Kalam polo is a type of delicious mixed Persian rice. Kalam means cabbage and polo is rice in Farsi. Like most recipes this one also has many different versions and all are delicious. Different techniques are used in preparing this rice but the basic ingredients, cabbage, meat, and rice are used in all versions, except for the vegetarian version (included in the recipe notes).
The meat used in different recipes varies from small bite size cubed meat to small meatballs, as well as ground meat. Preparing Kalam Polo with ground meat involves the least amount of work and the recipe using meatballs is the most time intensive. I have used small cubed cross rib roast beef that cooks tender and delicious in a very short time and the small bites are perfect for this mixed rice.
The cubed beef is cooked with spices in a tomato sauce, then mixed with cabbage that is browned in butter. This delicious combination is then steamed with layers of aromatic basmati rice sprinkled with Persian Rice Spice. This spice blend is made up of crushed rose petals mixed with ground cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and nutmeg. Dried rose petals are sold in Middle Eastern, Persian and some Asian markets; however if you are unable to find this spice, leaving it out will not drastically alter the flavor of this delicious spice blend. I have posted the recipe for the Rice Spice here.
Besides the beef, that I have used in my Kalam Polo, lamb, turkey or chicken could be used in this recipe. However if you opt to choose poultry, I would recommend using ground turkey or small pieces of chicken breast. The reason is that I have always found the ground chicken to be somewhat bland compared to ground turkey, but that is also a personal preference.
Last but not least is the choice of TahDig (or bottom of the pot) for this flavorful rice dish. Persians and non-Persians love TahDig, which is the layer in the bottom of the rice that turns crunchy and golden while the rice is steamed. In the case of all the inverted rice dishes like this one, the rice is served with the TahDig side up. TahDig layer could be pieces of thin flat bread lavash or flour tortilla. A mixture of rice with yogurt and saffron is another option. You will find the instructions for both of these TahDig(s) HERE. The possibilities don’t end there; for example in this recipe I have layered the bottom of the rice with sliced potatoes tossed with a pinch of saffron, and as you can see the TahDig turned out awesome!
Cubed meat, diced onion, butter and spices are sauteed until natural meat juices are released.
Water is added to the meat. The meat is cooked for a while, then tomato paste is added and it is simmered for a bit longer until the meat is tender and sauce has thickened.
While the meat is cooking, brown the cabbage and mix it with the fried onions. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional) over the cabbage and onion mix and add the meat sauce to the pot and toss to mix. Set aside.
To prepare the TahDig sliced potatoes are tossed with a pinch of saffron (that is all it takes, but it is totally optional). The oil and butter are heated in a nonstick 5-Qt stockpot then the potatoes are arranged in the bottom of the pot with as little space between the slices are possible.
Partially cook the rice following these instructions up to the point where the par cooked rice is rinsed under cold water and drained.
Use a spatula to evenly layer half of the rice, then half of the meat and cabbage mixture. Repeat one more time with the rest of rice and meat. The top layer will be the meat mixture.
Enjoy Kalam Polo with a side of Salad Shirazi, Sabzi Khordan (fresh herbs), or torshi (pickled vegetables)
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- 1 pound cross rib roast or a similar beef roast (or lamb), cut into ½ - inch cubes
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced small
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ TBSP tomato paste
- ½ large green cabbage (about 1 ¼ pounds)
- 3 ounces butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, finely sliced and fried to golden brown (or 3 ounces fried onions)
- 3 TBSP vegetable oil for frying the medium onion
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Pinch of ground cayenne (optional)
- FOR THE RICE:
- 2 ½ cups basmati rice
- 1 tsp Persian Rice Spice
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼ - inch thick
- Pinch of saffron powder, for the potatoes (optional)
- 3 TBSP vegetable oil
- 3 TBSP butter
- ⅛ tsp saffron powder (optional)
- ⅛ cup hot boiling water, to dissolve the saffron powder
- Heat 3 TBSP oil in a large nonstick skillet and fry the sliced medium onion until golden brown. Remove the fried onions and set aside.You will use the same skillet to brown the cabbage.
- Meanwhile cut the cabbage to 1-inch cubes and separate the pieces with your fingertips.
- Heat 3 ounces butter in the large skillet over medium heat. Add the cabbage and saute over medium heat until rich golden brown. Stir frequently. This will take about 30 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat and add the fried onions to the browned cabbage. Add ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and the optional pinch of ground cayenne to the skillet, and mix to combine. Set aside.
- While browning the cabbage, add the cubed meat, diced onion, ground turmeric, ground black pepper and butter to a medium nonstick stockpot. Stir frequently and brown the meat over medium high heat until the natural meat juices are released. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 cup water and bring it to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to the mark between low and medium low, cover the pot and cook the meat for 20 minutes. Add 1 ½ tablespoon tomato paste, stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium, cover the pot and cook the meat in tomato sauce for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the meat and sauce to the skillet with cabbage and onion, toss to combine and set aside.
- Partially cook the rice in a 5-qt nonstick stockpot following my post, Persian Steamed Rice up to the point where the par cooked rice is rinsed under cold water and drained.
- Tip: In order to make sure you have enough potato slices to cover the bottom of the pot (also not to waste precious saffron), arrange the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pot in a single layer without any space between the slices. Next, take the potatoes out and place them in a medium bowl and toss them with a pinch of saffron until uniformly yellow.
- Heat the 3 tablespoon vegetable oil and 3 tablespoon butter over medium heat in the nonstick stockpot.
- Arrange the potato slices in a single layer in the bottom of the pot.
- Add half of the par cooked rice to the pot covering the entire surface of the potatoes evenly. Sprinkle the rice with ½ teaspoon Persian Rice Spice.
- Add half of the cabbage and meat mixture to the pot and cover the rice.
- Add the remaining rice to the pot and cover the meat mixture. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon Persian Rice Spice.
- Add the rest of the meat mixture evenly over the rice. In a small bowl dissolve ⅛ teaspoon ground saffron powder in ⅛ cup hot boiling water. Drizzle the saffron mixture over the meat layer.
- Cover the lid of the pot with Damkesh or a large kitchen towel. Steam the rice over medium low heat for 1 hour 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from heat. Remove the lid. Place a 12 inch or larger round platter over the pot and grab the platter and the pot with mittens and invert the rice onto the platter with the bottom side up.
- Serve immediately with Salad Shirazi, sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), or torshi (pickled vegetables)