Kalam Polo Shirazi – Kohlrabi and rice pilaf with meatballs

A traditional and popular dish from the city of Shiraz, Kalam Polo consists of kohlrabi (or cabbage) and small meatballs layered into rice, with – of course – an enticing 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.

Courage!

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Kalam Polo Shirazi

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

Ingredients
  

Cabbage

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 kohlrabi, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 tablespoon Advieh, see notes

Rice

  • 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 chives, or green parts of scallions, finely chopped
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt, for parboiling the rice (will be rinsed out)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron thread, ground and dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Meatballs

  • 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

Instructions
 

Cabbage

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and saute the onions on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until they look soft and translucent.
  • Add the kohlrabi and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Once the kohlrabi has softened a bit, add salt, pepper, and the Advieh and continue to saute for additional 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Rice

  • 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 fine mesh colander, rinse and set aside.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a non-stick pot.
  • In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of the lightly cooked rice with 2 tablespoons of saffron water, 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 kohlrabi mixture into the pot. Repeat until all rice and kohlrabi have been layered inside the pot.
  • Wrap the lid with a clean towel and place it on top of the pot. Allow the rice to steam over medium-low heat for 45 minutes.

Meatballs

  • Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs except for the olive oil. Mix thoroughly with your hands to achieve a 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 size of a small 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 10-15 minutes or until the small meatballs are appropriately cooked and crispy.
  • Remove from the heat and put aside.

Assembly

  • Once the rice has finished cooking, 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.

Notes

Advieh:
  • 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
Kohlrabi can be replaced by green cabbage.  Increase the quantity to 4 cups of cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces. 
To make this dish vegan friendly, eliminate the meatballs and replace them with 2 cups of homemade or good quality canned chickpeas. 
 
 
Keyword Cabbage, herbs, meatballs, rice
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6 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!!

  2. Parisa says:

    Thank you for all great recipes! First time I checked this website about two years ago and since then I have tried Kalam polo, Albalo polo and khoresh bamie many times based on your recipes. I like that they are all well-detailed and honestly, it is the only Persian cuisine website on the internet that I can completely trust 🙂
    About kalam polo I loved the taste of Advieh and the texture of cabbage and meatballs. The sabzi gives it an unforgettable heavenly smell.
    Thank you and best wishes.

    1. Thank you so much Parisa for your lovely message! I am beyond thrilled to know that you have been trying out some of my recipes and that you are enjoying them! Merci!

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