Ever since Starbucks took personalized beverages mainstream, we have become a culture of customization. We love designing our lives from top to bottom, from our homepages to our shoes. You can even put your photo on a bikini (try it on Anymatic) and create your own energy bars. We just can’t seem to get enough of having it our way.
So it’s no surprise that dinner in my house is a customized affair. And I don’t mean that everyone gets to order their own meal. But to insure that each of five appetites is satisfied, I have to deconstruct dishes down to their components. Grains, vegetables, protein and sauce each go into separate serving bowls. Then everyone can concoct a personalized feast.
This fragrant brown rice needs no embellishment but welcomes add-ons. The irresistible golden crust known as tah dig (or tahdeeg) is what Iranian cooks stake their reputations on. Because it takes careful technique to pull it off, I turned to Najmieh Batmanglij, the Ina Garten of Persian cooking. Her encyclopedic chapter on rice in Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies makes we wonder if we’re not the only ones obsessed with customizing.
There are two ways to cook the Chelow, or saffron steamed rice, the first being the more traditional stovetop method, which yields the thickest and crispiest tah dig. The rice cooker method requires less attention and is surprisingly easy to master. Though long-grain basmati rice is more traditional, brown basmati is my preference for a more rustic whole-grain spin. Turn it onto a serving dish, slice it into wedges, and serve it as a base for just about any sautéed or grilled vegetable or a meatless stew (see the ideas at the bottom of this recipe).
It’s that rare recipe to please all appetites. And if bespoke is the new black, I’m in.
Serves 8 as a side dish
2 cups brown basmati rice
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, Earth Balance or unsalted butter
A large pinch (about 1 teaspoon) saffron threads, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
1. In a large bowl, cover the rice with plenty of lukewarm water and swish around with your hands. Allow to soak for 1 – 3 hours, the longer the better (this process removes residual grit and starch, allowing the rice to give off a delightful perfume that unwashed rice does not have).
2. Stovetop Method: Drain the rice into a colander; bring a medium heavy pot (with a tight-fitting lid) of water and the salt to a boil (as if you were cooking pasta). Boil the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the rice is al dente. Drain the rice once again into the colander. Pour the oil into the bottom of the pot, stir in about a cup of par-cooked rice, a tablespoon of the saffron water and 1/2 cup of water, and spread it out flat with the back of the spoon. Now pour back the rest of the rice into the pot without stirring. Place a kitchen towel on top and cover with the lid. Allow to steam over a very low flame until fluffy, 40-50 minutes (be very careful the bottom is not burning). Check the rice and add water if needed to continue cooking until fluffy and dry. Remove from the heat to a damp surface (this will help free the crust from the bottom of the pot). Sprinkle the remaining saffron water on top and cover again. Allow the pot to cool for 10 minutes.
3. Rice Cooker Method: Drain the water from the rice and transfer the rice to the cooker. Pour in 2 cups of water (use the same cup used to measure the rice – you want a 1 to 1 ratio), salt and oil; give it a stir, close the machine and turn it on (use “Brown Rice” setting if there is one). Allow the rice to steam until the machine beeps (amount of time will depend on your cooker). Check the rice to make sure it is done, adding additional water and steam time if necessary. Without fluffing the rice, open the top and pour the saffron water over the top. Close the lid again, unplug the rice cooker and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Open the top and lift out the bowl. Place a serving platter over the bowl, grasp the two tightly together and invert the rice onto the platter. There should be a nice golden crust on top. Cut into wedges and serve.
Here are some ways to customize your Persian Saffron Brown Rice. Serve them on the side or mixed in:
— Sautéed onions, cooked lentils, currants, cinnamon and cumin, pine nuts
— Sautéed onions, dates, cardamom, pistachios
— Fresh mint, marinated artichokes hearts, cooked peas and lemon zest
— Chopped scallions and assorted fresh herbs
— Sautéed julienned carrots, dried apricot bits, dates, pistachios, orange zest, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon (Jeweled Rice)
— Fresh fava or lima beans sautéed with scallions, fresh dill and garlic
— Moroccan Tofu Stew
— Tofu Tikka Masala
— Spinach Paneer
— Green beans sautéed with garlic, tomatoes and lime zest, topped with roasted cashews
— Fresh (or canned in water) pitted tart cherries with their juice (reduced to a syrup), slivered almonds, cinnamon
— Sautéed onions and zucchini, tofu, garlic, lemon zest
— Sautéed onions and spinach, chick peas, yellow raisins, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, pine nuts
— Pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, roasted butternut squash, pomegranate molasses
You might also like these whole grain recipes:
- Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
- Quinoa Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Olives
- Mediterranean Couscous Salad
- Spring Green Farro Risotto
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Photo credit: Bon Appetit
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