Afghan Green Bean Saffron & Cinnamon Spiced Rice
Many of my clients ask about rice. Is it good? Is it bad? What about the glycemic index? It raises the blood sugar, doesn’t it? Rice is a plant-based grain that is consumed by millions of people around the world as a key carbohydrate source - so nothing to fear, right?
Dietitian's Intermission: If you are a diabetic and have been told to consume low glycemic index foods, I often advise that you also look into the glycemic load of foods as the glycemic index on its own is only half the story. Low glycemic index and low glycemic load foods are less likely to affect blood sugar, and therefore insulin levels. With that being said, rice is both a high glycemic index and high glycemic load food (versus many fruits, which are high glycemic index but low glycemic load).
So what does that mean? Is rice a ‘go for it’ or ‘limit it’ type of food? Let’s just say that for the same weight, you get more sugar in the bloodstream with rice than you would a bowl of watermelon (because watermelon is mostly water, as the name would suggest). But most people won’t opt for a bowl of watermelon in place of rice for dinner.
My short and sweet answer is this: enjoy your rice! Be mindful of the amount you serve yourself and stock up on the vegetable, lentil and bean side dishes to balance things out.
I realized I need to learn to make some traditional Afghan food before I get embarrassingly too old to ask. I can’t use the too-busy-studying-to-learn excuse anymore. This scrumptious rice dish was made with the assistance of someone who is very near and dear to me, and who also happens to be one of the best Afghan chefs I know: my aunt. So here it goes…
Light, fluffy, and moist. The warm yellow hue in this rice dish is imparted by aromatic and flavourful saffron, cinnamon and tomato paste. There are many variations to the rice dishes served in traditional Afghan cuisine – each with it’s own unique ingredients and spices.
Now there is one thing that most Afghan (or Persian) rice dishes have in common, and that is the love for something we call “tahdahgee”.
Dietitian's Definition: 'tahdahgee' literally translated to 'bottom of the pot'. A friend of mine likes to call it 'burnt rice'. This is the most treasured part of all rice dishes - if you know any Persian or Afghan people you can impress them with your knowledge of this word.
The tahdahgee a highly coveted part of the rice dish, and usually everyone is disappointed when/if the tahdahgee does not form. In essence, it’s the crispy rice that forms at the bottom and sides of the pot it’s cooked in.
Optional presentation: if you know that the tahdahgee has formed and you are using a non-stick pot you can place a plate on top of the pot, make sure to wear some oven mits, and then gently flip the pot upside down so the entire rice dish comes out as one uniform piece. Note that the rice is fluffy and not sticky rice you see when eating sushi – if it doesn’t work out don’t sweat it. It’s just fun when it works.
Afghan Green Bean Saffron & Cinnamon Spiced Rice
▸ ▹ Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free, nut-free
Yield: 4 servings
Soak Time: 2 hrs
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 40 min
Total Time: 2 hr 40 min
4 Tbsp (60 mL) oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 ½ cups (1 lb) green beans, chopped (can use frozen)
3 cups (750 mL) water
3 Tbsp (45 g) tomato paste
1 cup (185 g) dry basmati rice, soaked 2 hours
1 tsp (5 g) salt
2 tsp (10 g) cinnamon
1/8 tsp saffron (optional)
Add oil and onion to a large pot, stirring on high heat until the onions have browned.
Add the beans and water. Cover the pot, bring the beans to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are al dente (~15 minutes).
Add the remaining ingredients. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to medium and allow the dish to simmer until all the water has been absorbed by the rice ~ 10 minutes. Avoid stirring.
Using the end of a spoon, create several craters in the rice (see images below). Then cover the pot by placing a paper towel under the lid (see images below). Cook for an additional 15 minutes on low.
Taste test and ensure the rice is al dente. Enjoy while hot!
Optional presentation: if you know that the tahdahgee has formed and you are using a non-stick pot you can place a plate on top of the pot, make sure to wear some oven mitts, and then gently flip the pot upside down so the entire rice dish comes out as one uniform piece. If it doesn't work, don't sweat it. Not even the professionals can make it work each time.
In case you are wondering what I meant in the instructions about the ‘craters’ and ‘paper towel’ refer to these pictures. The craters in the rice serve to allow the moisture at the bottom to evaporate, while the paper towel serves to lock in the moisture so each grain of rice cooks thoroughly and evenly. This is a practice commonly followed in all Afghan/Persian rice preparations.