There is nothing I love more in Persian cuisine than the rice. Don’t get me wrong, the kabobs, stews and plates of fresh herbs with feta are divine, but there’s something about the rice that always screams comfort food. My favorite preparation is when the rice is cooked at the bottom of the pot until a crispy bottom, Tah-deeg (which literally means “bottom of the pot”), is formed. It’s the part of the dish that could ruin friendships as each person fights for that last, crunchy bite. I recently learned the art of making Persian rice from an expert, my friend Negin’s mom.
Rice is a major staple of the Iranian diet, and while it used to be enjoyed only by the wealthy while the poorer ate bread, today it’s enjoyed by all. There are dozens of combinations of rice dishes. Some of my favorites are layered with fava beans and dill, chicken with barbarries and pistachios, slivered almonds and orange peel, and always with the delicate flavor of saffron. When I mentioned that making Persian rice was an art, I meant it. It’s a process that differs from every way I was taught to cook rice in the past. It starts with the rice itself. A good quality Basmati or Jasmine rice is the foundation of the dish. It seems to me that good quality ingredients lovingly prepared in simple dishes is what Persian cuisine is all about.
For my first attempt at Persian rice with Tah-deeg I decided to layer my rice with barbarries and pistachios. I watched over every step of the rice cooking, worried that I would inevitably fail to make this heavenly dish on my own. In the end, my Tah-deeg came out irresistibly crispy and the flavors were spot on, but the other rice still wasn’t as fluffy as I’d hoped. I’m going to take my teacher’s advice and continue to practice. Below is the recipe (as I recollected it from watching her in the kitchen).
Persian Rice with Barberries, Pistachio, and Tah-Deeg
- 2 Cups Good Quality Basmati or Jasmine Rice
- 1/4 Cup Dried Barberries
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Pistachios
- 2-3 Pinches of Good Quality Saffron
- 1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt
- 1 Egg
- 1 Tsp Rose Water
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- Water & Salt for Cooking
Soak your rice in cold salted water (two large pinches of salt) for two hours. After two hours have passed, rinse the rice once or twice with cold water before putting into non-stick pot (just the rice, not the water you rinsed with). Add water to cover the rice and two large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down slightly and let cook for about 10 minutes. A few minutes before your rice is done, add a cup of cold water. This apparently shocks the rice, elongating the shape. Taste your rice throughout the cooking process. Once the texture of the rice is al dente but cooked, transfer to a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water.
In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, rose water, and egg and whisk to combine. In the same non-stick pot that you cooked the rice, add the olive oil and the yogurt mixture. Pour in about a quarter to a third of your cooked rice and stir until well combined with the oil and yogurt mixture. Smooth so that you have an even layer of this rice mixture at the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining plain rice to the top and mold into a cone shape so that none of it touches the edges of your pot. Cook with lid on on medium to medium low heat for about 40 minutes or until the layer of rice at the bottom has cooked and become crispy, but not burnt! About halfway through the process I was taught to drape a tea towel over the pot and then put the lid on in order to keep moisture in the rice.
While your Tah-deeg is cooking, warm up the barberries and pistachios with some olive oil in a small pan. You can add a pinch of saffron and a pinch of salt to this combination for a very nice flavor. Put to the side (you will be adding this after your rice is done).
I also boiled about 1/4 cup of water and added some saffron until the water was a beautiful orange color to add flavor and color to the finished rice.
Once your Tah-deeg has cooked and become crispy on the bottom, you can spoon some of the saffron water lightly over the cone shaped plain rice at the top. Cover your pot with a large plate and flip so that all the rice lands on your plate. Cut the Tah-deeg for sharing and sprinkle with your barberry and pistachio mixture. Enjoy!