2 cups basmati rice, rinsed in cold water a few times to remove excess starch, and drained
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
A large pinch of sugar
¼ cup freshly-boiled water
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into about one-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef, lamb, or turkey, around 90% lean, or 2 pounds cremini mushrooms (see note below)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 large russet potato, scrubbed and cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
2 tablespoons butter
Use a 5-quart nonstick pot with a lid – combine 2 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of salt in the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rinsed rice and boil for 6 minutes. Drain and then rinse the rice in cold water to stop the cooking. Let it drain again thoroughly. (It seems like a large amount of salt, but this is the only chance to season the rice, and any salt on the outside of the grains gets rinsed away.)
Grind the saffron and sugar together in a small mortar, then stir in the ¼ cup of boiling water and set aside.
In a large skillet that has a lid, heat a tablespoon of oil. When hot, add the green beans and a bit of salt. Stir-fry over fairly high heat until the beans are mostly cooked and have some browning, 6-8 minutes. Transfer the cooked beans to a bowl.
In the same skillet, heat another 3 tablespoons of oil and add the onion and the turmeric. Saute until the onion is soft and beginning to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the ground meat and cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until it has lost all its pink color and any liquid from the meat has evaporated. Add the cumin, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, allspice, and cloves, plus a half-teaspoon of salt and cook for 30 seconds or so. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Then stir in the green beans, add the cup of water and the lemon juice. Mix well. Heat the mixture until just boiling, then reduce the heat to simmering, put the lid on, and cook for 20 minutes. The sauce should be nearly dry, so cook it uncovered for a few more minutes if it’s not, or add more water if it’s starting to stick. Taste for salt. Set the sauce aside.
Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in the 5-quart nonstick pot until hot. Cover the bottom of the pot with potato slices. Cover the potato with one third of the rice and press to compact a little, then drizzle one third of the saffron mixture over the rice. Spread one third of the sauce on the saffron-tinged rice. Continue with another two layers of rice, saffron water, and sauce. Pour 1/3 cup of water around the inside edge of the pot.
Take a kitchen towel and place it on the counter. Center the lid for the 5-quart pot on the towel, then gather the towel edges together so that the towel conforms to the shape of the lid. Put the lid on the pot and secure the towel edges to the lid handle so that there’s no towel sticking beyond the pot (or at least only a little) – you don’t want the towel to burn. (My pot has a round lid handle, and I secure the towel around it with a rubber band.)
Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for another 35 minutes. Turn off the heat and let everything sit for 5 minutes. Then remove the lid. Place a serving dish over the pot, and carefully turn the whole assembly over (using potholders, of course) and set it down on the counter. You should hear a satisfying “plop” sound as the contents slide down on the dish. There may be some potatoes that stick to the bottom. If so, use a spatula to get them off and put them on the top of the Loobia Polo. (Mine definitely had some stuck potato slices.) Serve hot.
Note: If you’d like to use mushrooms, chop them roughly. After cooking the green beans, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until roaring hot. Add the mushrooms and a little salt and cook for a minute to coat the mushrooms in oil. Turn the heat to medium and put a lid on for 3 minutes or so. Then remove the lid and cook the mushrooms to evaporate the liquid and get them a little browned. Put them in the bowl with the green beans. Cook the onions and garlic next as described, add the spices, then add the mushrooms and green beans. Then add the tomato paste and cook it, and proceed as directed with the water and lemon juice.