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Originally published November 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 15, 2006 at 3:58 PM

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Vibrant albalou polo from Iran brightens up a holiday table

Elana Shippen steps from her Edmonds kitchen into her favorite room in her house — a glassed-in den — and takes in a sweeping...

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Elana Shippen steps from her Edmonds kitchen into her favorite room in her house — a glassed-in den — and takes in a sweeping view across Possession Sound. "From here we see Whidbey Island," she tells her American children. "From there we saw Iraq."

"There" was her native Abadan, the city on the Persian Gulf where Shippen lived before moving to the U.S. An Iranian Jew whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Iran to Iraq fleeing religious persecution, Shippen, 46, arrived in Seattle in 1978 — just weeks before the Shah of Iran was exiled from his country. She hasn't been back since.

Here she joined three of her seven siblings to study at the University of Washington, and together they spent her first Thanksgiving at the Mercer Island home of a cousin and his American wife. At the UW she met her future husband, Matt Shippen, and later joined his family to celebrate the holiday. Recalling her earliest contribution to the Shippen family feast, the accomplished home cook laughs and says, "I had to learn how to make mashed potatoes!"

These days, Elana and Matt invite family and friends to their own Thanksgiving table. "I have it easy," she says. "Matt's dad makes the turkey, his mom makes wonderful pies and his sister makes salads and side dishes."

She, meanwhile, is still making those mashed potatoes, but in addition, she prepares a cross-cultural contribution: Albalou Polo, sour-cherry rice.

That distinctive yet typical Persian preparation offers vibrant colors and glorious textures that lend themselves well to the occasion. The carefully steamed rice is bright with saffron, layered with sour cherries and garnished with pistachios and almonds and is served with gloriously crusty tah digue — the "golden crust" that lines the bottom of the pot, beloved by Iranians the world over. Shippen makes her tah digue not from the more traditional rice grains, sliced potatoes or Iranian flatbread, but from (shhh!) store-bought tortillas.

Nancy Leson on KPLU

Catch Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants every Wednesday on KPLU (88.5 FM) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m, and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Listen to "Waitresses who touch too much," her latest commentary.

Shippen, who loves to entertain, is as well-known among friends for hosting ravioli-making parties and making Greek treats as she is for introducing guests to the foods she learned to make as a child. Today she's passing on that tradition. "Our daughter loves Iranian food," she says of 15-year-old Nellie, who enjoys preparing family favorites like khoreshs (stews) and dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves).

Nellie's 12-year-old brother, Daniel, prefers Iranian food "in moderation," says his mother, and would rather eat pizza than khoresh bademjan — the eggplant stew she wooed his dad with back in college. But even Daniel can't resist Mom's saffron-scented sour-cherry rice. Served throughout the year as an accompaniment to roasted chicken, on Thanksgiving Day it's become the "other" cultural centerpiece at their festive family dinner.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com

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