Kalam Polo Shirazi – Cabbage and rice pilaf with meatballs

A traditional and popular dish from the city of Shiraz, Kalam Polo consists of cabbage and small meatballs layered into rice, with – of course – an exotic combination of spices, herbs, and flavors.

Shiraz, known for its beautiful gardens and its deep poetic tradition (it was the home of both Hafez and Sa’adi), is also a significant contributor to Persian cuisine, to which it brings its own unique identity. Shirazis are proud of the many local ingredients and foods that reflect the region’s climate, culture, and lifestyle. Shiraz wine, anyone?!

As with most Persian cuisine, local and regional tastes, preferences and ingredients yield multiple versions of this dish. As I researched this recipe, I was quite surprised to see how many options there were to choose from. For this post, I have chosen to use fresh herbs and a specific combination of spices (Advieh in Farsi) that is associated with Shiraz.

As for the meatballs, most options have them layered inside the rice, giving them a fairly soft texture. I have opted for crisper meatballs by preparing them separately and serving them on top of the rice after it has been cooked. I have also seen cooks forego meatballs altogether and layer in sauteed ground meat that is seasoned with spices. A definite time-saving choice for those busy weeknights!

Lastly, a light sauce made with pomegranates, tomatoes, or tomato sauce can accompany the meatballs.

As you see, your options are endless which makes this dish a delight for the adventurous cook in the kitchen. A reason to explore and personalize the dish based on your tastes and the availability of ingredients.



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Kalam Polo Shirazi

Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef
Cabbage and rice pilaf with meatballs
5 from 11 votes
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 10 mins
Total Time 1 hr 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Persian
Servings 4



  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or ghee
  • 4 cups cabbage, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Advieh, see notes


  • 2 cups basmati rice, soaked for a minimum of 1 hour and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup garlic chives, or green parts of scallions, finely chopped
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt, for parboiling the rice (will be rinsed out)
  • 1 tiny pinch ground saffron,  dissolved in 2 tablespoons rose water


  • 1 lb ground beef, or lamb
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or ghee



  • In a large frying pan, heat the oil and saute the onions on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until they look soft and translucent.
  • Add the cabbage and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and Advieh and saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.


  • In a large covered pot, bring 8 cups water and salt to a boil. Add the rinsed rice and boil on high heat uncovered for about 5-7 minutes, or until the rice has slightly softened.
  • Add the chopped herbs and continue to boil for 1 minute.
  • Drain the rice in a colander, rinse and set aside.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil in a non-stick pot over low heat.
  • In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of the lightly cooked rice with 2 tablespoons of saffron-rosewater mixture, gently mix and spread evenly in the bottom of the pot. This will be the crispy rice referred to as Tahdig.
  • Begin by layering 1/3 of the partially cooked rice and then 1/3 of the cabbage mixture into the pot. Repeat until all of the rice and cabbage has been used.
  • Wrap the lid with a clean towel and place on top of the pot. Allow the rice to steam over a medium-low to medium heat for about 45 minutes.


  • Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs with the exception of the olive oil. Mix thoroughly with your hands to achieve a very smooth consistency for the meatballs.
  • This next part requires some dedication and patience! Pick up a small amount of the ground meat mixture and use the palms of your hands to create small walnut-sized meatballs (These small meatballs are called Kal-leh Gonjishki, referencing the small size of a bird's head).
  • Place all the meatballs on a plate until you are ready to saute and cook them.
  • Place the oil in a large frying pan and one by one add the meatballs to the pan. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you may have to do this in two rounds.
  • Saute the meatballs over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the small meatballs are properly cooked and crispy.
  • Remove from the heat and put aside.


  • Once the rice is cooked, cautiously and swiftly invert the rice out of the pot onto a large serving platter.
  • Arrange the meatballs decoratively on or around the rice platter and serve with a side of yogurt, Torshi (pickled vegetables) or Salad-e Shirazi.


  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger, powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground
To make this dish vegan friendly, eliminate the meatballs and replace with 2 cups of home made or good quality canned chickpeas. 
Keyword Cabbage, herbs, meatballs, rice
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4 Comments Add yours

  1. gulfislandslynn says:

    That looks so good. I’m going to make it tonight! What brand is your pot? I only have a regular cast iron dutch oven so I might not get the Tahdig.

    1. Thank you so much! You can really use any pot for the rice, you just may not be able to flip the rice and tahdig out in one piece. If you are specifically looking to get the rice and tahdig to come out in one piece, then any non-stick pot should so the trick. I purchased my non-stick pot at my local Persian market and the brand name is “golden star”. Hopefully this helps and that you enjoy your Kalam Polo!

      1. gulfislandslynn says:

        Thank you. I made it and it was absolutely delicious! I was able to get the tahdig off of the bottom of the pot quite easily after I removed all the rice. i broke it into pieces and placed it on top.

      2. That’s wonderful, I am so glad you gave it a shot and that you were able to get the Tahdig out and enjoy the dish! Bravo!!

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