April 09, 2009

Kalam Polow - Cabbage Rice

This is another great variation of rice that is a staple in Iranian cooking. Even though I've had کلم پلو kalam polow in the past, I must say that I didn't particularly care for it until recently. I think liking cabbage is an acquired taste. Now that I have grown to like it, I add plenty to the pickles (torshi) I make. I eat it raw as a snack or mix it with rice. For this dish, vegetarians can skip making meatballs altogether. Cabbage rice is a rich and fulfilling meal on its own. And for those days when there isn't enough time to patiently make little meatballs, just use cooked ground beef instead, it’s equally delicious.

Kalam Polow - Cabbage Rice

Serves 4-6

1 pound ground beef
2 cups long grain white rice
2 cups shredded white cabbage
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or ادویه advieh (Iranian spice blend)
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2-3 tablespoons of hot water
Salt and pepper -- to taste
Vegetable oil

  1. Wash rice with cool water a few times. Soak in 4 cups of water, add salt and set aside for a couple of hours.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine the ground beef, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well by hand and make mini meatballs.
  3. In a large skillet saute the chopped onions in two tablespoons of oil over medium heat until transparent, add 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and stir. Place the tiny meatballs into the pan, brown on all sides, stir in the tomato sauce and 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and cook for 20 minutes on low heat.
  4. In a frying pan, saute shredded cabbage in 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat for ten minutes or until cabbage becomes soft and tender, add salt, pepper and advieh. Set aside.
  5. In a large non-stick pan that has a tight fitting lid, bring 6 cups of water to a rapid boil. Drain rice and pour into the boiling water. Bring water back to boil for 10 minutes. Test to see if the rice is ready. Rice should be firm in the center and soft on the outside. Drain and rinse with cool water. Wash the pot and return to heat, add oil and a tablespoon of liquid saffron to the pan. Place a layer of rice into the pan, then place a layer of  the shredded cabbage, another layer of rice, building it into a pyramid shape. Sprinkle the remaining saffron water over the rice and in order to release the steam make 2-3 holes in the rice with the bottom of the spatula. Cook for 7-10 minutes on medium-high heat until rice is steaming. Lower the heat and steam the rice for another 50 minutes.  
Serve kalam polow on a platter and gently spread the meatballs all over the rice. Serve along with mast-o-khiar and fresh herbs or torshi.



  1. Azita jan all of your rice dishes are superb. i love going through the recipes and photos :) shab b'khair. x shayma

  2. Dearest Shayma, I appreciate your comments very much and the fact that you take time from your busy schedule to go through the recipes means a lot to me. You make my day! x

  3. hi azita, so i just made this kalam polow but one thing i found confusing in the instructions is that the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of tumeric but there are two places where the instructions say to add it, both to the meatballs and when frying the onions. i didn't imagine that means to halve it but that it must instead call for more, but how much and where? also, though i know salt and pepper are personal preferences, it'd be useful if you could suggest a baseline for those of us who aren't great cooks. thanks for your time and the wonderful recipes! -brian

  4. one other thing, though the recipe calls for 3-4 tablespoons of saffron water, step 5 only calls for 1 tbs to be used so are the other 2 tbs just extraneous? thanks again.

    1. Hi Brian, I just went back and made the necessary corrections. Thank you.