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Kermani polow rice with saffron and pistachios: Vegan Persian entrees

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How would you like to serve a fragrant pilaf of rice and cardamom (kermani polow with saffron and pistachios) in the Armenian, Kurdish, and Persian traditions? As condiments, you'd add a tablespoon of organic rose petals and a cup of fresh, chopped dill. Chopped almonds may be substituted for pistachio nuts.

For variety it's optional to also mix ice with 4 cardamom pods, crushed, and 1/4 teaspoon of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water to add to cooked rice. The rice can be cooked in vegetable stock. Use brown basmati long-grain rice because it has more nutrition than white rice. If you want to change the style, cooked whole oat groats can be used instead of rice with the same recipe. Then it changes from Persian to St. Patrick's Day Irish oat groats with South Asian condiments, herbs, and spices. Whatever the ethnic food, it's vegan and vivacious.

For the Kurdish, Armenian, and W. Persian styles, you can serve the polow/pilaf (herbed and spiced whole grains) with fresh fruit for dessert such as dark cherries and blueberries, strawberries, or apples baked in pomegranate juice. This dish is served with carrot palov with cumin. That's grated carrots cooked with brown rice and spiced with cumin. Most Silk Road cultures eat white rice. But you can use brown rice because it's more nutritious as far as having more B vitamins left on the grain.

Or try some of the varieties of mahogany, red, or black rice mixed in with the brown rice. Or you can use plain basmati white rice or jasmine rice, as you prefer. But the starchy rice is the white rice because the bran is scraped off along with the B vitamins. Then again, you could eat muffins made with with rice bran or rice polish. The Persian rice style uses short-grain rice.

Cumin-infused rice

To make Silk Road palov with cumin, use short grain rice. In a nonstick pot or wok, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add a handful of almonds and currents. Stir fry the almonds and currents in the wok and set aside after draining off any oil on paper towels. But save the oil in the wok, skillet, or frying pan.

Add a pinch of cumin and cook for a few seconds, until you smell the perfumed aroma. Use a cover if the cumin seeds start to pop at at you. Add a handful of chopped onions and fry for 10 minutes or more until golden brown.

Add a cup of chopped or shredded carrots along with 1/2 seeded red bell pepper. You can also add a pinch of cayenne or chopped, seeded serrano chili.

Add two cups clean, washed, long-grain brown Basmati rice. Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add a pinch of turmeric and some water to cover the rice. You can substitute 1/2 teaspoon of saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water for the turmeric or use both.

Add 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro just as the rice is about to finish cooking. About 3 cups of water may be needed to soften the rice enough for cooking until chewy. Simmer the rice for 30 minutes. To keep the cilantro fresh and crisp add it only as the rice is done. Add to the cooked rice a handful each of chopped almonds, currents, and any other chopped green vegetable you prefer such as parsley or spinach along with the cilantro.

Serve with fresh sliced or chopped tomatoes and sliced cucumbers. If desired, add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves, and 2 pinches of ground cardamon. This variation also is known as Chahar Masala. Enjoy a Silk Road celebration.

Chelow is a Crusty Golden Baked Rice Loaf

To make this saffron rice dish, cook 3 cups of washed, long-grain Basmati brown rice in 8 cups of water. Add 1 cup of unsweetened soy yogurt to the cooked rice. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of ground saffron threads in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Mix the saffron into the cooked rice.

If you want a crust on top of your rice, (the chelow) then whisk 3/4 cup of nonfat yogurt with 1/4 cup of oil, 1 tablespoon of saffron, 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with a little water, and a few tablespoons of the cooked rice and spread this on the bottom of a pan. Then put the rice on top of it and bake the rice until the rice and yogurt mixture on the bottom of the pan forms a crust.

The chelow/rice crust mixture bakes golden and crusty on the bottom of the pan. Add a tablespoon of pureed tofu or soy yogurt to form a thicker golden crust. Add saffron and water mixture (dissolved saffron) to this crust mixture before baking. Also, you can garnish with black sesame seeds.

Whole Foods Market and similar natural food stores usually sell small amounts of black sesame seeds in their spices section (in little spice-sized jars/bottles). Black sesame seeds are used in Japan, but are more decorative with contrasting colors than the usual white sesame seeds used as garnish along the Silk Road.

You also can buy black sesame seeds online. See the site, Buy Black Sesame Seeds - Low Price & Super-Fast Delivery. Or check out, Buy Black Sesame Seeds - Gourmet quality Sesame Seeds.

Bake the rice until a golden crust forms on the bottom of the pan. Then turn the rice mixture upside down so that the golden crust is on top. Cut into squares. If you don't want a rice crust, substitute six layers of spinach or collards (stems removed) fitted into the bottom of the pan. But the rice crust is more aesthetic than the baked lettuce.

Pomegranate Punch with Rose Petal Extract (Water)

To make Silk Road pomegranate punch, mix a quart of pomegranate juice with your favorite spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and lemon-tasting tart sumac spice. For a slightly peppery zest, you can add a pinch of ginger.

