Shirin Polo, a little something different on the side
Pamela Osborne

Shirin Polo, a little something different on the side

I once had a friend, now cooking in heaven, who served exactly the same meal every time I went to his house. He was pretty offended if anyone remarked or complained about it, which I gathered had happened. He had all the steps down pat though, could put it together in his sleep, and had no plans to make any changes. His wife had no plans to take over, either, dish duty was her niche. I was fine with all this, since I never had that meal anywhere else, but I have to ask: Weren’t they bored?

I’ve been thinking about this as spring and various holidays approach. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that when it comes to what they expect to see on the festive table, most people sitting around it don’t exactly have open minds. How else to explain the cries of shock and horror that mark the absence of, at Thanksgiving for example, a casserole of canned sweet potatoes sloshed with orange juice and topped with a blanket of melted marshmallows? Which, okay, has earned its place and its admirers, people like it and I’m not here to say never.

I have a vintage “Joy of Cooking” that has little poems and quotes at the start of every chapter. “A definition of eternity: Two People and a Ham”, says one. Ham, lamb, turkey (again?), and so it goes. People expect them to be on their holiday table no matter what because they always have been, and they probably always will be. Eyes may glaze over, eyes may roll, nothing will change: we know what we want and we’re sticking to it. What’s on the side, I would suggest, is your only chance to ring in anything different. With that in mind I offer the following, which I first had in a Persian restaurant, Mohsen, when I was visiting a friend in London a few years ago. Mohsen is a very modest restaurant, sort of a luncheonette, but it’s full of Persians and the food is terrific. The name of this dish means “sweet rice,” but it isn’t particularly sweet. It is offered at weddings and other special celebrations, and is Really Good. It will go well with the ham or lamb or whatever other main dish is on your table. You’ll like it, I promise, and, best of all, you can do most of the work ahead of time.

Shirin Polo

Oranges Buy several, let’s say half a dozen. Organic only, you’re going to eat the peel.

1/2 c. sugar

1 c. water

1/3 c. slivered blanched almonds

1/3 c. slivered unsalted pistachios - you’ll have to sliver them yourself

1 and 1/2 c. uncooked basmati rice

Optional: saffron, an onion, raisins or sultanas

Using a vegetable peeler, cut just the (washed) orange-colored peel from the oranges. Don’t cut into the bitter white pith, just the outer layer is what you want. Flatten the pieces onto a cutting board and cut them into very fine slivers with a very sharp knife. You want a cup of slivers, lightly packed. It will take a while to do this, and it’s worth it.

Put the zest into a sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook at a medium boil, uncovered, 5 to 7 minutes; drain. Do this again with fresh water; drain again.

Put the sugar and 1 c. water into the emptied saucepan, bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the zest, reduce the heat to low medium, and cook until the liquid is reduced to about three tablespoons, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon, remove the zest — which should look fairly transparent at this point — to a plate. Spread it out and let it cool. This can be done the day before; keep it refrigerated until you need it. Let it come to room temperature before adding it to the dish. If you keep the syrup, you can add it to ice cream, etc.

If you want an onion in your dish, sauté it, thinly sliced or chopped, in a mixture of a few tablespoons of butter and oil, until it is lightly browned and softened. If you want saffron, dissolve a pinch in a few TB. of water, keep aside. If you use raisins or sultanas they should be fresh, not hard and dry.

Mohsen did not use any of these optional ingredients. I called them a few times when I was figuring this out, because online recipes for shirin polo use a host of other ingredients, carrots in particular. But no, they said, only the ingredients listed above. I have used some of the optional ingredients listed and they were good, but the dish stands very well on its own without them. I usually don’t fiddle.

Cook the rice, mix in the onion (and its butter/oil) and raisins, if you’re using them. Put this into a buttered serving dish and, if you’re using the dissolved saffron, drizzle it over the rice. At this point, a few hours before serving, you can cover this and keep it on the counter. Later, put a few dots of butter onto the rice — a tablespoon or so, more if you’ve doubled the recipe, but don’t go crazy — and recover. Heat at 300 to 350 degrees for about half an hour or so. It should be hot. Before serving. spread the orange peel over the surface and sprinkle with the almonds and pistachios. You will want sea salt (Maldon) and pepper at the table.

This recipe will serve five or so, depending on what else is on the menu. The photograph shows a double recipe, more than enough to feed ten. If you double it, use only one and a half times the orange peel and nuts. I think you will be surprised to see how so few ingredients can synthesize into something so very good.

Pamela Osborne lives in Salisbury.

Latest News

Walking among the ‘Herd’

Michel Negreponte


‘Herd,” a film by Michel Negreponte, will be screening at The Norfolk Library on Saturday April 13 at 5:30 p.m. This mesmerizing documentary investigates the relationship between humans and other sentient beings by following a herd of shaggy Belted Galloway cattle through a little more than a year of their lives.

Negreponte and his wife have had a second home just outside of Livingston Manor, in the southwest corner of the Catskills, for many years. Like many during the pandemic, they moved up north for what they thought would be a few weeks, and now seldom return to their city dwelling. Adjacent to their property is a privately owned farm and when a herd of Belted Galloways arrived, Negreponte realized the subject of his new film.

Keep ReadingShow less
Fresh perspectives in Norfolk Library film series

Diego Ongaro

Photo submitted

Parisian filmmaker Diego Ongaro, who has been living in Norfolk for the past 20 years, has composed a collection of films for viewing based on his unique taste.

The series, titled “Visions of Europe,” began over the winter at the Norfolk Library with a focus on under-the-radar contemporary films with unique voices, highlighting the creative richness and vitality of the European film landscape.

Keep ReadingShow less
New ground to cover and plenty of groundcover

Young native pachysandra from Lindera Nursery shows a variety of color and delicate flowers.

Dee Salomon

It is still too early to sow seeds outside, except for peas, both the edible and floral kind. I have transplanted a few shrubs and a dogwood tree that was root pruned in the fall. I have also moved a few hellebores that seeded in the near woods back into their garden beds near the house; they seem not to mind the few frosty mornings we have recently had. In years past I would have been cleaning up the plant beds but I now know better and will wait at least six weeks more. I have instead found the most perfect time-consuming activity for early spring: teasing out Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle and myrtle, from the ground in places it was never meant to be.

Planting the stuff in the first place is my biggest ever garden regret. It was recommended to me as a groundcover that would hold together a hillside, bare after a removal of invasive plants save for a dozen or so trees. And here we are, twelve years later; there is vinca everywhere. It blankets the hillside and has crept over the top into the woods. It has made its way left and right. I am convinced that vinca is the plastic of the plant world. The stuff won’t die. (The name Vinca comes from the Latin ‘vincire’ which means ‘to bind or fetter.’) Last year I pulled a bunch and left it strewn on the roof of the root cellar for 6 months and the leaves were still green.

Keep ReadingShow less