Spicy Tomato & Lentil Rice (Estamboli Polo)

Serves 4-6

This recipe is one of my all-time favourite dishes. In Iran, it's customary to make this recipe without lentils but I prefer to include lentils. For best results, I suggest using a pan with a snug-fitting lid (preferably non-stick); if the pan lid has a steam vent, make sure you cover the hole so the steam can build up in the pan.


300g basmati rice

150g French or black lentils

Sea salt

3 onions, cut in half and sliced really thinly into moon shapes (preferably with mandoline)

3 tbsp olive oil

1½ tbsp cumin seeds

½ tbsp ground cinnamon

6 cardamom seeds, seeds removed and ground to a fine powder

½ tsp crushed black pepper

¼ tsp chilli pepper

1½ tbsp sweet pul biber pepper

500g tomatoes, chopped into 1 centimetre cubes


Wash the rice in cold water in a large bowl, then rinse and drain it. Repeat the process with more cold water until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with cold water, add 2-3 tablespoons of sea salt to the water and allow the rice to soak for 2-3 hours.

Place the lentils, 1 litre of cold water, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked (the lentils should be cooked yet still hold their shape). Drain the lentils in a sieve over a bowl to catch the lentil water. Measure 550ml of lentil water and set aside (add water if it’s needed).

While the lentils are cooking, add the onions and olive oil in a frying pan. Using a wooden spoon, stir the onions to coat thoroughly with the oil; fry on a low to medium heat until the onions are golden.

Add the cumin seeds and cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, chilli pepper and pul biber pepper and stir well before adding the chopped tomatoes. Stir to mix and then put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes on the lowest setting. Add the lentils, rice (drained) and lentil water.

Mix well and bring to boil. As soon as it starts to boil, put the lid on tightly. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked. If the rice is still hard at the end of the recommended cooking time simply add 50 ml of water to the pan, place the lid on tightly and cook for a further 15 minutes on the lowest setting. Serve hot.


Atoosa xx