Eating Adas Polo for Thanksgiving Might Just Be My Favorite Thing in the World

updated Nov 17, 2020
thanksgiving
Adas Polo

This Persian lentil-and-rice dish is mixed with plump raisins and sweet dates and cooked until a crispy bottom forms. Serve with chicken or protein of your choice.

Serves4

Prep10 minutes

Cook50 minutes

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Credit: Brittany Conerly

Thanksgiving Food Fest is a virtual food festival full of turkey, pie, games, and fun, starring many of our favorite cooks, ready to share the secrets of a most delicious Thanksgiving. Watch the event live at @thekitchn on Instagram from November 14-15 (or check back here after if you miss it).

In Santa Monica, the sun streamed in my mom’s bright, white kitchen through the plant-lined windows. I could hear the rice bubbling in the background — the soothing, rhythmic crunch flowing through my laptop speakers with every stroke of her knife as she sliced the onions, her phone conveniently set up next to the cutting board. My setup was less idyllic: cross-legged on my couch in NYC, honking horns and screeching brakes as my background noise. My computer was propped on my knees, the screen split between her cooking and a Google Docs page so that I could transcribe everything she was saying and doing as she taught me how to make adas polo, a Persian lentil and rice dish that’s mixed with dates, raisins, and onions. I peppered her with questions, many of which she answered by picking up the phone to show me rather than tell me. For example, my “When are the raisins and dates done?” led me to a view of the sizzling pan of juicy raisins and dates mingling with the turmeric-stained onions. “When they look like this,” she said.

On my family’s Thanksgiving table, in addition to crispy Brussels sprouts, an assortment of vegetables, and a roast turkey, you’ll also find adas polo in two much-loved and fought-over forms: the beloved tahdig, a crispy layer of rice that forms at the bottom of the pot, and in a Persian-style stuffing. Starting from when I was in middle school, my mom came up with this now long-lasting tradition for our Thanksgiving dinner: She scoops some of the just-cooked rice and lentils from the pot of adas polo and stuffs it inside the turkey. Soaked through with the turkey juices, the rice gains an irresistible saltiness that’s contrasted by the sweetness of the plump raisins and dates. It also becomes a little mushier than typical basmati rice and resembles more of a bread stuffing. Both variations of adas polo need to be carefully and equally divided so that no family member feels shortchanged. 

Learning this recipe and others (we literally started with plain basmati rice) from my parents has been both challenging and rewarding. They are both intuitive cooks, knowing how to make a dish without consulting a recipe, understanding when something is done by taste and look, rather than timing. For example, “How much salt do you put in?” is met with, “Well, the water should taste salty.” And “How do I know if the tahdig is done from outside the pot?” is answered with, “You don’t. You just have to know.” So I had to practice. And practice more, until I, too, could look at the way the rice stuck to the side of the pot to know if a tahdig had formed. 

We are a close family, typically talking individually on the phone daily and on our family text chain throughout the day. Yet talking to my parents throughout this relentless trial-and-error process — which involved me going on intense practice binges over the course of several days — brought us even closer. It’s something new to bond over and distract us; something that’s stimulating and exciting. And, ultimately, rewarding. When I first made a beautiful tahdig, I immediately started dancing around my apartment, promptly sending a photo to our text group, which was almost instantaneously met with ”Wow,” “You did it!” “Now you’re a tahdig master!” (They are very kind and lean more toward the supportive words of encouragement side of parenting. We are also all quick responders.) 

Through these many follow-up troubleshooting conversations and texts, I also unveiled an underlying motivating factor for my career choice: a dot that I had not connected before to my heritage. Hospitality and cooking are integral parts of Persian culture. Making sure that guests were happy, well-fed, and comfortable was a central part of my childhood whenever anyone came over. There is an indescribable warmth and satisfaction that comes from making people feel good and feeding them lots of food. This is still how my parents express love when I come home. My sister and I often joke that our parents’ tagline could be, “Take the last piece of tahdig, it won’t be good tomorrow. Someone has to eat it.” Followed by them putting it on our plate despite our protests until we have a battle of wills as to who will eat it. And it’s this sense of joy that drives me in my career. Seeing someone make one of my recipes and hearing that they loved it is probably my favorite part about what I do.