Or serve a punch made of pomegranate juice and a teaspoon of chopped crystallized ginger topped with a pinch of almond meal. Also you can mix rose petal water with pomegranate juice, about 1/4 cup of rose petal extract to a quart of pomegranate juice.

The pomegranate juice also may be mixed half and half with dark red cherry juice topped with a sprig of mint. Or you can mix dark purple grape juice with pomegranate juice. Another version is to mix a quart of pomegranate juice with 1/4 cup of lime or lemon juice and float dehydrated nectarines on top.

If you're looking for Persian-style and Silk Road area recipes, try the book, Silk Road Cooking, A Vegetarian Journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij, 2004. (Mage Publishers, Washington, DC).This wonderfully illustrated cookbook is chock-full of vegetarian recipes in the Silk Road adventure style of cooking. Excellent for ovo-lacto vegetarians. Vegan-style feasts of the Silk Road traditionally are served with pomegranate punch.

Stir-Fried Celery Roots with Garbanzo Bean Fritters

Try the stir-fried celery roots or the chickpea vegetable fritters, and the Armenian bulgur and pomegranate stuffed with grapevine leaves in this book of recipes. You mix lentils with bulgur wheat, pitted prunes, spices, mint, parsley, and pomegranate paste with lime juice and chili flakes in the sauce.

It's on page 84, under the "salads" chapter. It's great. If you enjoy eating fragrant yet fermented functional foods, try the yogurt and cucumber cold soup with walnuts and rose petals on page 100 of Batmanglij's book.

How do whole grains affect the health of many older adults?

Some studies say that if you eat lots of white rice, the starch in the carbs will turn to sugar and the sugar to fat. But if you eat brown, mahogany, or black rice, at least there's some B vitamins left on the rice grain and in the rice bran. See articles such as "Think Twice About Rice? New Study's Advice - ABC News" or "The Story of Refined White Rice," by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh.

Other articles say that white rice was given a bad reputation, and still other studies says that hospital patients fed primarily white rice died, but those fed brown rice survived and got well. See, "Beriberi, White Rice, and Vitamin B: A Disease, a Cause, and a Cure." Or check out the article, "The Gluten-Free Lie: Why Most Celiacs Are Slowly Dying — SCD."

Older adults may reduce risk of metabolic syndrome by eating more whole grains, says a study. Research from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, according to a 2006 study, "Whole-grain intake is inversely associated with the metabolic syndrome and mortality in older adults," published in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Authors of the study are Sahyoun NR , Jacques PF, Zhang XL, Juan and W, McKeown NM.

With the recent revision of the Food Guide Pyramid, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have for the first time provided the public with a quantitative recommendation for whole-grain intake. In a study published in the January issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (HNRCA) found that consuming a diet rich in whole-grain foods may lower an elderly person's risk for cardiovascular disease and reduce the onset of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of risk factors, puts people at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The relationship between eating whole grains and heart and artery disease risk factors or reduced incidence of metabolic syndrome

The study, a collaborative effort that included Paul Jacques, DSc, director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the HNRCA, Nicola McKeown, PhD, scientist in the same program, and others, examined the relationship between whole-grain intake and cardiovascular disease risk factors, metabolic syndrome, and the incidence of death due to cardiovascular disease in the elderly.

"Previous studies have found a link between whole-grain intake and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome in middle-aged populations. What's unique about our study," says McKeown, according to a February 6, 2006 news release, Older adults may reduce risk of metabolic syndrome by eating more whole grains, "is that we went back to data that was collected 20 years ago, using diet records that captured food intake, and found that whole-grain foods had a subsequent benefit in the elderly."

The ability of researchers to differentiate whole grains from refined grains more accurately through the use of diet records is a major advantage when assessing dietary intake. "In past studies," states McKeown, in the news release, "fixed food categories have made it difficult to accurately separate whole and refined grains for some food items – such as breads."

According to Jacques, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, "consuming a high whole-grain diet is likely to have positive metabolic effects in elderly individuals, who are prone to greater insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance."

McKeown and Jacques found that, indeed, as whole-grain intake increased, fasting blood sugar levels were lower in these subjects. Refined grain intake, on the other hand, was associated with higher fasting blood sugar levels.

Elevated fasting blood sugar levels can indicate impaired glucose tolerance and the presence of diabetes

In addition, people who consumed high amounts of refined grains had twice the risk of having metabolic syndrome than those people who consumed the fewest servings of refined grains. But how many doctors also look at too-high insulin levels in the blood after eating instead of only looking at fasting glucose levels?

"It is important to note," cautions McKeown, according to the news release, "that the subjects in the study were not a representative sample of the elderly, so we do not know the implications of applying these results to other populations. Based on the research, whole-grain intake is one modifiable dietary risk factor that may lead to substantial health benefits at the population level, even among an older population. Older adults should be encouraged to increase their daily intake of whole grain foods to three or more servings a day by substituting whole grains for refined grains."

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