken is extremely tender and the rice has formed a crispy brown (but not burned) layer on the bottom of the pan, called tahdig.

Source: Adapted from Guinnah and StarChefs.

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