Shirin Polo is a glamorous Persian Sweet Rice with candied citrus zest, sweet carrots, almonds, pistachios, and raisins. Shirin means sweet and Polo is rice in Farsi. The mild sweetness and the festive look of this rice makes it a perfect centerpiece at special occasions such as Nowruz (Persian New Year), weddings, or other special gatherings. There are many different recipes for Shirin Polo, some sweeter than others and some with more ingredients than others. Besides rice, the ingredients included in most recipes are candied citrus zest, thin strips of carrots and slivered almonds with more or less sugar depending on the recipe. I have only used some sugar to make my homemade candied citrus zest and this adds just a hint of sweetness to this saffron rice.
(The top photo is a another presentation idea for Shirin Polo with TahDig pieces arranged on top).
The slivered almonds may be prepared at home but they need to be blanched first. To blanch almonds, add them to a bowl and add enough hot water to cover them. Keep the bowl covered for 10 minutes then without burning your fingers squeeze the almonds between your thumb and index finger to remove the outer brown skin. Do not drain the water because the skin dries very quickly and sticks back on the almonds. Next, use a knife to cut the almonds lengthwise into slivers. Prepared slivered almonds are sold in the baking aisle of most supermarkets.
Dried citrus zest is also available in most supermarkets but as usual homemade is so much better. I have used fresh zest of oranges and tangerines, because the tangerine peels are especially fragrant. In order to zest most citrus fruit it is best to do it before peeling the fruit. I usually use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to peel wide strips of zest (without getting any of the white pith), then cut the zest into thin strips with a knife or scissors. Tangerines have a thin peel, so it is easier to peel them first and then use a sharp knife to cut away as much of the white pith from inside. I also use a zester/stripper (seen in the bottom right corner of the top photo) that strips the zest in ribbons and leaves all of the white pith behind. This older kitchen gadget works very nicely for all the citrus fruits including tangerines.
If you could designate a season to different versions of Persian rice, Shirin Polo would be spring! This glorious saffron speckled rice is very appealing to the eye with hues of orange, yellow, green and purple. The crispy sweet vegetables caramelized in butter are mixed with almonds, pistachios, and raisins to create a perfect harmony with the fluffy steamed basmati rice. Like most recipes vegetable oil would make a fine substitute, but butter brings out the flavors of these delicious ingredients so much better.
Shirin Polo is a fantastic vegetarian dish when served by itself. There are a number of meat dishes that may be served on the side with this rice. The meat lovers would enjoy mahicheh (Lamb shank) in saffron sauce, khoresh morgh (Persian chicken stew). There is also a Shirin Polo where saffron rice is layered with small meatballs and a sweet mixture of nuts and raisins.
I have used strips of fresh tangerines and orange zest to make candied citrus zest. The zest strips are boiled in plain water for a few minutes, then water is drained and the zest is boiled in more fresh water for a second time, then it is drained and set aside. Sugar and water are heated to a boil then the zest strips are cooked over medium low heat until the syrup is reduced to 1/4 the initial volume. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the candied zest to a plate and spread it to cool. There will be 2-3 tablespoons of syrup in the bottom of the saucepan; reserve that.
Blanch and sliver your own almonds or use the store bought slivered almonds (these need to be soaked in water for 5-10 minutes if they are too brittle). The almonds can be blanched and slivered a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Steam the Persian rice according to this link, with one added step: Before steaming the rice, add the par-cooked rice in three additions to the pot and sprinkle with a pinch of saffron after each addition. You may make bread TahDig, or yogurt & saffron TahDig.
Meanwhile caramelize some thinly sliced onions in butter over medium low heat until golden brown and very crisp. Set the onions aside and in the same skillet saute the thin carrot strips (sold in the produce section of most supermarkets) with a pinch of salt in more butter over medium (or a bit higher) heat until they are golden brown and crisp. Drizzle half of the reserved syrup over the carrots and saute a few minutes over medium low until coated with syrup. Reduce the heat to low, push the carrots aside and pile the raisins, slivered almonds and roughly chopped pistachios in corners of the skillet (don’t mix them together). Drizzle the rest of the syrup evenly on each pile and gently toss and continue heating over low for a few more minutes, so they are coated with the syrup and the butter in the skillet.
