Whenever I got sick as a kid, my mom wouldn’t make chicken soup – she’d serve me mushy rice and yogurt. Many rice-eating cultures eat rice and yogurt together as a meal or to ease an upset stomach. I grew to love the simple meal; it was calming and nourishing enough to sustain me through the worst of a fever. It’s still something I yearn for, whether I’m feeling under the weather or just want a dose of comfort.
This recipe for herby rice and beans, served with a pat of butter and a dollop of yogurt, is a grown-up version of my childhood comfort food. It was inspired by two Persian dishes: sabzi polo, an herbaceous rice often served with kebabs or roasts, and ghormeh sabzi, a stew of herbs, lamb and kidney beans.
Though herb-forward dishes are popular around Nowruz, the Iranian new year, which takes place in the spring, I’ve adapted this recipe to use dried herbs, which are easy to find year-round.
I borrowed the multistep, one-pot technique from a method Iranians sometimes use to make rice dishes such as tahdig. You start by boiling rice in plenty of salted water, as though it’s pasta, before steaming it. I like adding a dried lime – a signature ingredient in ghormeh sabzi – to the water, to start flavoring the rice as it cooks. You don’t need to rinse it before boiling it this way, as you’ll drain away all of the excess starchy water, leaving behind fluffy, individual grains of rice.
That same pot gets rinsed out, dried and used to saute a big bunch of sliced scallions until they start to caramelize. Then in goes lots of finely chopped spinach and several tablespoons of dried herbs, including fenugreek.
Dried fenugreek is fairly easy to find at spice shops; it may also be labeled methi. If you have access to fresh, use that, finely chopped. Whether dried or fresh, fenugreek will add its signature sweet-bitter scent to the dish – and perfume your whole home as the rice cooks.
I tend to dry bunches of herbs in the fall, so by this time of winter they’re crisp and crumbly and ready to be used in dishes like this. It’s also easy to substitute fresh herbs here if you’d like – just see the substitution section, below.
Next, it’s time to mix it all together: The parcooked rice goes in, along with a (drained and rinsed) can of kidney beans. Stir well, so the greens fall in among the grains. Then, cover tightly and allow the rice to finish cooking in the residual moisture on low heat. After about 12 minutes, you’ll have wonderfully fluffy rice, tinted green and studded with plump beans. It’s delicious topped with a pat of butter and creamy yogurt on the side.
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Herby Rice and Beans
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes
4 servings (makes 8 cups)
This one-pot rice dish is a loose mash-up of Iranian sabzi polo and the herbaceous stew ghormeh sabzi. Lots of dried herbs and scallions tint the rice emerald. (You’ll want to use as much of each scallion as possible. Trim off any dry ends and then thinly slice the rest.) Fenugreek and kidney beans, both standard in ghormeh sabzi, give the dish a deep musky flavor. Dried lime, or lemon omani, adds a sour note; if you can’t find dried limes, toss the finished rice with the zest and juice of a fresh lime. To save time, boil the rice while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
This is especially fluffy when made with white basmati, but you can use brown basmati, too. Just know that it will take longer to cook in the first step – test it by biting a grain before draining it. It should be only slightly firm.
If you don’t have dried fenugreek leaves, omit them.
To substitute fresh herbs for dried, use 1 bunch each parsley and dill, finely chopped.
Kidney beans are traditional in ghormeh sabzi, but if you don’t have them, chickpeas or canned lentils would work well, too.
Where to Buy: Dried fenugreek (also labeled methi) leaves and dried limes (labeled lemon omani) can be found at spice shops, Middle Eastern or Indian grocers, or online.
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) basmati rice
1 dried lime (lemon omani; see headnote), punctured in a few places
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (see headnote)
2 cups (about 2 ounces) packed baby spinach, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves (see headnote), crushed between your fingers
Freshly cracked black pepper
One (15-ounce) can kidney beans, preferably no-salt-added, drained and rinsed
Butter, for serving (optional)
Fresh parsley or cilantro sprigs, for serving (optional)
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)
Bring a large (at least 4 quart) pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. (It’s important that the water tastes salty so that it seasons the rice as it cooks.) Add the rice and dried lime, and stir to be sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the rice is al dente, about 10 minutes. Pour the rice and lime into a sieve to drain. Rinse out the pot well and dry it.
In the same pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, until they start to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted and bright green, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the dill, parsley, fenugreek and a few grinds of pepper. Gently fold in the rice, lime and kidney beans, allowing the greens to fall among the grains. Cover tightly, decrease the heat to low, and cook – without peeking! – for 12 minutes.
Uncover and, using a fork, fluff the rice. Serve hot, family-style or on individual plates, with a pat of butter on top, and fresh herbs and yogurt on the side, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving (2 cups rice) | Calories: 373; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 220 mg; Carbohydrates: 61 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 10 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.