Lunchtime in Iran: A Simple Cooking Technique to Share Rice with Baby

In Iranian homes, families often have a beloved polo recipe that they have made their own with influences from near and far. Some add meat, others use butter instead of oil, and vegetable medleys and spices vary from one household to the next. The cooking method also varies. In Iran’s capital city of Tehran, Yasmin Darbandi likes to use a simple technique: parboiling.

To parboil means to partially cook food in boiling water. For rice, that simply means cooking the grains like noodles and pasta. Yasmin uses this cooking technique because it “can reduce much of the arsenic in white rice” that she likes to share with her 10-month-old daughter, Nikoo, at mealtime.

It may sound alarming to think about arsenic in our food, but chemicals are present in our air, soil, water, and much of our food, and arsenic is permitted in trace amounts in rice. That’s why lots of people like to parboil rice before cooking for baby. 

In addition to parboiling the rice, Yasmin adds spices to Nikoo’s food to help her daughter build familiarity with the flavors that she loves. She seasons her estamboli polo with black pepper, saffron, and turmeric, and she encourages experimentation by mixing and matching spices to suit your taste. “This is a very simple, but delicious dish that you can make your own,” she says.

Nikoo and mother Yasmin enjoy estamboli polo together.

Community Recipe: The Darbandi Family’s Estamboli Polo to Share with Baby

Yield: 3 cups (720 milliliters)

Cook Time: 1 ½ hours

Age: 6 months+

By Yasmin Darbandi

In Iranian cooking, polo (also known as pilaf) is both an everyday food and a beloved ingredient in celebratory feasts like Charshanbe Soori, Nowruz, and Sizdah Be-dar. It can be dressed up with dried fruits, nuts, and herbs or simply seasoned with your favorite vegetables and spices. Yasmin recommends serving the dish with sālād shirāzi, a refreshing side serving the dish with sālād shirāzi, a refreshing side of cucumber and tomato seasoned with lemon juice and dried mint. As she points out, you can cut some of the cucumber and tomato into age-appropriate sizes based on your baby’s eating skills.


This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (yogurt). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced. Be sure to check the ingredient list on the label of yogurt for other potential allergens and age-appropriate ingredients like honey, which should not be given to babies under 12 months of age.


  1. Bring 4 cups (1 liter) of water to a boil. Add the rice to the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain the rice. Set the rice aside.
  2. Wash and dry the potato and tomato, then peel the potato. Finely chop the vegetables.
  3. Warm the oil in a large skillet set on medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the potato and stir to coat in the oil. Cook until the potato starts to soften, about 10 minutes. Next, stir in the tomato. Cook until the tomato softens, about 10 minutes more. 
  4. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. This step is optional: you can omit the tomato paste to lower the acidity for baby and leave out the spices if you prefer. Or flavor the dish with whatever spices suit your tastes. Cinnamon, coriander, cumin—they all taste delicious!
  5. Add the drained rice to the skillet and stir to coat in the tomato mixture. 
  6. Pour 2 cups (480 milliliters) of water into the skillet. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to create a gentle simmer.   
  7. Cook the estamboli polo until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture rest for 10 minutes. 
  8. Scoop some estamboli polo into baby’s bowl. Serving size varies. Let a child decide how much to eat. Once the rice is cool enough to handle, use your hands to roll a spoonful or two into a ball for baby to grab and munch. For young babies, mash some yogurt into the estamboli in baby’s bowl. The yogurt helps bind the grains into a soft, scoopable texture and balances bold flavors from spices. 
  9. Season estamboli polo for adults and older children with salt to taste. Keep warm while baby’s food cools to room temperature. 
  10. Offer the rice ball and the bowl of estamboli polo to baby. Let the child self-feed with hands. If baby needs help, pass a preloaded spoon in the air for baby to grab from you.   

To Store: Estamboli Polo keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. 

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