Kalam Polow Shirazi ~ Cabbage Rice from Shiraz

by My Persian Kitchen on February 2, 2011

A while back one of the readers requested Kalam Polow, rice with cabbage.  This type of rice is not something that I grew up eating because neither my grandmother or my mom made it.  Actually, neither one of them ever made anything with cabbage.  Truth be told when I was introduced to cabbage I simply didn’t care for it because of the smell. I have to give credit to my Korean friend Jackie who gradually helped me like cabbage.  In fact about ten years ago she introduced me to her beloved Kimchi. Oh my! My nose couldn’t handle the smell of the fermented cabbage and garlic let alone my taste buds. But alas, there was a transition at some point and I have grown to like Kimchi, a lot.

I was talking to my mom last week and asked her if she knew a recipe for Kalam polow and sure enough she said she didn’t because it’s not something that she makes. My dilemma was that I had only had Kalam polow twice before. Once about 20 years ago and once last year. If memories serves me correctly, the first time the polow was simply made with rice, cabbage and meatballs. However, the version that I had last year had tomato in it. My mom enlightened me that folks from Shiraz make Kalam Polow often.

I immediately emailed my Shirazi cousins Firouzeh, Nilou, and Nastaran who enjoy cooking to ask them for the recipe. SCORE!!! Both Firouzeh and Nastaran sent over their recipes and I went to work.  I had to do a little experimenting because in true Persian style I only was given a list of ingredients. Much to my surprise the Shirazi version of this rice has herbs in it, specifically, it has Persian basil which to the best of my knowledge is never used in other types of polow! The end result was simply delicious!

This is the first recipe for Kalam Polow, I will make the other two types as well and posted in the future as well.


3 cups rice
6 cups of shredded cabbage
1 onion
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp turmeric
2 cups fresh parsley, packed
2 cups fresh cilantro, packed
2 cups chives
2 cups Persian basil
1/2 cup tarragon
1 cup fresh dill (or 3 tbsp dry dill)
2 tbsp dried summer savory
salt & pepper

First grate onion and add to ground beef. Season with salt and pepper and make small meatballs about the size of hazelnuts.

Cook meatballs. You will probably have to do this in two batches. I didn’t add any oil to my pan because the ground beef was a bit more fatty than I like it to be. I warmed up my pan until it was super hot then added the meatballs. I kept an eye on them and shook the pan about two minutes later. I kept shaking the pan every minute until the fat melted and the juices came out. It worked out perfectly.

In the mean time shred your cabbage.

Add a bit of oil to a pan and saute cabbage until cooked. Season with salt and pepper and add turmeric. The cabbage needs to be done in batches as there is quite a bit of it.

Chop herbs. Season with salt and mix together.

Make rice according to Cooking Rice for Polow post.

Once your rice has been parboiled built layers in a non-stick pot by adding 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Shake pot to mix them together and add a thin layer of rice. Then add a 1/3 of herbs and 1/3 of cabbage. Cover with another layer of rice.

Repeat layering with herbs but this time add all of the meatballs and then the cabbage on top. Do one more layer of rice, herbs, and cabbage. Finish off with a layer of white rice. With the back of a spatula make 5 holes in the rice making sure not to touch the bottom of the pot.

Cover and cook rice on high for 10 minutes.  Mix 1 tablespoon of canola oil with 2 tablespoons of water and pour over rice. Alternatively, you can also simply cut 2 tablespoons of butter into several pieces and put it on top of the rice.  Place a towel over the lid and cook on low for 1 hour.

Thanks Firouzeh and Nastaran for this awesome recipe! I can’t wait to make it again because I liked it THAT much!!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

kim lambert February 2, 2011 at 11:48 am

this is one of my favorite dishes. i think rasht might have it’s own version also. i’ll see if i can find it in writing for you.

sarahworldcook @ homestyleworldcook.blogspot.com February 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

What is the difference between persian basil and italian or other types of basil? Can we substitute the other types more easily found in U.S. supermarkets? This looks so good- I can’t wait to try it.

My Persian Kitchen February 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm

@ Kim, I’d love to have the Rashti version of this dish!!

@ Sarah, good question! Yes, there is a huge difference between Persian basil and regular basil. There are actually a few different types of basil that no only look different but taste and smell different. Persian basil is the same as lemon basil. It has a hint of lemon to it and it’s simply delicious!!

Sana February 8, 2011 at 11:22 am

I really enjoy your recipes. This is one of my fav dishes, being from Shiraz I remember my mom adding lemon juice to the cabbage after she sauted it. She then let it cook for 10 mins with the lid on for the lemon juicve to get absorbed. Also she added arde nokhodchi (chickpea flour i guess?) to the meat so the meatballs wouldn’t fall apart. But your version is great too:)

C. Mohammadi February 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Your version sounds good, however, I learned mine from a girlfriend.

Cook chopped onions in oil and add ground turkey. Cook until turkey is done then remove from pan. Add a little more oil and chopped cabbage. Cook until almost tender, adding a little water to steam, if necessary. Add back the cooked turkey and onion mixture to cabbage. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin seed and about two tablespoons of tomato paste. After all is combined, taste for seasoning and add more salt or cumin seed if needed. Layer this mixture with parboiled rice as with any polow. Steam for about 45 to 60 minutes.

This is absolutely delicious and it was the first time I had tasted cumin (zereh) in Persian food. It is my daughter’s favorite and she’s American.

I don’t particularly care for sour Kalam polow (lemoo omani added) as some cooks prepare it.

Give it a try…I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Larissa July 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Is the Persian basil in this recipe the dried basil found in Persian stores?
Let me know so I can try out this dish. Am going to St Louis and hopefully there is a Persian store there. In Austin Tx there was a Lebanese store that sold Persian stuff…but now I live in the middle of cornfields in Illinois!

Jaleh December 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I just found your site and love it! My American mom taught me how to cook Persian food (she learned from my Persian dad and a cousin who lived with them early in their marriage). This dish is a favorite in my family but we make it rather differently:

I cut a small head of cabbage into 1-inch squares, rinse and put it into a dutch oven with a little bit of oil in the bottom. Then it steams/sautees until the cabbage cooks down and is soft (but not browned). Meanwhile, I saute 1 1/4 pounds of ground beef or turkey with a chopped onion in a skillet. I drain the liquid then add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp (mild) curry powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. My mother always added a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, but I usually use ketchup which does the same thing without leaving a half of can of tomato paste left over. Then I layer the rice, meat and cabbage and cook as usual for polo.

I usually serve it with grilled (or microwaved) tomato slices and sumac for those who like a little sour added. My kids LOVE it. It’s cheap and easy to make!

Rana March 16, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I just discovered your site and I am loving it. I just finished making Kofteh Hulu following your recipe which came out great!! I am from Shiraz and my Mom used to make kalam polo all the time,and I know In “Kalam polo shirazi” they use Kohlrabi instead of cabbage and lots of taregan and other herbs ,which I don’t know….I couldn’t find this version of Kalam polo in your site….hopefully one of these days. Thank you so much .

Heidi December 5, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Many thanks for taking the time to share your cooking knowledge and experience with the Iranian ex-pats. I have used many of your recipes and always enjoyed the results.

As a proud Shirazi, I am also used to the version of the Kalam Polow described above by Sana; that is, using lemon juice to saute the cabbage (or Kohlrabi) and adding chickpea flour to the meatballs. I suppose that has something to do with the facts that 50 years ago lemon and orange trees could be found in front of very house in Shiraz and chickpea was (and, I believe, still is) a staple food of the Pars province.

I may be wrong, but I believe you have left out cumin (or polow spice) from the list of ingredients.

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