Chelow kabab is the national dish of Iran. The meal is simple, consisting of steamed, saffroned basmati or Persian rice (چلو chelow) and kabab, of which there are several distinct Persian varieties. This dish is served throughout Iran today, but was traditionally associated with the northern part of the country.
Chelow kabab is served with the basic Iranian meal accompaniments, in addition to grilled tomatoes on the side of the rice, and butter on top of the rice. Somagh (powdered sumac) is also made available, and can be sprinkled on the rice. It is an old north-western tradition (probably originating in Tabriz) that a raw egg yolk be placed on top of the rice, though this is strictly optional and no longer common. In fact, unless specifically requested, most restaurants will not serve the rice this way due to safety concerns surrounding the consumption of raw eggs.
In the old bazaar tradition, the rice (which is covered with a tin lid) and accompaniments are served first, immediately followed by the kababs, which are brought to the table by the waiter, who holds several skewers in his left hand, and a piece of flat bread (typically nān-e lavāsh) in his right. A skewer is placed directly on the rice and while holding the kabab down on the rice with the bread, the skewer is quickly pulled out. With the two most common kababs, barg and koobideh, two skewers are always served. In general, bazaar kabab restaurants only serve these two varieties, though there are exceptions. A combination of one barg and one koobideh is typically called a soltani, meaning “for the sultan”.
The traditional beverage of choice to accompany chelow kabab is Doogh, a Persian sour yoghurt drink, flavoured with salt and mint, and sometimes made with carbonated water.
Chelow Kabab - Rice with Lamb Kebab
- 400 g lamb mince
- 1 medium onions (roughly chopped)
- 1 teaspoon dried breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (crushed)
- pinch chilli powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 400 g basmati rice
- 6 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon saffron (soaked in 1 teaspoon hot water)
- 2 tablespoons butter
Procedure for the rice
- Wash rice in few changes of water, then leave to soak in enough water to cover by at least 2 cm for about 3 hours or more.
- Bring a pan with 2 litres of salted water to a rapid boil. Pour off excess water from rice and tip into the fast bubbling water, bring straight back to boil and boil for 3 minutes. Strain and rinse with tepid water, toss rice very gently in colander.
- Return rinsed out saucepan to the heat, add the oil, along with 3 tablespoons water, heat until sizzling.
- Sprinkle a layer of rice across the bottom of the pan, then add rest of rice to form a conical shape.
- Poke 2 or 3 holes through the rice to the bottom (using the rounded end of the handle of a wooden spoon).
- Wrap the saucepan lid in a dampened tea towel and cover pan firmly. Keep on high heat for a further 2 - 3 minutes until the rice is steaming then reduce heat right down to low heat for another 30 minutes or more. DO NOT LIFT LID!
- Place saucepan on a cold wet surface and leave for a minute or two before lifting the lid. Fluff up with a fork, gently.
- Mix some of the rice with the saffron and set aside.
- Serve the rice on a platter, garnished with the saffron rice sprinkled on the top, with the melted butter poured over the top of the finished dish.
- Remove the crisp rice layer (tah dig) from the base of the pan and serve on a separate side plate.
Procedure for the kebabs
- Mince the meat finely, first on its own and then with the onion.
- Add the remaining ingredients, salt and freshly ground black pepper and tip into a food processor.
- Using the dough hook, process for a few minutes until the mixture becomes elastic, smooth and sticky. (A slightly warm mixture will mix better. The mixture can be kneaded by hand, but takes about 15 minutes of good kneading to reach the right consistency).
- Keeping a bowl of cold water to hand to keep your hands wet, take a medium handful of the mixture and mould all around a flat, 2 cm skewer, pressing the mixture lightly with fingers, making indentations all the way down the skewer at both ends, the kebabs should be about 15 - 18 cm long.
- Grill each kebab for a few minutes on each side, turning twice. When nicely browned and cooked through, they should easily slip off the skewers.
- Serve, sprinkled with sumac.