Late 16th C. Lime & Quince Polaw

We made this recipe in the late 16th C. Persian polaw class i taught at the SCA West Coast Culinary Symposium, held in the San Francisco Bay Area on 11 February 2012. It was exceedingly delicious.

From Māddat al-̣Hayāt, resāla dar ‘elm-e ̣Tabbākī ("The substance of life, a treatise on the art of cooking"), 1595 CE, by Ostad Nūr-Allāh, chef for Shah ‘Abbās. There are 66 recipes in the three-part chapter on cooking rice. I included the 5 related recipes below from Part II. Sour-polāws for the handout, and we cooked one.

līmū-polāw (polāw with lime)
This is a first-class dish. How it is made: Stew a chicken and shred the meat. Then add peeled chickpeas and cinnamon bark, pour on some water and add rice thereto. Also add lime juice thereto. Flavor with sugar and add green raisins and peeled pistachios. Garlic is not misplaced. Thereover add fat, salt to taste, and after that the whole thing is steamed.
[Urtatim says: The typical lime available in most US supermarkets is a comparatively recent species, bred to make the trees thornless. The older lime, often called Key Lime in the US, has a very thorny tree, making harvesting more difficult. The Key Lime is more aromatic than the current standard lime.
līmū-polāw, Another way
White lime, which is brought here from Daragerd, cut into slices, add it therein, and cook the whole thing like a qobūlī, but just the same [as the recipe above] with lime juice, sugar and the other ingredients.

beh-līmū-polāw (polāw with quince and lime)
It is cooked the same way. The difference is that the limes are sliced, and sliced quinces are added. This is quite excellent, but must be flavored with lime juice and sugar.
[Urtatim says: Based on my reading, i suspect that the limes used in this and the previous recipe are sweet limes, which have a long history in the Middle East,as do sweet lemons. Both are not sour and can be eaten out of hand; even the peel is not as bitter as that of almost all other citrus fruits.]
nārenj-polāw (nārenj = sour orange, bitter orange, Seville orange)
This is made the same way. The orange juice must be freshly pressed, however, so it does not taste bitter. Of ingredients and preparation, there is no difference.
[Urtatim says:
-- It is likely that sweet oranges, our most common orange today, were not known in Persia at the time of this cookbook, so will not create the appropriate flavor;
-- Seville/sour/bitter oranges are sometimes available in specialty shops in winter, when they are in season (esp. Dec. through Feb.);
-- Goya brand also makes a bottled juice, which i have never tried, but some cooks have recommended;
-- You can make a reasonable substitute by blending equal parts tangerine/mandarin (or if unavailable, sweet orange) juice and unsweetened grapefruit juice with about 1/4 as much sour lemon juice]
somāq-polāw (somāq = Sumac, a sour, reddish brown spice)
If cooked well, it cannot be distinguished from līmū-polāw [in flavor quality]. Thus it is made: Sumac is crushed, the resulting powder is placed in water. After it has let stand out a bit, stir flour into it, and strain the whole thing through a white cloth and let it drain well. Then beat [the liquid] with egg white and draw off the foam. Then cook this polāw as for līmū-polāw.
[Urtatim says: Sumac can be found in Middle Eastern and halal markets. I have found whole berries, crushed powder (the most common form), and even a bottled liquid]

Beh-līmū-polāw (polāw with quince and lime)
Urtatim's interpretation
serves about 50 to 75

