Iranian’s obsession with herbs in large quantities, fresh or dried, is no secret. You will find many dishes – ranging from yogurt, to stews, to soups and rice dishes – that incorporate at least one or more often a whole medley of herbs.
Gishneez polo is a slightly lesser known version of the more popular herb and rice pilaf dishes. Shiveed polo highlights dill, while Sabzi polo celebrates a combination of herbs including parsley, dill, chives and cilantro. Gishneez polo offers simplicity, and brings all the cilantro lovers to the table!
Like many ancient civilizations, Iranians have a deep belief in the medicinal quality of certain foods. Many references in Persian culture attribute health qualities to this rice pilaf, which is often served to folks struggling with all sorts of ailments including upset stomach and sore throat.
On this topic I consulted with my mother, aka my Persian food equivalent of Google!
History of herbs:
Once upon a time herbs only grew in the summertime, out in the fields where there was an abundance of warmth, sunshine, fertile land and water. Since the development of greenhouses and a global food network, you and I can now easily access fresh herbs year round.
During those golden years, when herbs were only available in the summer, Iranians began to dry their herbs during the growing seasons. Great stores of dried herbs were then used in the wintertime to prepare our food.
As time went by, we developed a taste for these dried herbs to such an extent that we continue the tradition, not because we need to but because we want to! The flavor profile of dried herbs is more intense and delivers a bigger punch.
I have prepared this dish both with dried and fresh cilantro and, yes indeed, I prefer it with the dried version.
The recipe below is prepared using fresh herbs and garnished with sauteed chickpeas and fried onions.
- 2 cups white basmati rice soaked for 1 hour and rinsed
- 8 1/4 cups water, divided
- 3 tablespoons salt, for parboiling the rice and will be rinsed out
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 tablespoons ghee, butter or oil divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
- In a large covered pot, bring 8 cups of water and the 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.
- Turn the heat off, remove and strain about one cup of the boiled rice, and place in a small bowl. Combine with 1 tablespoon of the saffron-water mixture and gently mix. Set aside.
- Add the chopped cilantro to the big pot with the remainder of the rice and gently stir.
- Drain the rice mixture in a colander and set it aside while you prepare the pot.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in the same pot over low heat.
- Spread the saffron rice evenly in the bottom of the pot. This will be the crispy rice referred to as the Tahdig.
- Pour the remainder of the rinsed rice and cilantro mixture into the pot and lightly fluff with a fork.
- Cut up the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee into pieces and evenly spread over the top of the rice.
- Pour 1/4 cup of water evenly over the top of the rice. Wrap the lid with a clean towel and place it on top of the pot. This will allow the rice to steam.
- Steam the rice over a medium-low to medium heat for about 45-50 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
- When serving this rice to guests, I typically use a non-stick pot so that I can flip the rice over and serve it upside down showcasing the crunchy saffron Tahdig.