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Kalam Polo: A Symphony of Flavours from Shiraz

Kalam Polo is a traditional dish from Shiraz, characterised by its combination of mini meatballs, kohlrabi, and dill. The dish includes meatballs seasoned with spices, paired with kohlrabi cut into matchsticks, and flavoured with lemon juice, which adds a tangy taste. The rice is layered with this mixture and various herbs, creating a dish that balances different flavours and textures.

In Shiraz, the dish is known for its use of kohlrabi and lemon juice, while in Karaj, it’s made with cabbage, minced meat, and saffron, showcasing regional variations. Kalam Polo is typically served with Salad Shirazi and torshi, offering a complete meal that reflects the culinary traditions of the region. The preparation involves cooking the rice and layering it with the meat and vegetable mixture, resulting in a dish that combines savoury meatballs, tangy kohlrabi, and aromatic rice.

Basic Ingredients for Kalam Polo

Kohlrabi Mixture:

Onions: Used in both the kohlrabi mixture and the meatballs, onions add a foundational flavour. They provide sweetness when cooked down and help to bind the meatball mixture.

Kohlrabi: This key ingredient adds a crisp texture and a mildly sweet, turnip-like flavour to the dish. It’s used for its unique taste and ability to absorb the flavours around it.

Saffron: A quintessential Persian spice, saffron offers a distinctive aroma and imparts a beautiful golden colour to the dish, enhancing its visual appeal and flavour profile.

Lemon Juice: Added to the kohlrabi, lemon juice introduces a tangy element that balances the dish’s richness and provides a refreshing contrast.


Minced Beef: The protein component, minced beef, is seasoned and formed into meatballs, adding a savoury, hearty element to the dish.

Spices (Garlic Powder, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Turmeric): This blend of spices contributes depth and complexity, each adding its own characteristic flavour, contributing to the overall savoury and slightly spiced profile of the dish.

Herbs (Dill, Tarragon, Basil): These herbs add freshness and a layer of flavour complexity, enhancing the dish’s aromatic quality.


alternative ingredients

Cabbage: Can replace kohlrabi for a different texture and a slightly sweeter taste.

Lamb: Lamb can be used instead of beef for the meatballs, offering a different flavour profile.

Rice Varieties: Basmati is preferred for its fragrance and texture, but other long-grain rice can be used.

Preparation Tips for Kalam Polo

  • Rinsing and Soaking Rice: Thoroughly rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Soaking the rice before cooking helps achieve a fluffier texture, as it allows the grains to absorb water and expand, which prevents them from breaking during cooking.
  • Meatball Preparation: When preparing the meatballs, ensure that the minced onions are well-drained to prevent the mixture from becoming too wet. Mixing the meat and spices thoroughly ensures that the flavours are well distributed. Forming the meatballs into uniform sizes helps them cook evenly.
  • Sautéing Kohlrabi: Cook the kohlrabi until tender but still holds its shape. This adds texture to the dish. Adding lemon juice while cooking helps to soften the kohlrabi and infuse it with flavor.
  • Layering: The way you layer the rice and the kohlrabi-meatball mixture is crucial. Start with a layer of rice, then add the meatball mixture, followed by more rice. This ensures even cooking and flavour distribution. The herbs should be layered in between the rice for maximum aroma.
  • Cooking the Rice: After assembling the layers, cook the rice on low heat to allow it to steam properly. This gentle cooking method helps the flavors meld together and ensures the rice is cooked perfectly without being mushy.
  • Checking for Doneness: Test the rice for doneness towards the end of the cooking time. The bottom layer should have a slight crust (tahdig), which is highly prized in Persian cuisine.
  • Resting Before Serving: Once cooked, let the Kalam Polo sit for a few minutes before serving. This resting period allows the flavors to settle and the rice to firm up slightly, making it easier to serve.

Serving Tips for Kalam Polo

  • Garnish the dish with fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice to enhance its freshness.
  • Serve Kalam Polo with sides like Salad Shirazi and Torshi to complement the flavours.

storage tips

  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
  • Reheat gently, adding a little water or broth to prevent the rice from drying out.

Kalam Polo

Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


Kohlrabi Mixture

  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 kg kohlrabi, cut into matchsticks
  • pinch of saffron
  • ¼ cup lemon juice


  • 1 kg minced beef
  • 3 onions, minced, extra liquid drained
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • ¼ tsp cardamon powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of ground saffron


  • 5 cups rice
  • 1 cup dried dill
  • 1 cup dried tarragon
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • pinch of saffron, diluted in 2 tbsp water


  • Rinse the rice thoroughly and soak it in water with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  • To prepare the meatballs, in a medium bowl, combine the minced beef, minced onions, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, cinnamon powder, turmeric, cardamom powder, and ground saffron. Thoroughly mix until fully combined and shape into mini meatballs. The smaller, the better.
  • In a large frying pan, add a drizzle of vegetable oil, add the mini meatballs, and over medium-high heat, brown the meatballs. Toss to ensure all sides are evenly browned.
  • In a large pan, sauté the onions until they become translucent. Add the kohlrabi and sauté for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through; the kohlrabi will reduce in volume. Add the lemon juice and saffron. Add the cooked meatballs to the mixture, and combine. Reserve 2 cups of the mixture to garnish the rice, and use the remaining to layer in the rice when it is steam cooking.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add the soaked and drained rice. Cook the rice until it is half-cooked, then drain the water.
  • In a large pot, add a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, a little oil and saffron water. Add one-third of the parboiled rice, followed by a layer of the mixed fresh herbs and dried dill, and finally a layer of the kohlrabi and meat mixture. Repeat the steps with another layer of one-third of the parboiled rice and the rest of the fresh herbs and dried dill. The final layer should be the remaining parboiled rice.
  • In a small cup, mix ½ cup of hot water with 3 tablespoons of melted butter and a pinch of saffron. Sprinkle the mixture over the rice. Once the rice starts to steam, wrap the pot lid with a kitchen towel, lower the heat, and cook for about 45-50 minutes. The towel will absorb the excess condensed steam, allowing the rice to become fluffy.
  • Serve with Salad Shirazi and Torshi.

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