  • 3 chickens, 5 lb. ea. (we used 15 lb. chicken thighs)
  • 6 c. cooked chickpeas, peeled
  • three 3" sticks cinnamon
    (my spice shop was out of stick cinnamon and it's insanely expensive at the supermarket, so i sprinkled powdered cinnamon on each layer of rice; personally, i prefer Ceylon/true cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or verum), but it's fine to use common "cinnamon", actually cassia (from several different sources, such as C. burmannii (Korintje or Indonesian cinnamon), C. aromaticum (Cassia or Chinese cinnamon), C. loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon))
  • 6 sliced Sweet Persian lemons (limoo shirin - Citrus limetta Tan.) and/or Sweet Palestinian limes (laymun helu - Citrus limettioides Tan. (syn. C. lumia Risso et Poit.)
  • 10 Key limes (NOT the other modern larger kind, aka Tahitian/Persian limes)
    (to save time we used bottled Key lime juice)
  • 3 lg. or 5 sm. quinces
    (since quince season here is only in November, occasionally into December, at a local Persian market i bought several jars of preserved quinces which had large chunks of quince cooked in sugar syrup with no artificial color)
  • 3 Tb. sugar
  • 3 c. green raisins
  • 3 c. pistachios
  • 1 head garlic, all cloves peeled and finely chopped
  • about 3 quarts water & broth
  • 10 lb. long grain Basmati or Thai Jasmine rice (1 pound = ca. 2 c. raw = 6 c. cooked)
    (please, please get good rice; most American rice lacks the beautiful aroma of good rice and tastes like soaked cardboard; rice quality makes a huge difference in a rice-based dish)
  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) butter, melted
    (either salted or unsalted; clarified butter/ghee would be even better)
  • 1 Tb. (= 3 tsp.) salt
  1. Cover chicken with water and cook until done, about 1/2 hour (chicken will cook additionally in rice).
  2. While chicken is cooking, wash the rice, and soak about 1/2 hour. Drain rice, discarding water.
  3. Peel chickpeas: Take a small handful, rub them gently between your palms, then pick out and discard the skins, putting peeled chickpeas in a bowl. Repeat. Much faster if there are several people doing it. One does not have to achieve utter perfection these days -- although it was probably expected in the Shah's kitchens.
  4. Juice key limes (or measure out 1/2 c. bottled Key lime juice) and stir some of sugar into juice - taste to ensure a nice balance between sweet and sour.
  5. Remove chicken from broth to a dish to cool somewhat, retaining broth separately. Strain broth if necessary.
  6. Put the rice in a deep pot, pour in chicken broth to cover, adding water if necessary, there should be about 2X as much liquid as rice. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to very low and cook about 10 min. Remove from fire - rice should be about half cooked.
  7. Shred the chicken meat, discarding skin and bones.
  8. Pour about 1/3 of melted butter in a deep pot, add 1/3 of rice, 1 tsp of salt and one cinnamon stick (i sprinkled with powdered cinnamon), then 1/2 the shredded chicken, and 1/2 remaining ingredients.
    Do NOT pack ingredients down - steam needs to rise through it all so top layer can cook.
  9. Then top with 1/3 of the rice, sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt, again place a cinnamon stick or sprinkle some powdered cinnamon, add remaining chicken and ingredients.
  10. Top with the rest of the rice, sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt, and again place a cinnamon stick or sprinkle some powdered cinnamon, then pour in remaining melted butter.
    (since we had such a deep pot, IIRC we made three layers of chicken and ingredients, not just two)
  11. Seal pot well and steam on very low fire, about 45 min. The idea is that liquid does not condense on the pot lid and fall back into the rice, so a traditional covering of raffia may be used today in Iran; or use a couple clean towels - that had been washed with unscented detergent and without fabric softener, and dried without drier sheets.
  12. When done, let stand about 15 min.
  13. Turn out onto serving dishes, mixing ingredients.
    Unlike modern Iranian polaws, there should be no tahdig (which is nowadays usually accomplished by putting a little rice mixed with yogurt or even a layer of white potato slices on the bottom of the pot).


Īraj Afšār, ed. Āšpazī-e dawrāh-ye Ṣafavī. Matn-e do resāla az ān dawra. Surush: Tehran. Iran, 1360 Š. (1941 CE), reprint 1981 CE.
[Urtatim says: i have found several different transcriptions for this title; the one here is from the Encyclopedia Iranica On-Line,]

Bert G. Fragner. "Zur Erforschung der kulinarischen Kultur Irans". in: Die Welt des Islams, Volume 23-24 (1984), pp. 320-360. Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands.

Mohammad R. Ghanoonparvar. "Cookbooks in classical Persian". in: Encyclopedia Iranica On-Line:

Julia F. Morton. Fruits of Warm Climates. Self-published, Miami, FL: 1987. Distrib. by Creative Resource Systems, Inc., Winterville, NC. Published on-line:

Questions? Comments?
, err... that's Urtatim (err-tah-TEEM)
Urtatim al-Qurtubiyya bint ‘abd al-Karim al-hakam al-Fassi

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