Shirin Polow (Sweet Rice)
Believe it or not, the first time I had Shirin Polow, was 5 years ago in Bozeman, MT. USA!
My dad had been teaching at Montana State University for quite some time, before he was joined by my mom and younger brother, Sina, from Canada. I came on board a year later, after their persistence, and as Persians say besyar deltangy (to miss). Traditionally, Iranians leave their parents’ house only after they marry, and should the marriage fail, they are to move back home again. This may be a surprising notion to Westerners who value independence and privacy, but the idea is for immediate family members to band together for mutual support and love. It is not uncommon for old-school or maybe less fortunate young Iranian couple to live with in-laws (groom’s parents), and even raise their kids with. The custom makes for a very large, but well structured and robust family system.
When I moved to Bozeman, I noticed unlike Canada’s multicultural nation, the city had no diversity and was homogeneously populated by upper class Americans, translated to wealthy white folks. Other than our family of four, there was another Persian family in the city, to whom I was introduced right away. They were warm, friendly, and akin to traditional Persian families, they had their grandma living with them. If you were to visit Iran, you’d notice there is no ‘old folks home’. Grandparents may live independently while taking care of each other, but when one passes away, the other moves in with a close family member, most likely one of their kids. Children keep mom or dad from feeling lonesome and offer care.
Anyhow, soon after my arrival, we were invited over for a celebratory dinner by the Persian friends. Maryam khanum (Ms. Maryam) had prepared at least three different Persian meals, including shirin polow to go with cooked bison meat. This was my first festive Persian meal after a long period of living solo in Canada, and of course, it was devoured. I didn’t pick up cooking ’till much later and depended on relatives for a homey meal. I remember, Maryam Khanum, mentioning that the rice pilaf is from the city of Shiraz, where she was from originally. Hats off to the exquisite Shirazi cuisine, I am hooked!
My parents have since moved to California, and the idea of me living in Missoula is troubling to them. Customs were developed for their conventional use during a specific time span for a certain geographical location, and not necessary applicable everywhere. That’s my subtle way of hinting that I did not enjoy giving up autonomy that comes with living with Persian parents. 🙂 You may call it westernization, modernization or being a feminist. I call it fondness of freedom.
I love Montana’s beautiful nature, and the down-to-earth and unpretentious people that live here, and have little preference for the opposite in large cities. I am exactly where I need to be. I am home.
Ingredients (Serves 4 ):
- 2 cups white Basmati rice (long grain), washed and soaked for at least 2 hours with a bit of salt (see here)
- 2 cup carrots, peeled & shredded (use a mandolin if you have one)
- 1 cup orange zest (~4 large oranges), white pith removed & slivered
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 1/3 cup sugar
- dash of cinnamon
Time~ Prep: 1 hr Cook: 1 hr
- In a small pot over med.-high heat, boil the slivered orange peel for 3-5 minutes. Drain and repeat the two more times to take out the bitterness of orange zest. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the shredded carrots and saute in enough oil/butter ’till tender (~5 minutes). Add the slivered orange zest, almonds and saute longer (~5 minutes).
- Stir in 1-2 Tbs of sugar, and allow the mixture to caramelize on low heat (~2-3 min).
- Stir in the rest of sugar, dash of cinnamon and just enough water to dissolve the sugar (~1/2 cup). Cover and cook on low for 10 min. Set aside.
- Follow directions for parboling rice here.
- Continue to steaming directions, but layer with rice and carrot mixture, starting and finishing with rice. Reserve some of the carrot mixture (1/3-1/2) for later.
- Make a dome, and poke holes with your spatula and you’re set!
- Steam on low heat for 45-50 min.
- Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with the remaining carrot mix.
Goes well with chicken, beef, etc.
Serve the crunchy rice from the bottom of the pot separate.