This is one of Iran’s classic dishes: perfectly steamed, elongated grains of rice with a buttery saffron crust known as tahdeeg. It can take a bit of trial and error to get tahdeeg just right but is well worth the effort so just have some fun with it and give it a go. As there is no specific water-to- rice ratio when you cook Persian rice, you can adapt the recipe to cook any amount of rice by following this method. Just be sure to use a heavy-based, non-stick pan with a snug-fitting lid and have a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper to hand for lining the lid.
2 cups white basmati rice
1 large tortilla or piece of Persian lavaash bread
1/4 tsp saffron strands
Pinch of granulated sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Wash the rice under cold running water until the water runs clear and then leave it to soak in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt (don’t worry the rice won’t absorb much of this as it is only in the water for a short time). Add the rice and boil for approximately 6-7 minutes until the rice is al dente and half-cooked. You can test this by having a bite, you want it to be soft on the outside but still a bit firm in the middle. Drain the rice, rinse it with cold water and set aside.
Grind the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar in a pestle and mortar and then add 3 tablespoons of just boiled water. Steep for 5 minutes.
Cut the tortilla or flatbread into a circular shape to fit the base of your saucepan. Then place the saucepan over a medium heat and add half the butter along with the sunflower oil and a pinch of salt. Add 1 tablespoon of saffron liquid and when the oil is hot, add your disk of bread to the pot.
Begin spooning the rice gently into the pan, ladle by ladle. You want to keep some air between the grains so they can stay separate whilst cooking so don’t just throw it all in.
Once all the rice is in the pot, use the end of a wooden spoon to make 4 holes in the rice and dot the remaining butter on top along with the rest of the saffron liquid and another 3 tablespoons of water.
Place a few pieces of kitchen paper or a clean tea towel on top of the rice and place the lid on it tightly. Cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat and 20 minutes over a very low heat. Do not be tempted to sneak a peak while it is cooking as it will spoil the cooking process!
After 20 minutes, take the rice off the heat and leave it to stand for 5 minutes.
To turn it over, fill the sink with a few centimeters of cold water and then place the pot in it with the lid still tightly on. The cold water will produce a rush of steam inside the pot which will release the crispy base.
Take the lid of the pot and place a large plate over it. Quickly and deftly turn it over and voila! You should have a beautiful golden Persian rice cake.
Recipe by Yasmin Khan, adapted from The Saffron Tales: Recipes From the Persian Kitchen
Copyright 2016 Yasmin Khan. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.