The Beer Lover's Table: Persian Spiced Rice and Lentils with Spring Herbs and Allagash White

It always struck me as counterintuitive that our New Year falls in the dead of winter, when the world is cold and dormant and the possibility of new growth feels many months away.

That conviction only deepened after I read Samin Nosrat’s 2017 New York Times piece on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which coincides with the spring equinox. Why wouldn’t the start of spring be the moment to really ring in the fresh, the new?

Nowruz is a fittingly verdant holiday, and days of herb-laden dishes (such as kuku sabzi, an egg dish made with so many herbs that it’s vivid green) are eaten in celebration. As our own spring has slowly dragged itself out of bed this grey, rainy year, those thoughts of greenery and fresh herbs have stayed close at hand.

So when I stumbled upon Nasim Alikhani’s recent recipe for Adas Polo ba Khorma – Persian spiced rice and lentils, featuring caramelised onions and ample quantities of herbs – I felt inspired to make a similar version. This time, I left out the original recipe’s chopped dates and added pistachios for crunch, as well as extra spices (including some luxuriant threads of saffron). The result is hearty but bright, prismatically textured, and alive with the hope and possibility of the season.

A beer that feels similar in sensibility to this dish – and among my most beloved – is Allagash White, which hails from Portland, Maine, and is back on these fair shores after several years away. It, too, is a beer that sings of spring, with its lightness and spritziness. But like this dish, it’s also far from simplistic and those additions of citrus and coriander seed, the fullness of its body, lend it a beautiful balance and complexity. Together, they sate me and lift me.

After months of darkness, it can be hard to believe in spring. But with every warm day and emerging leaf, the hope of the new feels a little closer at hand.

Persian Spiced Rice and Lentils with Spring Herbs
Adapted from NYT Cooking
Serves 8-10

3 large brown onions, thinly sliced
250ml vegetable oil
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste
250g green lentils, rinsed
Fine sea salt, to taste
200g pistachios
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
475g basmati rice
1 litre water
Large pinch saffron
100g fresh mint
60g fresh coriander
20g fresh dill
Juice of 1 lemon
Greek-style yoghurt, to serve

1. First, fry the onions. Place a large frying pan over high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once hot, add half the onions. Fry, using a tong to stir and flip, for roughly 6-8 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined bowl or colander, and season with flaky sea salt. Repeat with the second batch of onions. Set aside the frying oil.

2. Meanwhile, while the onions are frying, cook the lentils. Bring a medium pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Add the lentils and cook according to package instructions until tender but not falling apart. Drain and set aside.

3. Toast the pistachios. Place a small frying pan over medium-low heat and add the nuts. Toast, tossing frequently, for 5-7 minutes, or until golden-brown and fragrant. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

4. Next, prepare the rice. Place a Dutch oven or other large, lidded pan over medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved, onion-scented frying oil. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and toast for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the remaining spices and toast for 30 seconds before pouring in the rice. Toast the rice in the spiced oil, stirring to coat, for 1-2 minutes. Then, add the water and 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt.

5. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Wrap the lid in a clean dish towel (this will help soak up excess moisture and prevent the rice from getting soggy) and place tightly over the pot. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the rice to steam for an additional 10 minutes without removing the lid.

6. While the rice cooks, place a large pinch of saffron in a ramekin and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of hot water. Next, very finely chop the mint, coriander and dill.

7. When the rice has cooked, remove the lid and mix through ¾ of the fried onions, the cooked lentils, and the toasted pistachios. Drizzle over the saffron threads and water, and stir through the chopped herbs. Squeeze over the juice of 1 lemon. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

8. To serve, divide between plates or bowls and garnish with the remaining fried onions. Serve with generous dollops of Greek yoghurt.

Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus expert tasting notes, with 10 world-class beers like this one every month.