This is an amazing recipe: it is rather simple ingredient-wise, though the preparation is somewhat involved. After searching through and looking at a lot of Arabic dishes for this month's Cook Around the Globe, I was at first a bit skeptical about Persian food. Not that I hadn't heard great things about bit - after all, check the title of the cookbook I found this recipe in! But rather, at a first glance (!), Persian cuisine doesn't use the same variety of spices that other countries in the Middle East do. However, the first spoonful of this fantastic dish made the meaning of the word "legendary" completely clear to me. It still blows my mind how such few and simple ingredients can come together in such an amazing way. This immediately became a new family favorite and will surely find its way on table again, many times.
Ingredients (2-3 servings):10-15 threads saffron
2 cup basmati rice
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
225 g (1/2 pound) canned sour cherries, lightly drained
Make sure your saffron is completely dry. (To dry it, place the saffron in a mortar and in the warm oven for a few minutes.) Crush the saffron to a fine powder with the pestle. Add 2-3 tsp warm water and leave to infuse until the water turns orange. Wash the rice thoroughly in water. (I do that by placing a fine mashed strainer in a plastic bowl. I pour the rice in the strainer and then fill water in the bowl, enough to cover the rice by about 1 inch. I move the rice around with my hand until the water gets clouded from the starch. Repeat this once or twice, then rinse the rice with water.) Cover the rice with water by 1 inch. (Leave the rice in the strainer.) Add 1 tbsp salt and let soak for at least 3 hours. Bring 1 quart water with 1 tbsp salt to a rapid boil in a 1.5 - 2 quart pot. Drain the rice (simply by lifting the strainer out of the bowl) and pour into the boiling water. Boil for 2-3 minutes. After 2 minutes, test the rice: it should be soft on the outside but still firm inside. Strain the rice and rinse with lukewarm water. Toss gently in the strainer. Rinse the pot and put back on the stove on medium-high heat. Add oil and 2 tbsp water. (I used a non-stick pot. You might need more oil for stainless steel or other cookware.) Bring to a sizzle. Sprinkle a layer of rice on the bottom. Spread 1/3 of the cherries on top. Continue layering the ingredients, finishing with rice and building up a conical shape. With the handle of a wooden spoon, poke 2-3 hole through the rice to the bottom of the pan. (At this point, I pour the saffron over the rice.) Wrap the lid of the pot in a clean kitchen towel and cover the pot firmly. Leave on hight heat until rice is steaming (about 1-2 minutes), then reduce heat to low and steam for 30 minutes. Remove pot to a wet cold surface and let stand for 1-2 minutes. Remove lid and place a serving dish upside down on the pot. Invert both to serve the rice with the crust on top.
- Alternative if you haven't poured the saffron over the rice before: Uncover pot and take 2-3 tbsp rice to be mixed with the saffron liquid. Place remaining rice and cherries in a serving dish and top with the saffron rice. Serve the crust broken up on a different plate.
- In the original recipe, they pour 2 tbsp clarified butter all over the dish for serving. I wanted to cut down the calories, so I skipped this option.)
- Note: The original recipe uses fresh sour cherries, cooked with a lot of sugar; I found the canned Sour Cherries from Trader Joe's worked well enough.
(recipe adapted from: "The Legendary Cuisine of Persia" by Margaret Shaida)