Add 1/3 of the saffron rice to the serving platter, then add 1/3 each of the carrots, caramelized onions, and raisins. Continue this two more times (building the rice layers up to a pyramid) until all the rice as well as carrots, onions and raisins are used. Then sprinkle the top of the pyramid with slivered almonds and chopped pistachios and at the very peak add the candied citrus zest.
Invert the TahDig (I have made the Yogurt & Saffron TahDig but bread or potato slices may also be used) onto a platter and cut it into pieces and decorate with a few pieces of candied citrus zest and nuts. Enjoy this gorgeous Shirin Polo for your special occasions such as the upcoming Nowruz!
- 1 cup thinly sliced orange and tangerine zest (1 medium orange and 2 tangerines)
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- One medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 TBSP butter, for caramelizing the onions
- 5 ounces match stick carrots (these are thin carrot sticks sold in small bags near the whole carrots in the produce department). If unable to find, thinly slice the peeled carrots then cut them julienne style)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 TBSP butter, for caramelizing the carrots
- ⅓ cup roughly chopped pistachios (unsalted preferred)
- ⅓ cup slivered almonds (homemade or store bought)
- ⅓ cup raisins
- 3 cups uncooked basmati rice (please refer to this link for rice and tahdig instructions)
- Saffron powder (optional), to sprinkle between layers of rice before steaming
- Without peeling the orange, use a sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler to peel the outer zest (not the white pith). Peel the tangerine first and try to get rid of as much of the white pith on the inside. Cut all the zest to very thin strips with scissors or a knife.
- Place the zest strips in a 1-Qt saucepan, cover with cold water and without covering the saucepan, boil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Pour out the water and repeat this step one more time with fresh water, boil for another 5-7 minutes, drain and set aside.
- In the same saucepan bring 1 cup water and ½ cup sugar to a boil over medium heat. Add the zest strips to the hot syrup. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir a few times and let it slowly boil uncovered until the syrup reduces to about ¼ the initial volume and the zest strips are almost transparent and sweet.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the candied zest strips to a plate and spread them in a thin layer to cool. Reserve the syrup (there will be 2-3 tablespoons of syrup in the saucepan)
- In a large skillet gently saute the onions with 3 tablespoons butter over medium low heat until golden brown. Stir occasionally until the onions are caramelized and crisp.
- Remove the onions from the skillet and set them aside. Add the thin carrot sticks to the same skillet with another 2 tablespoons butter. Stir frequently and saute over medium heat for couple of minutes and when they start sweating add a pinch of kosher salt and continue to saute over medium heat or a little higher until light golden brown. The reason for higher temperature and stirring is to brown the carrots quickly so they don’t poach and get soft instead of browning. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
- Make the rice and your choice of TahDig (I’ve made yogurt and saffron TahDig) according to the instructions here. I have sprinkled saffron powder over 2-3 layers of rice before steaming it. As usual the rice will take about an hour to steam.
- About 15 minutes before the rice is ready, place the skillet with caramelized carrots back over low heat. Drizzle half of the reserved citrus syrup over the carrots and toss to coat. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Push the carrots to one corner and without mixing, pile chopped pistachios, slivered almonds and raisins in the corners of the skillet. Drizzle the rest of the citrus syrup over each pile and toss a few times. Keep the skillet over low heat for 3-5 minutes. This toasts the the nuts and raisins with the syrup and butter in the skillet to give them some added crunch and a glistening look.
- To serve, add ⅓ of the rice to the serving platter, sprinkle with ⅓ each of caramelized onions, carrots and raisins. Repeat this 2 more times forming a pyramid, until all the rice, onions, carrots and raisins are finished.
- Sprinkle the rice pyramid with pistachios and almonds. Then add the candied citrus zest on the peak.
- Serve the Shirin Polo by itself or with chicken or beef.