Persian jewel rice
I recently bought “Persiana: Recipes from the middle east and beyond“, a book by Sabrina Ghayour, and so far I love what I tried. Persian cuisine is known for its rice dishes and one of the recipes that intrigued me was her Persian Bejeweled Rice (Morassa Polow), cooked differently than what I have seen before.
Ghaour boils the rice in plenty of water for 8 minutes, then drains and rinses it. She then returns it to a pot and mount it into a pyramid shape over parchment paper with butter, oil and salt. She does not add any extra liquids. Then she steams the rice in the pot, covered, for 1 hour on very low heat.
The “jewels” in the rice dish are barberries, almonds and pistachios, cooked in yet more butter and oil and gently mixed into the rice once it’s cooked.
The fringe benefit of cooking the rice this way is a caramelized layer of rice at the bottom of the pot called tahdig that you can serve alongside for those who love the burnt bits, or keep it to yourself as the cook’s prerogative.
I followed the directions precisely only adjusting with a couple of ingredients I did not have and the dish was outstanding. Granted, it is sweet, but unique in flavour and was an adventure to make. One ingredient I was lacking were the barberries, apparently sour smallish red berries that are part of this cuisine that add a tangy flavour. My friend Hulda advised to substitute with dried sour cherries or with dried currants soaked in lemon juice for 15 minutes. I also did not have sour orange peel and used the peel of an orange, cooking it with the fruits, nuts and sugar to be mixed into the rice.
The recipe calls for 2.5 cups rice and yields a large amount. You can try and cut it by half if you need less. Next time I make it I will reduce the amount of butter and see if it works just the same.
2 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped
1/3 cup barberries or substitute currants soaked in lemon juice for 15 minutes
Slivered zest from 1 small orange
Fill a heavy pot with water and bring to a boil (I used Le Creuset).
Add the rice all at once and continue boiling for exactly 8 minutes.
Drain the rice immediately and rinse thoroughly to cool it down and remove the starch.
Rinse the pot if necessary and dry.
Place a round of parchment on the bottom of the pot and add the oil, butter and salt.
Place over low heat and let the butter melt.
Add the rice, scattering it over the bottom and then building it up into a pyramid with a peak in the middle.
Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean towel (see image) and cover the pot. This helps trap the steam inside the pot.
Cook on lowest heat for one hour. Since ingredients and cooking equipment differ, check the rice once through the cooking to gage when it will be ready.
When ready the rice should be white and fluffy.
Remove from heat and keep covered.
Place oil and butter in a large skillet.
Add the sugar, almonds, pistachios, berries or currants, slivered orange peel and cook on medium-heat until the butter and sugar melt.
Reduce heat and continue cooking until nuts are fragrant but do not let the mixture brown or burn.
Remove from heat.
Remove most of the rice from the pot into a bowl, leaving the bottom quarter of the rice in the pot.
Add the nuts and fruit mixture to the rice and mix gently.
Add salt to taste
At the bottom of the pot over the round of parchment you will find a delicious caramelized layer of rice. Remove it to a plate and serve alongside the jewel rice or keep for yourself. This is much like the what we know as soccarat, the treasured crusty, crispy bottom part of the Spanish paella.