It’s still far from a guarantee that I will make a perfect tahdig. There are times when I don’t use quite as much oil as I need because I like to keep things lighter and convince myself that, for some reason, this time it will be okay. And sometimes my tahdig sticks to the bottom or doesn’t thud out when I flip it. (By the way, that perfect release from the pan is seriously an incredible feeling.) Or, maybe I don’t use the good nonstick pot because I think my other one will be good enough. (It’s not. Nonstick really makes a difference, as does the amount of oil so that the rice can crisp.) Yet, I almost love making mistakes because then it’s a reason for another phone call or text exchange, and the inevitable follow-up question:, “Did you try what we talked about?”

Credit: Brittany Conerly

Adas Polo

This Persian lentil-and-rice dish is mixed with plump raisins and sweet dates and cooked until a crispy bottom forms. Serve with chicken or protein of your choice.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    small sweet or white onion

  • 4

    dried Medjool dates

  • 2 tablespoons

    ghee or unsalted butter

  • 1 cup

    basmati rice

  • 2 cups

    hot water

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt

  • 4 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1 cup

    dried brown lentils

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground turmeric

  • 1 cup

    raisins

Instructions

  1. Thinly slice 1 small sweet or white onion (about 2 cups). Pit 4 Medjool dates, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Let 2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter sit at room temperature to soften.

  2. Place 1 cup basmati rice in a fine-mesh strainer and run under cold running water, using your hands to agitate it to remove excess starch, until the water runs clear, about 1 minute. Place the rice into a 3-quart nonstick saucepan, then pour 2 cups hot tap water over the rice. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, wash 1 cup dried brown lentils in the same strainer.

  3. When the water comes to a boil, add the lentils and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to maintain an active simmer with small bubbles across the surface. Simmer uncovered until the water is mostly gone and the rice is just tender with a still-hard inside, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, wrap the lid of the saucepan with a clean dish towel and secure it on top with a rubber band or hair elastic, kind of like a top knot, so that the ends don’t drape over.

  4. Cover the pot with the dish-towel-covered lid, pressing down firmly so no steam escapes. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the lentils are tender, the rice is fluffy, and a crispy tahdig (rice crust) has formed on the bottom, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the onions.

  5. Heat a large cast-iron or heavy-weight skillet over medium-high heat until very hot and lightly smoking, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the onions and a pinch of kosher salt, and allow them to release some of their liquid. Continue to cook, stirring at 1-minute intervals, until they become translucent and just start to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are browned at the edges, about 6 minutes.

  6. Add 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, stir to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the dates and 1 cup raisins, and cook until the raisins plump and the dates brighten in color, about 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt, then remove from the heat until the rice is ready.

Option 1: To use rice for stuffing:

  1. After the rice has cooked for about 10 minutes under the towel-covered lid, scoop out 2 cups from the top of the pot, leaving the bottom untouched, and place in a medium bowl. Add half of the date and onion mixture and stir to combine — this is what you will stuff the turkey with.

  2. Add remaining fruit and onion mixture to the remaining rice in the pot. Carefully stir it in without disturbing the bottom layer of rice. Cover with the towel-lined lid again and cook over low heat for 30 minutes more.

Option 2: To make as usual:

  1. After the rice has cooked for about 10 minutes under the towel-covered lid, add all of the fruit and onion mixture to the rice. Carefully stir it in without disturbing the bottom layer of rice. Cover with the towel-lined lid again and cook over low heat for 30 minutes more.

To release the tahdig:

  1. Remove the pot from the heat. Place the ghee or butter on top of the rice. Gently shake the pot: if the rice doesn’t easily release or it looks a little stuck, use a rubber spatula to loosen the sides of it from the pan. Invert a large plate over the pot. Use 2 oven mitts or dish towels to securely hold onto both the pot and the plate. Take a deep breath, then invert the dish so that the pot now rests on top of the plate. Carefully shimmy the pot off by holding on to only the handles of the pot, and release the tahdig and rice onto the plate.

Recipe Notes

Pitting dates: To pit dates, use a knife to slice them from tip to tip, cutting through the middle of the date, alongside the pit. Then, twist the bottom and top half to separate them, then remove the pit.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.

This recipe is part of Kitchn’s Food Fest, a two-day joyful, virtual feast.