Havij Polo: Reza's Persian Rice With Carrots

Reza's havij polo Persian rice with carrotsOne of the underground passageways at Tokyo Station hosts an "open-air" market on the fourth Friday of the month. I often stop by a miso maker's stall for the interesting breads they sell. Unusual combinations like komatsuna and miso really tickle my fancy. This last month, they were also selling fresh-picked carrots with their bushy tops still on! Finally, my chance to try my dear Persian cooking teacher's rice with carrots.

It's been a while since the last Persian Table cooking class, but Reza posts delightful illustrated recipes on his blog from time to time, and this charming one really caught my eye.

The carrot tops are used as a herb in this rice, which would make a lovely accompaniment to any Persian stew (I had it with the braised broad beans below). With just a sprinkling of cinnamon and cayenne and saffron, the spicing is subtle, but exotic at the same time. Many recipes for havij polo also call for a topping of fine strips of orange peel. I used an extra splash of lemon juice instead.

If you have one, a mandolin will speed up the carrot preparation. Even if you don't, compared to other Persian rice dishes, this one is relatively quick to make.

Havij polo: Reza's Persian rice with carrots

Serves 4

320 g (2 rice cooker cups) long grain rice (Japanese rice is also fine)
pinch of saffron threads
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium-sized carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1.5 cups carrot leaves, stripped from the hard stem and chopped finely
1 tsp cinnamon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter (optional)
1 Wash rice several times until the water runs clear, drain and set aside. Grind the saffron with a little sugar or salt and dissolve in the boiling water.

2 Heat butter and olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and fry the onions until soft. Turn the heat up to high and add the carrot leaves, then the carrots. Fry, stirring, until the carrots become pliant. Add the cinnamon and cayenne pepper, if using. Salt lightly, remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.

3 Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil. Add the rice and stir a couple of times to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil on medium heat for 6 minutes or until the rice is semi-cooked but still firm in the middle.  Drain into a large colander and rinse briefly with cold water.

4 Turn rice into a large bowl, stir in the saffron water and then the onion-carrot mixture. Check seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

5 Pour the remaining oil into a large pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Pile the rice mixture into the pot in a pyramid shape. Using a chopstick or skewer, push holes into the rice, all the way to the bottom of the pot. Pour water around but not over the rice. Place a clean tea towel or kitchen paper over the pot and cover with the lid. Steam for 25-30 minutes on the lowest heat possible, moving the pot around from time to time to prevent burning. Place on a damp towel for around 5 minutes to loosen the bottom and stir in the remaining butter, if desired. Serve with a Persian stew.