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Shecar Polou
Sweet Pilaf
This dish is often served at Iranian celebrations.
Citrus, from Mattioli's Commentaires, Lyons, 1579
Total time: 2¾-4-½ hours
Rinsing and soaking: 1-¼-3 hours
Final preparation: 2 hours
6 cups (3 lbs.) rice
½ cup salt (for soaking)
¼ cup, grated orange or tangerine zest
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups, finely chopped onion
2 lbs. ground meat or boneless chicken
4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. ground cloves
3 tbsp. butter
1 gallon water
4 tbsp. salt (for boiling)
¾ cup butter
2 tsp. saffron
1 tsp. water
1 cup butter
2 cups blanched and finely chopped almonds
2 cups blanched and chopped pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the rice in the same manner as chelou: Wash the rice thoroughly in three changes of cold water to remove excess starch. Turn it into a large bowl, sprinkle over ½ cup salt, cover with cold water and let it soak for 1-3 hours to prevent breakage.

While the rice soaks, mix the citrus zest with 2 cups of water in a pan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the peel and rinse it with cold water; repeat this process twice. During the last boiling, combine sugar and water in another pan over high heat. Boil rapidly until the liquid thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the drained peel to the syrup, and boil for 3 minutes more.

Mix the onion with the meat, then add the salt, pepper, turmeric and ground clove. Shape the meat into hazelnut-size meatballs. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a frying pan and sauté the meatballs until they are brown all over. Set aside.

Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a pot large enough for the grains to have plenty of room to roil around. Drain the rice and add it and 4 tablespoons salt to the pot; boil vigorously, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the rice. Test a grain by biting it in half; if it just barely cooked at the core, it is done. Remove the rice from the heat, drain it and gently rinse it with warm water. Take care not to break the rice grains. If the rice needs more salt, give it another rinse with warm salted water.

Gently mix the syrup and meat balls into the rice, taking care to coat all of the grains, but not to break them. Lavishly butter a deep casserole and put in the rice mixture, forming a mound in the center. Bake in the oven for an hour, then remove from oven and place the pan, covered, on a cool surface for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and stir the polou gently with a spatula to make it fluffy. Turn the polou out onto a warm serving dish in a mound; then remove the brown crust, the tadig, to be enjoyed separately.

Grind the saffron with a mortar and pestle, then mix in 1 teaspoon water. Melt 1 cup of butter, add the saffron paste to it, stir well to combine, then pour evenly over the polou. Stir it gently so that all of the grains are coated, especially those on top. Garnish with chopped almonds and pistachios.