Baghali Pollow with Quinoa (Persian-Style Quinoa and Beans with Chicken)

This adaptation of baghali pollow, a traditional Persian layered rice dish, is made with quinoa instead of basmati rice. Plenty of fresh herbs and fragrant spices and protein trifecta of protein—quinoa, chicken and beans—ensure the dish is both flavorful and satisfying.

Baghali Pollow in bowls

Ali Redmond

Active Time:
55 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 30 mins

Growing up, rice was a staple in my home, integral to my Iranian and Trinidadian cultural traditions. Rice was both a savory and sweet treat, bought by the 10-pound bag. Rice—particularly white basmati rice—was life. In fact, for my Persian relatives, how well you can make rice is a direct reflection on your skill as a cook and your character as a person.

So imagine my horror when, diagnosed with prediabetes, I found white rice on the list of dietary no-nos. To say I was crushed is an understatement.

“No rice?” I wailed to a Persian friend. “Why even live?”

My reaction may seem melodramatic, but without rice so much of the food of my cultural heritage disappeared. Cue the end of comfort food: A must-have with saucy West Indian stewed chicken or vegetable-rich Persian stews, rice could also be saffron- or coconut-flavored pudding. Rice flour was a key ingredient in crumbly, rose-scented cookies enjoyed with cardamom-flavored black tea. 

For me the greatest loss was pollow (also spelled polo)—fluffy layered rice dishes that are often considered the crown jewel of Persian cuisine. Long-grained basmati rice is steamed in alternating layers with herbs, vegetables, meats and even dried fruit, seasoned with turmeric, saffron, cumin, cinnamon and rose. Both delicate and hearty, these dishes were adopted from Iran by India’s Mughal emperors in the 16th century, ultimately evolving into the biryani so beloved in Indian restaurants. It is from the Farsi word “pollo” that the word “pilaf” is derived.

Unwilling to give up this wonder of ancient cuisine, I desperately cast around for an alternative that wouldn’t spike my blood sugar yet would still provide the complexity of taste and texture as rice in a pollow. As with a traditional pollow, the goal was to find a grain that could hold up to the layering process as well as hold its own within a myriad of flavors—both acting as a backdrop and offering another dimension to the dish. Good basmati rice, for example, has an almost nutty flavor and aroma. The substitute I sought had a lot to live up to.

At first, I experimented with brown basmati rice. And while this fulfills high-fiber requirements for gut health and has a lower glycemic index than white rice, I find that brown rice simply does not cook up “fluffy” like its white counterpart. Plus, the brown rice grains shortened when cooking, retaining a chewy texture. Since lightness is a key to Persian pollows, brown rice wasn’t a good substitute.

Next, I tried white quinoa—knowing that, eaten in moderation, its nutritional value can be a boon to those managing diabetes or prediabetes. A cup of quinoa has double the protein and about 6 grams fewer carbohydrates as a cup of brown rice, along with more fiber. Unlike brown rice, quinoa also has essential amino acids, making it a complete protein—one of the few plant products that have that distinction. Like brown rice, quinoa is dense in mineral micronutrients.

But the real jackpot was how it behaved in a pollow: Quinoa cooks up light and fluffy. A seed rather than a grain, it also has a slightly nutty flavor, reminiscent of white basmati rice.

While many Persian pollows are made with lamb or beef in a tomato-based sauce, I particularly like to use quinoa for baghali pollow, which features lima beans or fava beans, lots of fresh spring herbs and chicken cooked in a light turmeric and saffron sauce. The green, herbaceous flavors don’t overpower the quinoa, allowing it to offer a textural backdrop without losing its place in the dish.

But substituting quinoa for basmati rice in baghali pollow required adapting the dish from its traditional method. Normally, the rice is parboiled and drained and then placed in a pot in alternating layers with herbs, beans and cooked chicken. Once all the layers are complete, they are smoothed into a pyramid shape using a rubber spatula, and butter or olive oil is drizzled on top, along with a small amount of water. The dish is then tightly covered and allowed to steam over very low heat until the rice is cooked.

Quinoa, on the other hand, does not require the same treatment since it’s a fast-cooking grain that needs hard boiling for the seeds to burst open. Because of this, a pollow made with quinoa is, essentially, a one-pot dish that can be made without the layering—cutting cooking time down considerably. Now that’s something to live for: comfort food unlocked, all while maintaining a healthy prediabetes diet.

Ingredients for Baghali Pollow.

Ali Redmond


  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron

  • 3 ice cubes

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cubed (1-inch)

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

  • 2 cups white quinoa, rinsed well

  • 1 bunch fresh dill, minced, plus more for serving

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, minced, plus more for serving

  • 1 bunch fresh chives, minced, plus more for serving

  • 2 cloves garlic, halved

  • 2 cups frozen lima beans or shelled edamame


  1. Place saffron in a small bowl and add ice cubes. Set aside until the ice melts, about 45 minutes.

  2. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add oil and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chicken, salt, turmeric, cumin and pepper; mix well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, 5 to 6 minutes. Add broth and 1 tablespoon reserved saffron water. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced by one-third and the chicken is cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes.

  3. Add quinoa, dill, parsley, chives and garlic to the pot. Stir to combine, then stir in beans (or edamame). Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Cover tightly and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in the remaining saffron water before serving. Garnish with more herbs, if desired.

    Cooking Baghali Pollow in a pot and adding red liquid.

    Ali Redmond, April 2024

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

392 Calories
8g Fat
41g Carbs
38g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 8
Serving Size 1 cup
Calories 392
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 41g 15%
Dietary Fiber 7g 25%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 38g 76%
Total Fat 8g 11%
Saturated Fat 1g 7%
Cholesterol 83mg 28%
Vitamin A 54µg
Vitamin C 13mg 15%
Vitamin D 0µg
Vitamin E 2mg 14%
Folate 146µg
Vitamin K 130µg
Sodium 254mg 11%
Calcium 61mg 5%
Iron 5mg 26%
Magnesium 146mg 35%
Potassium 1047mg 22%
Zinc 3mg 26%
Vitamin B12 0µg
Omega 3 0g

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

Related Articles